Mark Burnett arrived in Los Angeles on October 18, 1982 with no job, no place to live, and less than $300.
“A working-class kid from London’s East End with no return ticket,” writes Carmine Gallo in The Storyteller’s Secret. Mark’s friend Nick picked him up at LAX and brought some good news: a family in Beverly Hills was looking for a nanny. Mark had an interview that night.
The only problem?
Male nannies were rare in Los Angeles and Mark didn’t have any experience with domestic chores.
What did he have going for him?
He was a former British paratrooper. It was like “hiring a nanny and a bodyguard at the same time,” he told the family.
Mark got the job. Which led to contacts and opportunities in the television business. In time, he would become one of the most successful producers in history, creating and producing Survivor, The Voice, and Shark Tank.
What was it about Mark’s “pitch” that persuaded the family to hire him as their nanny despite not having any experience?
He was “a nanny and a bodyguard.” A textbook example of the power of metaphor.
A metaphor is something that stands for or symbolizes another thing in order to show or suggest they are similar. Metaphors are one of our most powerful narrative devices. “We often think and explain our feelings in metaphor,” Carmine observes.
Have we ever suffered from a “broken heart”? Or found ourselves “swimming in paperwork”? Have we ever said, “All the world’s a stage”? Or heard someone say a chip is the “brain” of a computer?
Metaphors bring “clarity to abstraction,” writes Carmine. Metaphors make it easier to understand the specific benefits of a product or person.
Skilled communicators “experiment with every rhetorical device at their disposal, and often become expert at using the building blocks of narrative—analogy and metaphor,” Carmine observes.
Case study #1: Martin Luther King’s “Dream” speech. Examples include:
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”
“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
The Storyteller’s Secret? Metaphors turn the abstract into something concrete.
Reflection: Think about how I can use metaphors in my next presentation.
Action: Deliver it.