Message Development

With just a few words, prominent geologist and Interim President of CUNY College of Staten Island William Fritz vividly summed up why Hurricane Sandy hit the island borough in the middle of New York Harbor so hard: “We’ve hardscaped our sponge.”

Fritz’s language referred to the fact that the increased development of Staten Island took away the sponges that absorb the energy of hurricanes. He went on to say that Jamaica Bay and the Barrier Islands of North Carolina are “natural sponges” that soak up the energy of hurricanes. On Staten Island, he said, houses and parking lots have paved over and eliminated the “sponge.”

He could have easily spoken about over-building.  He might have talked about non-permeable surfaces that prevent the absorption of water.  Instead, he talked about “natural sponges” and “hardscaping” which instantly communicates his key points: 1) nature has ways of protecting the landscape that mankind shouldn’t mess with; and 2) untampered-with barrier islands have properties that absorb the powerful energy of hurricanes.  Look how long it took me to communicate those ideas that Dr. Fritz did in three words.

Using metaphors with vivid imagery like this enhances our communication, creating pictures in our minds that we are more apt to remember. The next time you are at keyboard writing or creating a Power Point, think about how else you might express your idea.  Can you paint a word picture? Can you use a metaphor?