A Shining City on the Hill

How Metaphor Can Touch Your Audience

by Rick Gilbert


“All the world’s a stage.”  (Shakespeare)

“A house divided cannot stand.”  (Lincoln)

“A bridge to the 21st century.”  (Clinton)

“If you build it, they will come”  (Field of Dreams)


Language rich in metaphor gets remembered. People form a mental picture through metaphor that goes way deeper than words. Successful politicians use metaphor all the time, like Reagan’s “A shining city on the hill.” 

A new book by Joseph Romm, Language Intelligence, looks at the power of metaphor from Jesus to Shakespeare to Lady Gaga. He sites one study that concluded, “Charismatic presidents used nearly twice as many metaphors as did non-charismatic presidents.”

In PowerSpeaking, too, participants who use metaphors and stories find that their audiences can remember what their talks are about.  In a recent program, Laura Gottlieb, from the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, searched for a way to explain their new performance review program. Our trainer, Susannah Baldwin, had just explained how stories and metaphors lock in meaning to the brain biochemically. 

All of this got Laura thinking about a metaphor to help people understand the new system. It occurred to her that her car’s GPS was similar to the new performance review program. The GPS tells you how to get where you are going and most importantly, gives you corrective feedback along the way. The new performance review system does the same: clear goal; course correction; summary ending. 

Here Laura explains how her thinking worked in the moment:

So, the next time you are presenting a new plan, or you are trying to persuade people to see things your way, go into memory and find a good metaphor. You can be as persuasive as Jesus, or Shakespeare, or Lady Gaga.. or for that matter, Laura Gottlieb.

1 thoughts on “A Shining City on the Hill

  1. John Warren says:

    Love the interview about using analogies! Nice photo in the background as well.
    More stories and analogies in more talks would make this a better world!

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