“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.”
— Daniel Pink, author, A Whole New Mind

Extend your metaphor

Explore the base

Once you come up with an analogy, you can make more of your metaphor by extending it.

BASE STATION If theories are like buildings, is your idea Gothic or Bauhaus?

“If you want to try an extended metaphor, think carefully about your comparison entity,” writes Nancy Kress in Writer’s Digest.

“Choose something that is specific and concrete, like a diamond. Then jot down three or more similarities between that and your original object or situation. Finally, describe the latter in terms of the former, playing with the actual words until the comparisons are both clear and enlightening.”

So that’s:

1. Choose your base.

The more specific and concrete, the better. One familiar metaphor, for instance, is “Theories are buildings,” as in, “He constructed a theory.” Theories are the target; buildings are the base.

2. Explore your base.

Now delve deeper into the base to find more specific elements. In Metaphors We Live By, authors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson call this step finding “the ‘unused’ part of a metaphor.”

For “Theories are buildings,” for instance, you might develop a list of things buildings have. Maybe:

  • Design, from Gothic to Bauhaus
  • Rooms
  • Hallways
  • Gargoyles
  • Plumbing

Need help? Run your base through OneLook Reverse Dictionary.

3. Compare your topic to these elements.

Now construct metaphors comparing your topic to the items on your list. Lakoff and Johnson, for instance, came up with these extended analogies for “Theories are buildings”:

  • “His theory has thousands of little rooms and long winding corridors.”
  • “His theories are Bauhaus in their pseudo-functional simplicity.”
  • “He prefers massive Gothic theories covered with gargoyles.”
  • “Complex theories usually have problems with the plumbing.”
  • “These facts are the bricks and mortar of my theory.”

This approach takes your writing from literal (“He has constructed a theory”) to figurative (“His theory is covered with gargoyles”).

Make Your Copy More Creative

Want to communicate better with creative copy?


Sources: Nancy Kress, “O My Luve’s Like A Red, Red Rose,” Writer’s Digest, February 2000

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, University of Chicago Press, 2003

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“Twitter is good. Why say a lot to a few people when you can say virtually nothing to everyone?”
— Jerry Seinfeld, stand-up comedian, actor, writer and producer

Don’t ‘engage in the conversation’

More ‘@’ replies = fewer followers

How can you expand your reach and influence on Twitter?

“Engaging in the conversation” isn’t the answer.

In a 2011 study, HubSpot viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella looked at a random selection of more than 130,000 Twitter users. He found that the more often users reply — that is, send a tweet that starts with an @ sign — the fewer followers they’re likely to have.

In other words, highly followed users tend to be less conversational than those with few followers.

People want to know what you know. Share your research and resources with them. It may be more effective than “engaging in the conversation.”

IDLE TALK The more conversational Twitter users are, the fewer followers they have. Chart by Dan Zarrella.

Don’t chit-chat

Want to write tweets that go viral? Skip the chit-chat.

People who chit-chat a lot on Twitter are less likely to get retweeted than those who chit-chat less, according to a 2012 report by viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella. He studied the percentage of “@” replies to find the effect of conversing on Twitter results.

How much conversation is enough? Aim for about 10% “@” replies among your tweets.

“It makes sense when you think about it,” Zarrella writes. “I’m much more likely to retweet an interesting piece of content that you’ve posted than a bit of Twitter chit-chat, especially when that chit-chat is part of an ongoing conversation of which I’m not a part.”

So much for the power of “engaging in the conversation.”

IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU The fewer “@” replies, the more retweets on Twitter, according to viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella.

Avoid small talk.

Want to spread the word on Twitter?

Skip the small talk.

Small talk is the topic least likely to be retweeted, according to 2010 research by Dan Zarrella (PDF), viral marketing scientist for HubSpot. Here’s how often six key kinds of content get shared on Twitter:

  1. News: about 78%
  2. How-to information: about 58%
  3. Entertainment: about 53%
  4. Opinion: 50%
  5. Products: about 45%
  6. Small talk: about 12%

Want more retweets? Write blog posts packed with tips and techniques, then share them via Twitter.

TRAINING WHEELS News and how-to’s are most likely kinds of content to be retweeted. The least likely? Small talk.

Reach readers online.

Want to get the word out on the Web?

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“Anything that’s great print design is likely to be lousy Web design.”
— Jakob Nielsen, usability guru and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group

Do they see what you see?

Put like things together to avoid online tunnel vision

Web visitors don’t see things that are right on the screen. Selective attention makes them overlook elements that are outside their focus of interest.

Or so says Jakob Nielsen, usability guru and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group.

Tunnel vision in action

In one study, Nielsen’s group tested the website of Westfield, a retail property developer in Sydney. Researchers asked participants to find the year Westfield entered the U.K. market.

The answer is actually quite prominent: “2000” appears in the upper left of the box in a larger font size than any of the other information.

But visitors didn’t see it. They finally found the year in the last line of the text on this story.

TUNE OUT Readers couldn’t find the year on this timeline entry, despite the fact that it’s larger than all of the other type.

Why tunnel vision?

website visitors tune out information all the time. Nielsen has “a pile of thousands” of examples from recent usability studies, including dozens on banner blindness alone.


“Selective attention is really a survival instinct,” Nielsen says.

“If people had to pay attention to all stimuli in the environment, they’d never get anything done. They’d also be more likely to overlook something important, such as a big-toothed predator sneaking up on them. … It’s only human: focus on a few things and ignore the rest.”

How can you overcome tunnel vision?

The solution to tunnel vision: Position like elements together.

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE Position like elements together — in this case, all of the text — to help people find what they’re looking for.

Nielsen calls this the “closeness gestalt principle.”

“When buttons, drop-downs, checkboxes, or other actionable GUI elements are too far away from the objects they act on, people don’t see them,” he says. “Often, users don’t realize what they’re missing and simply assume the features aren’t available.”

Reach readers online

Want to get the word out on the Web?


Source: Jakob Nielsen, “Tunnel Vision and Selective Attention,” Alertbox, Aug. 27, 2012

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“He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”
— Edward R. Murrow

Write it like Winston

Make Churchill your muse

Winston Churchill rallied the British, defied the Nazis, and inspired the United States to fight. Some say he saved the Western world with his words.

“Never, never, never give up.”
— Winston Churchill

He was captured by the Boers and escaped. He wrote about his military adventures in newspaper articles and books. By 1899, he was one of the highest paid and best known British war correspondents in the world.

“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”
— Winston Churchill

In 1900, when Churchill came to the United States for a lecture tour, he was introduced by Mark Twain.

“There are two things that are more difficult than making an after-dinner speech: climbing a wall which is leaning toward you and kissing a girl who is leaning away from you.”
— Winston Churchill

He coined phrases like “Finest Hour,” “Never give in,” and “Iron Curtain.” He showed that words can change people’s minds and move them to act.

“Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory.”
— Winston Churchill

He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for his contributions to the written word. In his spare time, he wrote 40 books in 60 volumes and painted more than 500 paintings.

“Writing a book is an adventure.  To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant.”
— Winston Churchill

His words still inspire, 50 years after his death. He’s been quoted by presidents — and on Angelina Jolie.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
— Winston Churchill

May I ask why every corporate communicator on the planet isn’t using Churchill as her personal and professional muse? Why don’t we model his words every time we write a speech, a sound bite or an executive message?

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
— Winston Churchill

Why not start now? Churchill: The Power of Words, an exhibit at the Morgan Library, celebrates this master writer and orator. Can’t make the show? Check out Discover Churchill, a website by the Morgan and the Churchill Archives Centre.

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
— Winston Churchill

Play with your words

Want to master the art of making your copy more creative and engaging through wordplay?

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“Budget dust: Year-end money that must be spent before it is swept away by the cold winds of a new fiscal year.”
— BuzzWhack.com

Don’t lose your budget dust

Invest your year-end money before it gets swept away

‘Tis the season for many of us to use what remains of our 2012 budget … or lose it altogether. Here are five ways to invest your budget dust this year to improve communications for years to come:

Want more details? Contact me directly.

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“[Ann’s workshop was] more fun than college, but even more informative.”
— Renee Gaudreau, community relations director, YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap counties

Ann’s touring schedule

Polish your skills at one of these events

Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.

COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE Catch Ann at one of her upcoming workshops.

But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.

Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.

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Where in the world is Ann?

Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program

Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.

Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:

  • Austin, Texas: Nov. 8-9
  • Green Bay, Wis.: Oct. 23
  • Kansas City, Mo.: Christmas week
  • Memphis: Dec. 11
  • Miami: Dec. 7
  • Mountain View, Calif.: Nov. 1
  • Portland, Ore.: May 9, 2013
  • Raleigh-Durham: Nov. 15
  • San Francisco: Oct. 14-15
  • Sonoma County, Calif.: Nov. 2-5
  • Tustin, Calif.: Oct. 12
  • Washington, D.C.: Oct. 4-5

Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:

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Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.

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