Now that I’m on a Rhetorical Technique roll, here’s a great sample of an analogy I found while reading The Week on the plane to Boston last Saturday in an article by Charles Fishman. The article is an extract from Fishman’s 2011 book, The Big Thirst. It appears in the July 29th Print Edition of the news aggregation magazine called The Week, in their column called “The Last Word.”
This is a paraphrase of the analogy, since I managed to misplace the page I ripped out of the magazine. But the fact that I can remember even a paraphrase of something I read on a plan 10 days ago, when I can barely remember what I ate for lunch these days, shows how effective the analogy is:
The United States uses 5.7 billion gallons of water every day, to flush the toilet. 5.7 billion gallons of water every day. That’s a hard number to get your mind around, so what does it mean? It means that the United States flushes the same amount of water every day that the UK and Canada, combined, use for all of their daily household water needs.
Why is this a great sample?
Because the author is dead on. It’s impossible for the average human being to have any grasp of the meaning of that quantity of water. 5.7 Billion Gallons a day? What does that look like?
By telling us what it means – what it looks like – we can understand the concept and we can appreciate how devastating a number like that is.
That’s a pretty significant comparison. Enough to make me think about an issue that I rarely thought about before.
And it is a comparision that is guaranteed to have an impact upon its readers (or listeners).
That’s the type of comparison you want to use when talking with an audience about numbers that are incomprehensible. Create an analogy (research your facts and get it right) so that you bring the incomprehensible down to the knowable and relateable in your speech and you will keep your audience with you instead of losing them.
Oh, and the first person to pull out the Antithesis in my prior blog post and note it in the comments below gets a free copy of my Public Speaking for Attorneys DVD (worth $395). I just want to see if you’re paying attention.