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Making Ideas Easy to Grasp: Using Analogies to Make Complex Ideas Easier to Understand



by Kelly Vandever 


You know what its like dont you?

My husband, Rich, was posing the question. And as sometimes happens when I don’t know where he’s going with something, I gave him back a blank stare.

Its like what you do when you enter a contest. What did you do last week, when we were at the motorcycle show and you filled out that form to win that drawing for a new Harley?

“I crumple up the ticket.”

Why do you crumple up the ticket?

“To make it easier to grasp when the person pulling the ticket reaches in to grasp the ticket.” (This didn’t work by the way with the Harley drawing – but it has worked in other ticket drawings I’ve entered).

Thats what youre trying to do with your analogies. Making them easier to grasp.


The Value of Analogies

Rich is the king of analogies. They’ve come in handy in his job as an attorney.

They also come in handy with anyone who is trying to explain a hard to understand concept to others who don’t share their expertise.

Analogies take an unfamiliar idea and frame it using a concept that is likely familiar to the listener. Because the comparison item is familiar, it gives the listener something they can understand to better relate to a new idea.


What If You Arent Good with Analogies

I admire Rich for his skill with analogies. And I use his gift to help me.

But not everyone has an analogy king in their life. Or sometimes Rich is in a meeting and I can’t wait. What to do then?

Try this to help you find analogies on your own…


What Is This Like?

Start with the hard to understand concept and ask yourself “What is this like?”

Brainstorm the different characteristics as they relate to the concept.

Why do we do it?

How do we do it?

Who does this?

What are the different parts that make up this concept?

What processes are involved?

What people are involved?

What does it feel like doing this concept?

What’s cool about this concept?

What’s bad about this concept?

What do people find confusing about this concept?


By describing the idea using these questions, you can jar loose some thoughts as to what the concept you’re trying to explain is like. Then compare what you’ve said to some commonly experienced ideas.


Common Experiences to Use for Comparison

Look at activities that most of your audience members will be familiar with and ask the same questions above. Look for similarities between the hard to understand concept and the familiar concepts. Tie the two ideas together to help your audience understand. Here are some examples of common experiences that those who grew up in the United States will likely understand:




Children and parents



Cooking and food preparation


Building a house

Watching television



Playing a game

Playing sports


Playing an instrument




Now Create the Comparison

Trying to help your audience grasp onto your concepts is like putting your ticket in the barrel for a drawing. If you take your ticket and crumple it up a bit, it’s less likely to stick to the ticket next to it. Then when the person reaches in to grab the winning ticket, those crinkled surfaces stand up more and are more likely to be grabbed. (Try it and see if it works for you too!) Analogies work in the same way. If we give people a new way to grasp onto an idea by comparing it to something they know, they’re more likely to understand and remember what we’ve said.

And who doesn’t want to be understood and remembered when they present?!


Now It’s Your Turn! Use the Comment Section to Tell Us about the Favorite Analogies You’ve Created or Favorites You’ve Heard!

(And while you’re at it, let us know if it’s OK for us to “borrow” your brilliant idea!)





Kelly Vandever is a leadership and communications expert who helps leaders and organizations thrive in today’s attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook world.   Connect with Kelly and discover how opening up and speaking practically can bring you better business results. 

Contact Kelly by phone at 770-597-1108, email her or tweet her @KellyVandever.


claudia brogan
claudia brogan

Great ideas here!! thanks for this brain-nudging post. Sometimes I think of A Good Diverse Team like seeing a big beautiful piece of Veggie-Heaven pizza that's just out of the oven. From up on high, just look at it: sparking red tomatoes, big chunks of broccoli, all the yummy mushrooms that your heart can desire, and some lovely discrete strings of cheese to help hold it together (not too much....just the right amount). You see all those beautiful pieces gathered together, and you think "Oh yum, here we go. Come to me, all you yummy tastes!" l