I’ve written before about how useful analogies can be to make your presentation memorable, but if you want to build a powerful presentation, analogies are useful for much more than decoration—they can serve as its very foundation, and make your presentation much stronger as a result.
In fact, while stories are getting all the press nowadays, analogies are really doing most of the work. They’re far more common and more effective in getting your points across. Most stories are actually vehicles for conveying an analogy.
Analogies are inevitable. They influence what we perceive and what we remember. They are useful mental shortcuts that we take when we encounter new and unfamiliar situations that require a judgment or decision. Instead of starting from scratch when we encounter an unfamiliar situation that requires a judgment or decision, prescription we search our experience for similar situations. Analogies help us understand, organize and make sense of incoming information.
In fact, analogy is the foundation of learning from experience. People with more experience have a richer store of analogies to draw from, which is what enables them to rapid right decisions without having to agonize over every detail.
We always see more—and less—in a situation than is there. Our minds see more because we look for patterns and then fill in the gaps with what’s not there. We also see less because we filter out information we consider irrelevant. Analogies
Once we choose an analogy, it leads us to focus on certain aspects of the situation and ignore others. Actually, we often don’t consciously choose analogies—sometimes they choose us, implanting themselves stealthily without our knowledge. Research indicates that “resistance is futile”: implanted analogies can affect our memories so that we may remember things in the presentation that were not actually there.
Business is full of examples of how a powerful analogy can make the difference in important decisions. In 1997, Intel was opposed to developing a low-end chip for PCs because they thought it would cheapen the brand. But in a training seminar, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen explained how established steel companies ignored low-end products like rebar, providing an opening for minimills. By establishing themselves on the low end, they were then able to move up the value chain and seize the high end. That analogy turned Andy Grove’s thinking around, and it began promoting its Celeron processor.
Analogies carry special weight in business presentations because the senior decision makers you want to influence cut their teeth on them—the case study method used in business schools is nothing but analogical thinking on a large scale. As they gain experience in their careers, they are stuffing their minds with analogies that they draw on when they make judgments about new situations.
If you can find the right analogy that resonates with them, you can short-cut a tremendous amount of detail and context and have the inside track on a favorable decision.
I will write much more about analogies in future posts, but for now here is a list of all the benefits that analogies can provide for persuasive communicators:
 Resistance is futile: The Unwitting insertion of analogical references in memory. Perrott, Gentner, Bodenhausen (2005).
 How Strategists Really Think: Tapping the Power of Analogy, Gavetti and Rivkin, (2005).