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Analogies can be powerful tools in both explaining and misrepresenting a complex topic. What methodology works well for finding good analogies and how does one figure out whether an analogy is well suited for a specific audience?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

You can eliminate many inappropriate metaphors by asking yourself a question: "Will the people in this audience understand this metphor?" I can't tell you how many American sports metaphors I've wanted to put into my presentations, only to take them out after a moment's pause to consider my international audience.

Ask a few members of the audience for their opinions.

Finally, I've found that metaphors are awful for persuading. They can be useful to explain new ideas to a generally sympathetic audience. But people who are skeptical of your ideas are likely focus immediatetely in the faults in the analogy.

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Analogies should be things that your audience will understand, preferably something that they are familiar with and deal with regularly. For example, I tutor talmud, which consists almost entirely of concepts which are explained by analogy. When teaching kids, I use analogies revolving around sports, and XBox. When studying with businessmen, the analogies come from financial instruments and shell corporations. Just last week I was studying with a programmer so we constructed the arguments in terms of a tree.

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Personally, I had experienced some unpleasant moments with students complaining that they were getting prose instead of (hard) facts because I am a bad teacher. A couple of troublemakers are able to ruin the whole lesson.

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