In any presentation you give, the level of expertise and understanding of the audience members will vary greatly. Because of this you will need to communicate in such a way that the less knowledgeable participants will understand and the more knowledgeable ones won’t be bored. One way to communicate complex ideas in a more entertaining and clearer way is through the use of analogies.

By definition an analogy is an explanation of an unfamiliar concept by comparing it to something that is more familiar. For example, if I wish to explain the importance of bandwidth, I might compare them to the traffic flow of a 2-lane versus a 4-lane highway. This comparison allows the listener to relate the newer concept to the more familiar one and gain a quicker level of comprehension. For those listeners who were already familiar with the ideas you are presenting, the analogy can give them a fresh look at the concept or can clarify the context from which you are presenting it. In order to use an analogy properly, there are a few guidelines you should follow:

Determine audience understanding. Knowing the knowledge level of your audience allows you to decide what level of clarification you need to give for any concept you introduce.12

Clarify – ideas with which they are familiar but may have a variety of meanings or angles.

Explain – concepts that are an extension or an outgrowth of their current level of understanding.

Analogize – issues that are relatively new to many members of the audience and for which they have little background.

 Use the most common experiences. In order to help the highest percentage of audience members, you should choose an experience that is common to the most people. For example, the highway comparison would be useful for almost all people because so many of us have been on a crowded highway.. But if I were to make an analogy for bandwidth by talking about the difference between a 16 or a 32 bit computer processer, it might not be helpful to many of the listeners.

Tell the whole story. A common mistake people make when using analogies is to jump back and forth between the analogy and the new concept during their explanation. This can make it difficult for the audience to follow. Once you have introduced the analogy, you should stay in the story until it is completed. Then go back point by point and show how the new concept is similar to the story you just told.

Don’t push it too far.  An analogy compares similar concepts, but they are not the same. Therefore if we try to push the analogy too far it will break down. Use the analogy to get the audience in the same ballpark as you, then let it go. You may find it beneficial to refer back to it once in a while but don’t try to make the analogy do too much.

So, if you need to talk about a technical or complicated process, use an analogy to help the audience get the point sooner and with more clarity.

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