The Mighty MetaphorWritten by Teresa Clark
I once attended a lecture, which promised to reveal the heartbreak and hardship of the American dustbowl era. It was early in the morning so every person in the room wanted to be there. They’d made an effort to be there. Ninety minutes later a large majority of them were asleep. The presenter had killed his own presentation. There were audible groans in the room when his final words were these, “I had pictures and stories, but we’ve run out of time.” Epic fail! He had scrubbed his presentation clean of simile and metaphor. Forgive me, but that’s like telling me you took a photograph on a certain day with a certain lens using a specific camera setting without showing me the picture. Until I see the picture, I will not care.
We share stories to help others understand our personal imagery. When we tell a story we are in reality trying to share images more than we are trying to share words. If we can help someone see with their mind’s eye what we are saying then they can feel our intent and that is when understanding happens. Here’s a little review:
Fact: a thing that is indisputably the case
Simile: a figure of speech involving comparison
Metaphor: a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else
My dustbowl presenter was all about the facts, but the facts weren’t enough to make us care, or see anything, except the backs of our eyelids! He had passion for his subject, but he failed to use the proper tools to entice us to care. Let me demonstrate. Years ago there was a successful British ad campaign which used fact, simile, and metaphor to convince citizens to avoid smoking. They used these three tools brilliantly.
Fact: Cigarettes kill thousands every year.
Simile: Smoking cigarettes is as deadly as putting a loaded gun to your head.
Metaphor: Place it in your mouth, light it up, inhale, and you might as well invite a serial killer into your home.
You get the fact, but the simile helps drive the point. Wrap it all up in metaphor and your imagining your family in jeopardy and you are feeling genuine discomfort. Now, you understand. Story is metaphor. The mighty metaphor fuels understanding and interest. Facts become important when introduced after metaphor. If my dustbowl presenter had started off with his pictures and slides the audience would have been passionately concerned when the charts and graphs predicting drought and crop failure were introduced because we would be concerned for the people his stories had invited us to care about.
What steps can you take to become the metaphor muse in your family? (Try our Chat Cards. Each one is guaranteed to jostle a memory and get the metaphors flowing)
A national award-winning storyteller, historian and author, she is best known for her original works and recollections of life's experiences blended with history. Teresa has presented and performed throughout the United States. Of her, it has been said, "Charming, witty, soulful, and wise, her performances are filled with a compelling sense of wonder and an irresistable zest for life." Her story work involves performance, education, production, and advocacy. From the main stage to individual consultations in living rooms across America, she delights in the excavation and sharing of family story. Most importantly, she is a wife, mother, and grandmother to her favorite playmates and best friends.
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