Here at Edelman, we just held our annual all-staff meeting for our 650 New York employees.
Because I was out of the office in the weeks immediately preceding the event when much of the presentation content was written, I had a fairly fresh experience as a viewer the day of. And what struck me was how many presenters made use of metaphor to incredible effect.
Metaphoric vs Literal Imagery
Presentation imagery can either be metaphoric or literal. The style these past few years has been for heavy metaphoric imagery such as an artistic photo of a lightbulb in a field of grass to discuss "energy innovation." A literal version of the same slide might be a picture of an actual concept solar car or a new type of wind turbine. In general, I think literal imagery is strongest and stickier, but it is often harder to come by.
Lots of metaphoric imagery in a presentation can tend to blend together and distance a viewer from what's actually being communicated: "Wait, are we talking about funny cats, kids with lemonade stands and high jumpers or are we talking about our firm's 3rd quarter sales strategy?"
However, if metaphors (visual and otherwise) are deeply ingrained in a presentation's story, they can be incredibly powerful...and they were on excellent display at our recent meeting.
Comic Book Hero
Visual Storytelling is a significant and developing focus for Edelman's PR approach (video, infographics, etc.), so most of our presenters this year were already well ahead of the PowerPoint game in shunning bullet points and extensive on-screen text.
But one presenter used a comic book metaphor (with an actual custom-drawn series of comic book scenes) to explain some of the challenges the industry has faced of late with regard to pharma clients. Instead of endless charts and numbers explaining the details, what our employees were given was a metaphor: this financial trend anthropomorphized into "Pharmageddon," a comic book villian. Simplistic? Yes. Sticky? Absolutely.
Edelman's New York Health practice has two open secrets. The first is the above mentioned industry "Pharmagedon" challenge. The other is that the practice's awesome General Manager, Bruce Hayes, is a former Olympic gold medalist in swimming.
Bruce doesn't talk much about his Olympic history, but decided that the story of his relay team's come from behind win at the 1984 Los Angeles games was a perfect metaphor for the resiliance and adaptation his division is currently showing. Again, no charts, no numbers, no cute pics of kittens "hanging in there." In this case, literal imagery and video of his famous win was used along with an instrinsic overall metaphor for his message.
Add the fact that the London Olympics were a few days away, and Bruce's presentation simply brought the house down.
Perhaps Edelman's current metaphor trend was kicked off by our own Richard Edelman who last year created an unofficial mascot for us he calls a "Morgie" or "Captain Morgie." This is short for Morganucodon, a small prehistoric rodent and the first mammal.
Morgie makes his appearance in Richard's planning presentations not because he is the cutest of extinct creatures, but because his story of adaptation and survival in the land of dinosaurs serves as a perfect metaphor for how Richard sees our company's past, present and future. I'm asked all the time if I think Richard's presentations in which this prehistoric rat often plays a starring role are effective. And I always say, "Compared to endless slides of bullet points and charts? Compared to a 100 slide PPT deck filled with business jargon? Compared to a presentation you wouldn't even be talking about now four weeks later?" Yes, I think they're very effective. Consider me a fan of Morgie.
And consider me a fan of metaphors in presentation.
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Presentation Summit Discount Code
On an unrelated note, if anyone is considering attending this year's Presentation Summit 2012 in Scottsdale, AZ at which I'll be speaking, the organizers are offering my readers a discount. Just use the code "NH75" when registering here.