FedSpeak: A Metaphor is Like Money in the Bank


If your policies are too complicated even for your colleagues to understand, make your point with a metaphor.

It works for the Federal Reserve Banks. It’ll work for you.

“I think you can use [metaphors] in two ways,” said Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, as quoted in the Wall St. Journal in an entire article on the Fed’s colorful language. Mr. Fisher says. “One is to get people to listen, and the other is to explain policy.”

Crystal-clear, Mr. Fisher!

Metaphors are ideal for grabbing people’s attention. A memorable metaphor will be repeated, quoted and might even take on a life of its own.

That’s why you should do as the Fed officials do and choose your metaphors carefully, testing them with an experienced communication consultant who can examine the figure of speech from all angles to see how it will be perceived and misperceived.  As spontaneous as your delivery might be, your actual language must be chosen with care.

Fisher’s other point is that a metaphor must be true as well as snappy. The comparison you are making must either simplify a concept or simplify the introduction to a complex concept. The test for this is easy: try out the metaphor on a colleague from a different department or outside your field. If you have to explain the metaphor, it’s self-defeating and distracting. Toss it away and try another one. The good news about metaphors is the better you are at using them, the better you will be at finding them.