Metaphors are powerful tools that can help you clarify abstract ideas for your audience (as I pointed out in “Dealing with abstractions? Try metaphors.”). Just remember that you don’t have to limit yourself to words when you’re creating a metaphor.
Recently I gave a presentation about intellectual property (copyrights, patents, trademarks, and suchlike). I wanted to introduce the idea with an image that would give the audience a basic understanding that was based on their experiences, so I used this image:
Signs like this are familiar to my audience here in the upper midwestern part of the United States. I figured that this image would help them grasp some of the ideas associated with intellectual property law: that is, just as you have to put these signs up on your property to protect it from trespassers, you have to take steps to protect your trademarks, copyrights, and patents.
Here’s another image I used for a different presentation, when I was talking about the consequences of losing control of a project. Here, the intent was to make a connection between the potentially catastrophic results of losing control of a car, with the potentially catastrophic results of losing control of a project.
A word of caution: Keep your audience’s cultural background in mind when selecting images. Any given image might have different connotations and associations for people from different countries. If the audience for the intellectual property presentation had been from a different culture, they might not have understood the significance of a bright yellow sign with the word “POSTED” in big bold letters. In that case, I might have used a different image I had, in which the sign said “NO TRESPASSING.”
Use your imagination when choosing metaphoric images for a document or a presentation. Where do you look for good images? I found the two photos in this post on Stock.XCHNG, which offers thousands of free images.