Organizational Development Consultant

20 Techniques to Improve Meeting Productivity: #14 Analogies and Metaphors

February 13, 2014

“Sometimes critical information isn’t understood in our meetings as clearly as I would like. Important points seem to get lost because they are either complicated, dull, or both. What alternatives do we have to get key points across?”

14. ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS

What Are ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS?

The ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS technique helps your meeting participants focus and crystalize their thinking and understanding of an issue. It can also be used to emphasize key points of a topic under discussion. This technique is especially applicable for information that is difficult to understand or explain in simple terms. ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS involve using figurative language to explain and clarify the meaning of a specific issue. In addition to this primary goal, it can also help people to learn and think in new ways.

An analogy is a comparison that points out the similarity between the like features of two different things. For example, one could make an analogy between a heart and a pump or between a brain and a computer.

As another example of an analogy, these meeting facilitation techniques are like a carpenter’s toolbox. They give you the specific tools you need to effectively deal with diverse meeting situations.  They not only provide the basic hammer, nails, and handsaw but also the more sophisticated specialty tools required to complete nearly any potential meeting objective.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that applies a term or phrase to something in order to suggest a resemblance. To say one is “drowning in paperwork” or “walking on thin ice” are examples of metaphors.

The facilitator can use the ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS technique as a communication strategy or as an exercise for participants.

When to Use ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS

  • When a key point is difficult to understand on its own
  • When you want to make a point or explain something in a different way
  • When you want to emphasize a point
  • When you want to express personal perspectives in an impersonal but powerful way

How to Use ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS

As a Communication Strategy

BEFORE THE MEETING:

1. Identify the point you want to emphasize or explain.

2. Think of your audience. What is important to your audience? What can they relate to? Football, skiing, computers, food?

3. Brainstorm possible analogies and metaphors for use in the meeting.

4. Choose one or two of the best to use in your meeting.

IN THE MEETING:

1. Use the ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS as planned.

NOTE: It is a good idea to continually look for and think about effective ways to communicate ideas during your meetings. Tune in to your participants, improvise, and react with creative ideas as the situation presents itself.

As an Exercise for Meeting Participants

1. Introduce the topic and the ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS technique. Explain why you are asking the group to create these ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS and how they will be used.

For example: “Our primary supplier has asked us for feedback on working with them, and I’m meeting with their president on Thursday. As you know, he sometimes has a difficult time relating to our specific needs, so I thought it would be helpful if I could use a few analogies or metaphors in our meeting. I’d like your help in coming up with some ideas.”

NOTE: Other situations where you might use this technique include: sharing information between participants about a project, their jobs, or the experience of working in that group or with a specific customer.

2. Ask the group to think silently for five minutes about ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS on a specific subject. Present an overview of the meaning of the two terms with a few examples on a chart or overhead.  Below is an example.

CREATE AN ANALOGY OR METAPHOR TO DESCRIBE XX:

Spend five minutes thinking silently and individually about xx.  What analogies and/or metaphors come to mind.

Analogy  =  A comparison that points out the similarity between the like features of two different things. One can make an analogy between a heart and a pump, or a computer and a brain.

Metaphor  = A representation or figurative expression. The application of a word or phrase to an object or concept it does not literally mean, in order to suggest comparison with another object or concept.  A rose is often a metaphor for love, the rising sun for birth.

3. Ask your participants to share their best analogies and metaphors with the group. This can be in either small groups or as a large group.

4. Ask the group what they can be conclude from the information. For example, “What points stuck out in your minds?” “What conclusions can we draw?”

OPTION: If appropriate for the goals of the agenda item, have the group pick one or two of their analogies and/or metaphors that best summarize how they feel.

Summary

The ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS technique helps your meeting participants focus and increase their understanding of an issue because analogies and metaphors can explain and clarify the meaning of a complex issue. They also help people learn and think in new ways. The facilitator can use this technique as a communication strategy or as an exercise for the participants.

As a Communication Technique

BEFORE THE MEETING:

1. Identify the point you want to emphasize.

2. Focus on topics that your audience will be able to relate to.

3. Brainstorm possible analogies and metaphors for use in the meeting.

4. Choose one or two of the best to use in your meeting.

DURING THE MEETING:

Use the ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS as planned.

As an Exercise for Meeting Participants

1. Introduce ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS and the topic under consideration.

2. Give the group members time to create their own ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS.

3. Have the participants share the information.

4. Have the group summarize or draw conclusions.

________

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2 Responses to 20 Techniques to Improve Meeting Productivity: #14 Analogies and Metaphors

  • Are there any types of groups for which analogy is not suitable?
    I am arranging to facilitate stakeholder consultation sessions around new legislation. The project manager says she cannot see the point, that she is not creative and nor are the stakeholders, that the participants will not enjoy doing this activity. Hmmm.

    • Thanks Sue
      You will definitely want to know your audience and what works for them, and if your project manager is set against the exercise it’s likely not worth trying. However an analogy could be helpful in communication explaining why the new legislation will be different or beneficial to constituents, especially if it is difficult to easily explain. If you have one or two in mind, perhaps you could share them with a few people and see if they resonate.
      Best wishes! Ava

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