There are times when writers need to convey complex, difficult concepts to audiences that may not have the same level of knowledge as the organization that is sending the message. A simple solution that works wonders in those situations is the use of analogies, similes, and metaphors. When you can distill something complicated into something familiar and easy to understand, the audience will grasp it more quickly and remember it far longer.


Way back when I used to write materials to help automotive technicians repair engines and auto parts dealers sell more parts, a client company was introducing a new style of gasket. Traditional gaskets used in these applications were stamped out of dense cork or a mixture of cork and rubber. The technician would lay the gasket flat in a machined groove, tighten a few bolts, and the valve cover or oil pan was adequately sealed.


But when engines were expected to generate more power and take up less space, those basic gaskets couldn’t stand up to the higher pressures and temperatures, so manufacturers switched to molded rubber construction. As I was preparing an explanation of new material and how it worked, an automotive engineer at the client told me that the key was the inherent memory in the rubber. When I looked puzzled, he pulled a rubber band out of his desk and demonstrated that no matter what he did to the rubber band, it always tried to return to its original shape. I used his example to convey that complex mechanical engineering concept to the average technician.


When cell phone technology was new (and bag phones were all the rage), I worked with one of the leading cell phone companies in the Chicago area. We developed a brochure to explain how cell phones always stayed connected, even though the signal traveled from tower to tower.


An obvious analogy appeared: relay races, in which different runners carry the baton throughout the course of the race. Even though the baton changes carriers, it is always in at least one runner’s hands. That’s why cell phones usually don’t cut out when switching towers.


The human brain responds to simplicity, and is faster to learn when a new concept builds off of something that’s already familiar. Keep that in mind the next time you have to share something that can be tough to explain.