August 14, 2014
What's in Your Metaphor Mill?
Corporate trainer, college
instructor, and recent political candidate, Michael Volpano is a man of many
interests and talents.
He is also a poster child for the
power of metaphor to get results in diverse situations. I am happy to share his
stories with you. Notice how simple, but impactful, his metaphors
are. Can you adapt the thinking behind these examples to your world?
At Work, Building the Bottom-line
Mike writes, In my capacity as company trainer, I have the privilege of
working with new hires as well as individuals at all levels of responsibility,
in all departments throughout the company, on an ongoing basis. One way I drive
home the need for them to make the training their own is to reference the world
I say, ‘In baseball I can teach how to hit the ball to advance the bases or, in
soccer how to kick the ball into the net to score; but you have to take that
information and develop your own style to be an effective batter or a skilled
The same is true with our training. I can show you how to navigate the sales
process, but you need to interject your own ‘style’ into your development as
professionals and make that process your own.’
They instantly get it and take my message to heart – and to the bank! In
addition to me consciously using metaphors to make my points more vivid and
meaningful, I have used the techniques in your book to help our sales team
develop their own metaphors and I am happy to share with you that, since
asking the team to do this, our renewal rate for June improved 100%!
(Way to go, Mike!)
In College, Keeping Attention
Throughout my continuing 23 years as a college instructor, I am personally
inspired by a metaphor every semester. In golf, it is a great shot or two that
keeps me returning to the game. Similarly, it is truly reaching a few students
in every class period that motivates me to continue year after year.
In the classroom,
metaphors and analogies have been most effective in keeping student interest high
and their eyes wide open. In my Direct Marketing class, for example, I
underscore the importance of
direct mail to the right demographic by saying, ’When you walk into a gold mine,
you have to go to the shaft that will produce the most gold for your clients.’
The analogy says it all.
Students regularly tell me that they love the way I deliver often dry curriculum
in an interesting and easy to understand way.
In Politics, Winning the Sound Bite Wars
This past year, I ran for mayor of my home town. I was called on to do
several radio and newspaper interviews as well as speak in several public
When asked how I would allocate funds for city improvements, I responded by
asking, ‘If someone’s driveway needed sealing and their roof needed new
shingles and they only had funds
to do just one fix, how would they make a decision which
do this year and which to do next year? Could the roof wait until spring or
could the driveway weather the winter? Issues have to be prioritized by which
has the greater need. That is how I would allocate funds for city improvement.
When asked about how I would deal
with the proposal to outsource emergency 911 services, which could delay
response time by several seconds, I answered by asking them, ‘If you were
sitting at the dinner table and your elderly mother was having a heart attack or
if you were outside and one of your children was hit by a car, what would those
precious few seconds waiting for emergency help to arrive be worth to you? I
will bet you would all say those few seconds would be more valuable to you than
the dollars being saved to outsource the 911 service.’ The crowd nodded in agreement and a potential hot issue got cooled off immediately.
When I was queried about the
value we were getting from our local police department since crime was low, I
explained that the police department was like a seatbelt in your car: you only
realize its true value when it is called upon to protect you in an unexpected
accident. Again, the analogy neutralized a potential problem.
At every event, people said how
much they appreciated my ability to make complex city issues easy to understand.
A Little Metaphor Goes a Long Way
Sports, gold mines, family relationships, home repair, and seatbelt safety are
the simple sources that provide grist for Michael’s metaphor mill. Mike is not
Shakespeare, but like Shakespeare, he understands the power of
metaphoric images to shape thinking and make points
vivid and meaningful to listeners.
What’s in your “Metaphor Mill?” Can you be using more metaphors drawn
from familiar sources to achieve the results you want quickly and easily as
Make What You Say Pay — With Metaphors.
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P.S. Mike Volpano is a Company Trainer with RateWatch, a market
research company in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin that focuses on
gathering data for the financial industry.
has also been teaching college since 1991.
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