A business leader stands in front of 300 managers. They’re from across the business, from operations to HR.

“We’re like the dog that chased the bus. But now we’ve caught the bus” he said. “What are we going to do now?”

We were being asked, as a business, to deliver on the promises we made to our customers. We’d got the orders but now could we give our customers what they really wanted.

Powerful analogies are a way to bring business to life. Leaders, marketers and organisational development experts talk about engaging hearts and minds, but doing the doing can be a bit more tricky.

Analogies provide a shorthand, helping people to connect emotionally. Complicated worlds become a bit easier to understand. We ‘feel’ something instead of just ‘thinking’ it. They can help to build rapport, translate a moment and make business a bit more human.

“Working in that office was like going to the dentist every day to have root canal surgery on the same tooth” paints a pretty instant picture.

However, everyone can quote the hackneyed phrases or inappropriate analogies that left us feeling less enthusiastic than when we started listening. Try searching ‘war business analogies’ or ‘sporting analogies’ online and you’ll see what I mean.

I attended a team building day where the manager announced “this is a new start for us. It’s like our team is emerging from the sea like Ursula Andress in Dr No.”. Unsurprisingly it didn’t quite land in the way the he’d hoped.

When thinking of introducing analogies there a few checks you can use to help to avoid the pitfalls:

  • Think about your audience and whether it will switch them on, do they have the context to appreciate a sports analogy?
  • Could anyone be inadvertently offended?
  • Above all, is it a simpler and better way of explaining the point?

There are some great examples out there to inspire you. And you only have to look at the speeches of some of our most entertaining business leaders to see their value.

“If you think of the Earth as our body, a two degree rise in temperature would make us feel pretty ill.  A rise in temperature more than this quickly becomes life-threatening, and at five degrees we may even end up in a coma, or worse. We don’t just stand by and watch this – we react – we treat the symptoms in order to stabilise the patient, while simultaneously addressing the cause.” Richard Branson on the state of our planet in April 2014.

Fresh analogies catch attention and make ideas accessible for people (whether they are experts in what you do or not).

As Sigmund Freud said, “analogies prove nothing that is true, but they can make one feel more at home.”