The key to engaging an audience? Metaphors

The unconscious takes powerful notice of memorable metaphors, a fact that should figure more prominently in every public speaker’s rhetorical arsenal, says this expert.

Ragan Insider Premium Content
Ragan Insider Content

The human mind—especially the unconscious—is still a mystery to us. Neuroscience pushes back the puzzlement, but we have a long way to go.

Psychology professor Adele Goldberg at Princeton University has boosted our knowledge. Her research focuses on the effect metaphors have on our brains. She’s found that if you say, “that was a sweet comment,” it will activate your taste centers and your amygdalae—the twin sections of your brain involved in decision-making, emotions, and memory.

Apparently our unconscious is literal, and if you tell it something is sweet, it gets almost as excited as if you put an ice cream sundae under its figurative nose.

What this response suggests is that the language we use—or fail to use—is incredibly important in directing the response of our audience and increasing its engagement with our messages.

If you speak often because of your job, e.g., if you’re an academic who lectures, then you’ve experienced looking out at your audience and noticing with a sinking heart that they don’t seem thrilled by what you’re saying. (I hope this deflation has happened very infrequently.)

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.