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Jan. 2010 - Supporting the Talk: Comparisons—Different Types

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John Kline, PhD, inspirational and motivational keynote and after-dinner speaker and corporate trainer.January 2010

Supporting the Talk: Comparisons—Different Types

We discussed Definitions, Examples and their uses in the previous four columns.  But speakers also need also to use comparisons as support material, for they add variety and enhance listener understanding.  Here are four types of comparisons.  

Similes use the words like or as to compare unlike things.  The poet used a simile when he said, “My love is like a red, red rose.”  “Busy as a bee,” straight as an arrow,” “hard as a rock” are all similes.  And an expert on raising children emphasized the inadvisability of shouting by saying, “Shouting to make your children obey is like using the horn to steer your car.”  Similes provide vivid support for the points we want to make. 

Metaphors are comparisons between unlike things based on similarity, but without using the words like or as.  Instead of the similes in the previous paragraph, the speaker might say “she is a busy bee,” or he is a straight arrow.”  Metaphors enliven ordinary language, catch the audience’s attention, and promote audience involvement with the speaker’s words. 

Analogies relate similarities between objects and situations.  A politician may claim since a lottery works in a neighboring state, then it will work in his state. Sometimes the comparison is a figurative rather than a literal one.  For example, a speaker may say, “Saying things in anger you will later regret is like driving nails in a fence.  You can pull the nails out, but the scar remains.”  While analogies are often short, they can also be long.  I have told a two-minute story about a boy whose father gave him a hammer and a bag of nails, telling him to drive the nails into a wooden fence.  Then he told the boy to pull the nails out—to show that while he could remove the nails, the scars would remain.

Contrasts differ from the previous three types of comparisons in that they compare differences rather than similarities.  For example: “Winners never quit, quitters never win; Iowa is noted for harsh winners, Florida for its mild ones; Bill is a seven-foot center on the basketball team, Joe is a five-foot jockey.

Comparisons should be in the arsenal of every speaker. 
John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

December 2006 - Motivating Others: Communicate Clearly
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