People sometimes don’t understand complex ideas but do get them when they are compared to something simple.

One of my students, Tony, works at a startup that’s developing a wearable device that can count bacteria in blood. He begins his description with these words: “A miniature X-ray sensor scans autoinducers and phenotypes…” 

I soon realise Tony has a problem. He has to present his company’s product to a panel of investors who know as much as I do about biology. Therefore, I ask him to introduce his product in a more didactic manner by using an analogy.

“What is that?” Tony asks.

“When you compare something complicated to something simple”, I reply. Analogies help listeners incorporate new ideas by seeing them through familiar concepts, as in “This company is like a family” or “Life is a long journey.”  

“Can you give me more examples, please?”

Of course:  “Business is a game. There are winners and losers”; “Our machines run like clockwork” or “This motorcycle is as eco-friendly as a bicycle”.

Tony came back a week later with this example: “Imagine that you’re driving along a highway with a camera that transmits cars’ number plates and sends them to a central unit that matches them to traffic records. You can know how many Fords, Toyotas or Fiats are on the road. Our device works the same way, but with an X-ray camera and bacteria instead of cars.”

Isn’t that easier to understand? Analogies do help explain complicated ideas. Here you have some common analogies that you can use in a business setting:

  • “You can’t run a marathon on an empty stomach,” which could mean that you cannot manage a company without enough resources.
  • “Time is money.” No need to explain this one!
  • “Good trees don’t bear bad fruit,” which could be applied when investing in a successful business.


Want to learn more about business English? Read Andrew’s Speak and Write Better Business English e-book here