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Feb. 2010 - Supporting the Talk: Comparisons—Guidelines for their Use

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

Supporting the Talk: Comparisons—Guidelines for their Use

The previous column discussed types of comparisons.  Here are some guidelines for their use.

Make them clear.  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 presentation. 

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

As we said last time.  “Comparisons should be in the arsenal of every speaker.”  Use them effectively’
John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

December 2006 - Motivating Others: Communicate Clearly
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