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Make Soundbites Sign with Smiles, Metaphors and Analogies

In our era when stellar sound bites often trump well-reasoned, logical, carefully-crafted, even brilliant arguments, using analogies, similes and metaphors can often get you farther on your dime than dissertations. I know---sad, but true. I don't like it either, but I didn't make the rules. I grew up in high school debate, but that is not how things are played these days---especially in the media. However, superb A, S, & Ms are effective, and you can use them to your advantage.

Of course, one of the classics is: "Never argue with a reporter. It's like wrestling with a pig in the mud. Pretty soon you realize...the pig actually likes it."

Behind the Scenes Psychology

A, S. & Ms are effective because of the psychology behind them---they paint a word-picture that surpasses the logical and the intellectual grid we all have and targets the emotions that a great picture can touch. It's like the perfect snapshot. To put it another way, they prompt an immediate and permeating response inside us that happens long before we start to reason it out and decide whether that word-picture truly makes sense and is totally reasonable. It produces an effect before we intellectually determine whether it validates itself.

Now, how would you apply this, for example, to a recent government situation I encountered. Industry leaders were complaining that a particular government agency was using its power to do pay-backs to political enemies (in the industry) while concurrently allowing more obvious violations and potential fraud to go unchecked.

Try this one on (and apologies if you haven't seen one of my favorite cult classics---Airplane). "This department is operating a lot like the security checkpoint in the movie Airplane. The shuffling, dottering granny is slammed up against the wall for a rude, forceful search while terrorists with AK-47s, submachine guns, and full clips are allowed to pass through unchecked."

We can all intellectually argue whether or not the comparison is true. We can debate the merits for weeks. But that is not the effect this gives. If you have seen the movie, you immediately recall the scene. The memorable picture plants itself so deeply in your mind that you really don't care if the comparison is true or not. It is too vivid to be supplanted by mere debate and reasoning. It has vaulted completely over your intellectual grid and "branded" itself, almost satirically, in your mind. It's a real challenge, next to impossible, to craft a comeback for that one.

It's Hard to Un-Ring the Bell

One more example from the past. We covered the presidential campaign of Gary Hart back in my reporter days. I sat through enough speeches to almost memorize them. I could lip sync many of the lines. To his credit, Hart actually did have some very revolutionary and enterprising ideas that were worthy of at least consideration and debate, but political rally speeches were never the format to fully explain them. (He did have that chance in what he termed "chalk talks" with smaller groups occasionally, but they never made national news). In one of the debates, Walter Mondale used a comparison that fully exploited the A, S, & M theory.

His intent was to discredit Hart's "ideas" that were one of his major campaign planks. I don't recall the word-for-word quote, but it went something like this: "When I hear all this talk about your "ideas" it reminds me of the fast food commercial (in which actress Clara Peller slammed her fist down and yelled) Where's the beef?"

It put the audience in stitches and negated almost everything that was said afterward. In all fairness, it was not, intellectually, a valid point, but that line alone literally neutralized that campaign plank by itself. And by the way, it was one of the most remembered and effective lines of the campaign. Shouldn't have been, but it stuck.

Takeaway point: If you are in a difficult argument, or debate and want to disarm the opposition, brainstorm with your team to come up with analogies, similes or metaphors that are so effective, there is little comeback. For better or worse, you will find them extraordinarily potent.

--Neal Browne, Expert Media Coach

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