We use metaphors all the time. We claim businesses run like “well-oiled machines,” CEO’s lead like “quarterbacks,” and successful people are like “rockstars.” Metaphors are a great way to transform complex information into visual moments that stick with people. We instantly understand quarterbacks are great leaders and rockstars have lots of money.

However, we often fail to use metaphors when presenting important information to our audiences. Instead, we think presenting a list of numbers will impress our audiences (on-and-offline) with all the time we spent burning the midnight oil when telling a great story with a powerful metaphor would have been a touchdown.

If you want to impress your audience, create powerful metaphors by using the tool of invocation.

Invocation creates rich metaphors

Invocation is a great storytelling tool used by filmmakers, television writers, and animators to create compelling characters. In the storytelling book The Best Story Wins, former Pixar Story Artist and Animator Matthew Luhn explains he used this method to create great characters in The Simpsons and movies like Toy Story and Up. Luhn, who is also a keynote speaker, also invokes characters to develop metaphors for his presentations so people remember his important points.

Metaphors help people remember

According to memory research, our brains are like sieves. They only hold about 5% of the data we hear in a lecture. More than 90% of the data anyone hears basically goes down the drain. Unless you tell a story.

When you use a story or metaphor to relay important information to your audience, the audience becomes an elephant, remembering about 65% of the information. For example, what’s easier to remember? The moral of preparing for hard times in “The Fable of the Ant and The Grasshopper” or that 28% of American people don’t have an emergency fund and only 41% would be able to cover a $1,000 emergency?

Moreover, we relate to the story of “The Ant and the Grasshopper” because we all know people who are like ants (hardworking and frugal) and grasshoppers (people who party all the time and always spend their money).

Follow the four steps to invoke a character.

When invoking a character, first think of the people who made an impression on your life. Think of the people you liked the most, hated the most—or who excited or annoyed you. These people made a lasting impression like the one you want to leave with an audience and can provide great details for a character.

Then use these four prompts to begin sentences and follow the instructions of what to write about.

  1. It is… Physically describe the person’s looks and behaviors.
  2. You are… Identify the person’s relationship to you when you first met.
  3. Thou art… Explain why that person made an impression on your life.
  4. I am… Describe where that person is today and what they are doing now.

For example, you could invoke a character to do your own version of “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” Here is one from my life.

It is a man in a tie-dyed shirt, long hair, an easy smile, who plays acoustic guitar and sings, works part-time as a massage therapist, and lives in a van.

You are a free-spirited acquaintance.

Thou art a dreamer, always dreaming of big ideas but never working very hard to achieve them.

I am still living in a van.

Insert your invoked character in a metaphor.

Once you have invoked a powerful character, insert that person in your metaphor. Or use that memory to remember a story you can use as a metaphor.

Here is how I inserted the invoked character into the fable of “The Ant and The Grasshopper.”

I once knew a guy who lived in a van by my friend’s studio. He was really friendly, smiled a lot, and played guitar. He worked part-time giving massages and had a membership at the local winery, sometimes spotting us a drink. He was really funny. We loved hanging with him.

I had another friend who worked full time at an accounting agency. She was very serious and careful with her money. She prepared her own lunches and didn’t drop by very often to see us.

When the recession hit, my accountant friend invited us over to have a lovely dinner at her house. We had a great time. I don’t know what happened to my friend in the van. I haven’t seen him in a long time.

Can you see how the invocation enriched the retelling of the fable? And made the characters more relatable? Anyone can use this technique. It just takes about fifteen minutes.

So the next time you’re presenting important information, try invoking characters to develop more powerful metaphors for your main points. This will lead to better presentations that make a lasting impression on your audience’s memory.