Rhetorical Techniques: Unlock The Thought For Your Audience

key lock 1 Keys To The Mind: Analogical Illustrations

All analogies illustrate,

but not all illustrations are analogies.

There are several kinds of analogies, but the brand of analogy which I am addressing is the more lengthy form — the developed, protracted, story form of analogy.

A simple analogy is:   “Bird is to nest, as dog is to house” —  (or your favorite chair)

Such is an analogy, but it does not draw out the comparison as does a story or a parable.

Neither am I addressing what most would call a sermon illustration.  There may be a “jump” that the speaker wants the audience to make, a jump from the illustration to their own personal lives, but the content of the illustration is not founded on the elements of analogy.

While an analogy illustrates, not all illustrations are analogies.  Here is an illustration which could be used in a speech or sermon — but is not an analogy

“Today marks the 21st anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. On April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City was rocked when a bomb hidden inside a rental truck exploded, taking off the federal building’s north wall. The Oklahoma City Bombing killed 168 people in total.”

That act of domestic terrorism killed 19 children who were in the nursery facilities of the building.

Tim McVeigh, who was aided by Terry Nichols, went on trial.

The verdict:  McVeigh received the death penalty (executed in 2001) and Nichols will spend his life in jail.

[Then a speaker could use this quotation]
Stephen Jones stated — “Even a man accused of the worst act of terrorism ever committed in this country – especially such a man – is entitled to the best possible defense.  This concept is a cornerstone of our justice system.”

Men will all stand before God one day and the best possible defense that men can come up with will not excuse, exonerate, pardon, forgive, exempt anyone if they do not have a Saviour!



[Or A speaker could use this quotation]
P. J. Allen was a 1-year-old who was attending the “America’s Kids Day Care” of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.  He was one of the survivors and was pulled out of the building’s day care rubble.

He was the youngest survivor of six children!

55% of his body was covered with burns.

His trachea tube, which helped P. J. Allen breathe for almost nine years, was removed in 2004

As he grew up and came to understand what happened.  In an article on the 20th anniversary of the bombing, P. J. Allen stated . . . .

“I didn’t realize how close I was to not making it out.  It was almost like I was being set free. I promised myself I would just seize opportunities and try my best at everything.”

We too would change our perspective about life and living if we understood that today might well be our last day on earth.  Like Allen, our days begin as a normal day.  We don’t have any idea of how this day will end — young or old.

If we got up in the morning and realized that we have been given another day, that we have really been set free to do our best for the Kingdom. . . . .

Now obviously, if I were to use this illustration, I am seeking to draw a relationship between what happened in the Oklahoma bombing and/or P. J. Allen’s life, with the audience.

Nevertheless, it is not an analogical illustration.  There is immense value in seeing an analogical illustration differently from the typical illustration.

An Analogical Illustration:

Tony Evans’ illustration which was highlighted in the previous post was a hypothetical brand of analogy — it that it still typical sermon illustration and an analogy.

It was a story — a hypothetical but real to life story.  It carried no claim that this happened to anyone or that it has any historical basis. Nevertheless, it is not out of the realm of the listener’s thinking or knowledge.

It was a brand of analogy which carries this kind of marker — “Imagine along with me this situation . . . . .” — stated or unstated.

“One day, a man was lost in a desert without water, but he saw an old makeshift structure. . . . .

The story sets up a situation that the audience can actually visualize.*

To his surprise, inside he found a jar of pure looking water. This jar was on the floor next to a pump.

The story lays out the man’s two options.

He walked over to the jar to quench his overbearing thirst
The sign read, “Use this water to prime the pump.”

What if he followed the directions
poured out all of the water he now held in his hand

to either fill himself now,
or pour out what he had and take the chance that there was so much more.

Evans then come to the resolution of the tension.

The man made the choice to prime the pump.
It was a good choice because the water flowed freely.
He drank to his delight and collected enough water to take him on his journey.
Before he left, he filled the jar and placed it next to the note.

Under the words of the note, he wrote, “Trust me. It works!”


Giving to others in our horizontal relationship with them is a method of priming the pump of God’s vertical blessings in our lives.

You have a choice.

You can take the little that God has given you now and consume it for yourself.

Or you can use it to prime something that’s got so much more.

The choice hinges on whether you believe God’s Word that if you give, it will be given to you.

Evan’s Exhortation To Us — “Oh, and trust me, it works.”

The Power Of Analogy:

Why do analogies work as well as they do?  The answer to that question is multiple. . . . .

√ analogies connect with what we already know or understand
Analogies help us categorize, explain, understand, relate, interconnect, associate, attach, see patterns, connect the dots, or tie things together.

√ analogies stir the imagination
We are created creative beings and have the ability to imagine, to even imagine the hypothetical, and to even imagine things that only exist in our imagination

√ analogies are written in our mind’s “associative language”
From our earliest years, our minds are seeking to connect what we know with what is unknown.  That is why a child calls a very large dog — “horsey.”

√ analogies help us grab slippery concepts
There are abstract concepts, truths, and principles that can only be visualized by a person.  That is especially true when it comes to the world of physics, astronomy, and scientific investigation — i.e. the atom is like the solar system (the Bohr model).**

√ analogies can select the parts of the comparison which are most useful
All analogies may be flawed to some degree if extended out far enough.  That does not make them flawed or even inevitably fallacious.***  Analogy is foundational to learning and understanding!  The more similar the elements of the analogy, the stronger the argument.  Compare two things which have little in common and/or a major element which is not in common and you have everything from a weak or weakened argument — to “apples & oranges.”

√ analogies are a shortcut form of argument***
Interestingly, one can — and maybe should – view the preacher as God’s lawyer in the courtroom called the local church.  One of the aims of a pastor is to argue the case that the Scriptures make for thinking and acting according to His Word.

Making New Analogies:

There are two options in creating analogical illustrations.

#1) A speaker can hear an analogy which is . . . .

• a good analogy yet can be run out further
• a poor analogy and it needs better development
• a sentence analogy or figure of speech and flesh it out
• a good or bad analogy, which calls up the possibility of another similar-different analogy (ship cargo vs. train cars)

Take that analogical illustration and reinvent / develop / correct /  change / revise it in a new or better way.

The book of illustrations by Tony Evans can get you up and going in seeing it done.

His illustration can provide examples that you can “run with” — run them out further than he does — because Evans doesn’t always run his out and/or he only makes an illusion to an analogical idea — which would be great if developed.

i.e. — In a message, Evans makes a passing metaphor — “you have the canvas fighting with the painter” — That can be developed to a good analogical illustration (see link)

#2) A speaker can create entirely new analogies.  This takes a lot more mental work and at times will “mentally dead-end” the speaker.  You have to get the analogy to fit the concept you are working on, and to get “the lock” to open.  To do that,  you may have to go through a good number of “keys”.

You know what you want to unlock for the audience — but what it will take to unlock that thought in their minds — what “key” will do that — what the “key” even looks like which might fit the lock — takes time, as well as trial and error.

Nevertheless, the more you engage in that activity — the better you get at understanding “the lock” and selecting the possible “keys.”

That is why working at the rhetorical side of a message is WORK!  MENTAL WORK!  Maybe more mental work than knowing what the passage says.

In fact, what the passage says is usually well known and understood!  It is how to get what it is saying across to the minds of the audience is where the time speeds by!





* The contrast is the kind of analogy of which we have no experience — i.e. a mustard seed growing into a tree as found in Matthew 13 — or hiring men to work in a vineyard one hour before the end of the day as found in Matthew 20.


** “Although recent studies have shown that the Bohr model of the atom is probably not correct—or at least incomplete—the concept of tiny solar systems has captured the imagination of many people.” — https://www.school-for-champions.com/science/atoms_solar_systems.htm#.XLnqXJNKjok


*** An interesting argument which continues to rage is the use of analogy in the courtroom.  The argument has its proponents on both sides of the issues.  What is interesting about this continuing argument is that classical rhetorical theorists identify the courtroom as one of the three major venues for the application of rhetorical theory See Keith Mitnik’s book — Don’t Eat the Bruises — as he defends the value and use of analogy in the courtroom.





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