The Science Behind Using Analogies to Convey Complex HIT Concepts

The Science Behind Using Analogies to Convey Complex HIT Concepts

For many writers, including (especially?) this one, analogies are one of the most important and commonly used tools in our toolbox. Relating a new or complex topic, such as just about anything in health IT (HIT), to a familiar example readers already know and understand seems like a good way to shorten the learning curve and ultimately move the sales needle.

Of course, not everyone buys into that idea. “Our target audience is made up of serious and highly educated people,” some say. “They don’t need some silly reference to cars, or movies, or building a house to understand our products/services. They just want the facts.”

That’s why I was so excited to discover the work of Robert A. Bjork, Ph.D., a Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA who specializes in cognitive psychology. Dr. Bjork’s research on how we learn shows “If information is studied so that it can be interpreted in relation to other things in memory, learning is much more powerful.” In other words, if you want someone to understand a new concept, it helps if they can relate it to what they already know and understand.

So it turns out there’s actually some science to the use of analogies. Giving information context, or “seating” it within what someone already knows (to use Dr. Bjork’s term) helps readers comprehend the information faster.

That’s where analogies can bring a lot of value. You start with something simple and familiar to get them thinking in the right direction. You then show how the new, complex concept fits within that familiar landscape.

Because you have already set the context, you’re far more likely to get the target audience to start nodding their heads in agreement. As any good salesperson can tell you, gaining that agreement is an important key to closing the sale.

Going deeper

Using analogies also helps ease readers into deeper conversation. It’s like opening a serious lecture with a joke, or sprucing up the front of your house when you’re trying to sell it to make it more inviting to prospective buyers. (See what I did there?)

First you capture their interest, then you get into the meat of what you want to say. That works a lot better than just launching right into the detailed information.

Another reason analogies help is they can take what might otherwise be a dry, technical topic and spice it up – like adding a good rub to a steak before grilling it. (I’m on a roll now!) The steak is still the star, but the rub helps bring out all the flavor the steak has to offer.

Editor reaction

One more good reason to use analogies is in my experience, most editors like them. Especially editors of publications that cover technology products for business or even technical audiences.

They get tons of contributed articles that sound like they were written by engineers for engineers. The articles convey facts, but they don’t “grab” readers and compel them to pick up the publication.

A good analogy can help spur reader interest, which is the editor’s main goal. Throughout my career I’ve received many nice notes from editors, including some from very technical publications, thanking our clients for taking such an interesting perspective and writing an article people might actually want to read.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should always try to work an analogy into every byline, blog post, or other content. Even I don’t do that. Sometimes playing it straight is the right approach to take, whether that’s dictated by the publication or the subject matter.

But where you can, and where it works, using analogies is a great way to draw your audience in and help them quickly understand the key point you’re trying to convey.

Mastering Unspoken Messages

What Are You Really Saying? Mastering Unspoken Messages

Have you ever heard the phrase, “it’s not what you say but how you say it?” This “how,” or nonverbal communication, accounts for more than 90 percent of what we convey. In fact, former UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian found that the use of one’s voice makes up 38 percent of what we communicate and body language comprises up to 55 percent. By not paying attention to cues, you could be mixing messages or sending unspoken messages in ways that go beyond the Oxford comma debate.

Depending on how the words are delivered, carefully crafted messages can be disregarded, along with an expert’s credibility. This spokesperson could instead appear disinterested or worse. Is that person carefully pondering the question or thinking of what is for dinner? That answer lies in the interpretation.

Conference calls

A major part of work days, including a high percentage of media interviews, are spent on the phone. Many of us jump from one conference call to another without a second thought. However, just because someone can’t see you, does not mean your actions are unnoticed. Here are some pointers for navigating these interactions:

  • Know your key messages: Don’t memorize them; rather, internalize the main three points you want to leave behind. That way, they will naturally integrate into the conversation.
  • Smile: This truly does change how your voice projects and can be heard on the other end.
  • Speak calmly and confidently: Voice tone can portray openness, knowledge and legitimacy of the person talking. Using frequent ‘ums’ or sounding overly emotional can have the opposite effect.
  • Mute the sound track: Background noise can distract both ends of the conversation and take away from the main points. This may also come across as though the call was not a high enough priority to find a quiet location.

In-person Meetings

Whether you are embarking on a media tour, going for coffee or taking meetings at tradeshows, these in-person encounters are a great way to make a lasting impression – make sure it is a positive one. Your audience, including reporters and business prospects, can now see you in addition to hearing you, so there are more messages being conveyed in meetings that typically run longer than telephone interviews. Make sure they are all working in your favor.

  • Speak with your body language: No, this does not mean the cha-cha, floss or any other dance du jour. This refers to how you carry yourself, so you appear approachable but not sloppy; confident without coming across as arrogant. It is the details, including making eye contact and leaning forward a bit to the person you are speaking with to show you are engrossed with the conversation.
  • Appear engaged: Smile periodically and occasionally nod your head in agreement with the person you are meeting. Beware of crossing your arms – you may be cold, but it will come across as disinterested.
  • Respect personal space: Provide enough distance to keep the other person comfortable but not so far away that you lose the connection.
  • Remove distractions: Show the reporter, analyst or prospect that they are important enough to have your undivided attention. Turn the cell phone off, or keep it on vibrate, and put it away. The temptation to check messages is strong, so remove it from the equation.

Many of the points discussed above are subjective. More than anything else, read how your nonverbal communication is being received, so you can adjust as needed. Great spokespeople leave an impression because they know how to present themselves and understand how they are being received. Listening to the unspoken messages of others will help you become a master communicator.

Hashtag Misuse

Only You Can Prevent Hashtag Misuse

Do your research. Or end up with #EGG on your face.

hash·tag: A word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (#), used within a message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitate a search for it.

Communication has and will continue to evolve. It is a powerful tool when used correctly, and social media has taken communication to new heights. Now, we can reach beyond our own networks to communicate, discover and assemble instantly.  However, a tool is only as powerful as its operator.

Though each social network has its own way of displaying posts under a certain hashtag, and their own algorithms for specifying trending content, these rules tend to hold true in general across each social channel. Follow them and you too can prevent hashtag misuse.

Only you can prevent hashtag misuse