How to Use Metaphors to Keep People Attentive and Engaged

How to Use Metaphors to Keep People Attentive and Engaged
Photo: Labylullaby, Shutterstock

Whether you’re addressing a group of people at work, or having a one-on-one conversation with a friend, you have the challenge of competing for their attention with their phone (and everything on it). And beyond that, there’s the question of whether they’ll actually retain anything you’ve told them.

So how can you communicate in a way that makes people want to pay attention? According to Dr. Eva Krockow, a psychologist specializing in decision-making at the University of Leicester, using metaphors can help. She addressed this topic in an article for Psychology Today. Here’s what to know.

Why metaphors can be so effective

While metaphors can give your everyday conversations a little flavour, they come in especially handy when communicating a concept that’s more complex. Here’s Krockow to explain how and why that works:

Research shows that complicated messages containing technical language or requiring background knowledge often fail to reach audiences of diverse backgrounds. Such complicated messages can be improved through metaphors, which compare abstract subject matters to familiar items or issues. Comparisons have been shown to make difficult topics more accessible and interesting, thereby improving understanding and memorability of the message contents.

How to use metaphors as a communication tool

To help explain the usefulness of metaphors, Krockow provides an example of one that Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, used in August 25, 2020 to describe the spread of COVID-19:

“What we are dealing with is a giant tube of glitter. You open a tube of glitter in your basement then two weeks later you are in the attic and all you find is glitter and have no idea how it got there.”

If you’re in the unfortunate position of regularly coming in contact with glitter, as soon as you read (or hear) Shah’s description of COVID transmission, you know exactly what he’s talking about. And even if you don’t have regular glitter exposure, you’re familiar with its work. This provides people with a scenario they can easily visualise and immediately understand the connection to the message (in this case, how SARS-CoV-2 spreads).

Log in to comment on this story!