- On October 28, 2015
“Whenever I read something, I’m picturing it in my head like a movie,” a Disney animator remarked when asked about his reading habits. His statement hit on that thrill we all feel when we read—or hear—words that are so right they give us an image in an instant.
Do “word pictures” have a place in everyday business writing? Oh yes. Most everything we write—news releases, speeches, spokesperson quotations, even copy for regulated industries like finance and healthcare—can be juiced up by using words that not only create visuals for our readers, but also a way for them to remember what we want them to remember.
The best way to do it is through metaphor. I’m going to skip the dictionary definition and go straight to some examples.
• “We want to help all Cubans plug into the global economy and enjoy a higher standard of living,” said Penny Pritzker, the U.S. commerce secretary. Had she said join instead of plug you wouldn’t get that image of ease and speed. With plug you can almost see a cord going into the wall and—bam!—Cubans having access to a new way of life.
• To succeed in the future, physician practices will need to have the customer orientation of a five-star hotel and the operational discipline of a factory floor. This was from an article I edited for a leading management consultancy. Between the deluxe hotel and the factory floor, you have all you need to know.
• Last week he made a new bid to be envied, once again unzipping his accounts and flashing the world his finances. Donald Trump. No comment needed.
• Dean Foods has suffered a long decline in U.S. milk consumption, compounded by a spike in the price of raw milk that pinched profit. Pinched gives you a spark of sudden pain, which you wouldn’t get if the sentence said “decreased profit.”
• Helicopter parents have been replaced by Velcro parents. I heard this one at my daughter’s college orientation. Everyone laughed.
• Young people have been flocking to fast casual restaurants such as Chipotle and Panera. I can picture the migration (my daughter’s in it) that I wouldn’t if the sentence said something humdrum like “an increasing number of young people have been eating at fast casual restaurants.”
• Fred Smith scores a major promotion, jumping to executive vice president and chief digital officer of the company. The sports metaphor works, putting pace on a trade publication’s routine roundup of hires and promotions.
And finally, I share what Philippe Petit, the man who walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers, said about his feat: “I married the towers with my cord.”