Metaphors can make your communications stand out from the crowd. Anne Miller’s perspective on using metaphors was well received when she spoke on a corporate writing panel that I organized for the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’m delighted to share her thoughts on this topic.
By Anne Miller, @annemillerny
I’m a big fan of Pimco’s Bill Gross, not just for his obvious investment acumen, but for his communication savvy. He repeatedly uses a writing technique that every financial blog, tweet, column, or book writer would do well to emulate. He uses visual language to seduce his readers before he presents his arguments. Consciously or unconsciously, he knows that without that initial seduction, there is little hope for getting undivided attention to what he has to say.
What is visual language? Metaphors and analogies that create mental images and instantly resonate with listeners.
Here are some examples from Pimco “Investment Outlooks”:
Feb. 2013. “Credit Supernova!” complete with a beautiful photo of the universe and T.S. Eliot’s quote “This is the way the world ends…Not with a bang but a whimper.”
He carries through on this image to frame his argument: “…And too, the advancing entropy in the physical universe may in fact portend a similar decline of “energy” and “heat” within the credit markets. If so, then the legitimate response of creditors, debtors and investors inextricably intertwined within it, should logically be to ask about the economic and investment implications of its ongoing transition.”
December, 2012. “Strawberry Fields – Forever?” This title is followed by a riff on John Lennon’s song, which ultimately leads to the subject of his newsletter: “But whoever succeeds President Obama, the next four years will likely face structural economic headwinds that will frustrate the American public.”
And one example from Twitter…
March 6. “Rule Britannia? Nah. Maybe the waves once upon a time but their economy is now a lifeboat. Sell the pound-Aggressive QE ahead.”
All of these are immediate attention grabbers. Why? Because they speak to the way our brains work. We are wired to respond to images. We notice images, particularly when they are used unexpectedly (Credit Supernova!). We remember images (where were you when JFK was shot, or when you attended your first rock concert?). We react emotionally to images (Hurricane Sandy’s devastation).
From cave drawings to advertising (Prudential’s rock, Nike’s swoosh) to the internet (files, desktop, trash cans) to Wall Street (bulls, bears, white knights), to current events (fiscal cliff), mankind’s communications have reflected this primal reach for images to communicate. Even Einstein acknowledged the centrality images play in how we process information: “If I can’t see it, I don’t understand it.”
As a financial advisor in a world of too much, and often complex, information, too many similar sounding competitors, and increasingly shorter and shorter attentions spans, skill at using visual language is increasingly necessary to stand out. Visual language is the fuel that drives your ideas forward. Without it, it’s like driving a Ferrari on an empty tank. You won’t get very far on the road and you won’t get very far with your readers.
Anne Miller, business communication specialist, helps professional service providers increase business by sharpening their sales and presentation skills. She combines best practices with client psychology and the latest brain research to ensure her clients have maximum impact on their clients.