The lead item on the Today programme this morning was about climbing mountains. Well, actually it was about the Budget, not surprisingly, but Evan Davis introduced the piece by discussing mountain climbing. Any speechwriter or copywriter will have listened to this with a wry smile.

“You know the feeling – you’re on a strenuous hike up the hill,” said Davis. “You can see the summit ahead of you only to find that the closer you get to read the further it moves. The more you struggle, the further you have to go.” He then went on to introduce George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Odd? Facetious? Too tangential? Actually, I did know what he meant. I’m not a great hill walker but it certainly rang true to me. Davis was using it as a metaphor to describe the Chancellor’s struggle to get the economy to grow. Every time it looks as if the man in charge of the economy is over the worst, and has finally reached the peak, bad economic statistics show that there is still more pain and struggle to come.

Using metaphors or analogies is always good in communication and, in my work as a corporate speechwriter , I’m always on the look out for a striking image that will help a client to express an idea. I say “image” because visual comparisons or analogies work most effectively.

In his famous 2009 Inauguration speech Barak Obama harked back to America’s founding fathers.

“In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river,” he said, or rather his speechwriter wrote for him. “The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.”

It’s a striking image and immediately apparent. It’s also inspiring and emotional. Research published in the journal Leadership Quarterly shows that leaders who use visual metaphors and include images in their speeches are seen as more inspiring and charismatic. So, not only does painting pictures make it easier for your audience to understand what you’re but it also greatly improves the way they view you. Two things to bear in mind if you’re a speaker or a speechwriter. See what I mean? I’m sure you do.

 

A man with a vision - Obama's use of visual imagery is striking