Talk: Comparisons—Guidelines for their Use
previous column discussed types of comparisons. Here are some
guidelines for their use.
Comparing a windlass with a winch or a block
and tackle with a pulley hoist will not be useful for most audiences.
They simply need to know what you are talking about. If neither item is
known to them, your comparison will be not help.
Avoid trite or shopworn comparisons.
“Blind as a bat” and “eat like a bird” may help somewhat, but their past
overuse keeps them from adding freshness and vitality to your
Make sure comparisons are needed.
If they don’t add support to the point you are trying to make, then they
take time and do little else. In fact they may do more harm than good.
Brevity is a virtue of good speaking.
Make certain literal comparisons compare similar items.
For example, telling that a program that worked in one city so it should
work in another loses its value if one city has 10,000 residents and the
other has one million. Or comparing a city in the Northeastern part of
the nation to one in the Southwest may not be valid.
Ensure listeners easily understand the similarity between
two objects. This is especially important with figurative comparisons. You
understand when a speaker says, “buying too many groceries is like
eating too much food—in one case the refrigerator is too full; in the
other case, you will be. On the other hand to say, “Buying too many
groceries is like o buying too much gasoline—in one case the
refrigerator is too full; in the other case your car’s gas tank is too
full” may be confusing. While there is logic in the comparison, by the
time you figure it out, it’s too late. The speaker is already talking
about something else. If it takes too long to figure our the
comparison, or if the speaker has to stop and explain it, time is wasted
and the effect is lost
we said last time. “Comparisons should be in the arsenal of every
speaker.” Use them effectively’