Google tells us that the human attention span is only eight seconds – one second less than a goldfish. Whether this is fact or click bait, it’s true that people ‘info snack’ to filter out the periphery.
Author: Susan Walkley, Managing Director, PR and Creative Comms
Today, healthcare communication inhabits a fast-moving eco-system with a high volume of traffic. Now that social media and digital have opened so many more opportunities to get our message across, it is more important than ever to create attention-grabbing and authentic connections – and not just add to the noise.It’s a universal truth that people are complicated. Our motivations are not only governed by rational thought processes vying for control over our emotions, but a myriad of other factors are at play. These include peoples’ cultural beliefs and social context; cognitive ability to fully understand, then act on information received; attitude to risk and loss aversion, and unconscious biases that determine how we make sense of the world around us.
Put simply, human beings are irrational. This complexity deepens further in the context of healthcare, where decision-making has important consequences.
We see rational decision-making behaviour when healthcare professionals make choices about treatments in chronic disease areas, where even small gains need to be weighed against potential losses.
In contrast, this “norm” is less present when people are under acute healthcare stress or there is a high perceived threat to survival – this is when our primal motivations take over.
When it comes to crafting communication, we must take care that our message will land in the way we expect it to. Understanding how our brain makes sense of incoming information can help shape an outgoing message that makes an impact. For example, selective attention means that our ability to pay attention is usually limited to the beginning and the conclusion – what’s in the middle can be missed. Perhaps helpful for avoiding confrontation when delivering bad news, but to maintain interest we need to punctuate content with attention-grabbing hooks.
A symptom of our reality, too much information or cognitive overload is a problem. Most people cannot actively retain more than seven items at any one time and usually can spontaneously recall only three, or at best, four items. The ‘rule of three’ is a useful tool to simplify communication and focus on priorities.
In healthcare the stakes can be high, and the perception of risk can create biases and impact how people behave. We can use a gain-framing approach to highlight an issue as long as the ‘risk’ is resolved immediately and the ‘gain’ from taking a course of action is framed in a positive way.
Great communication is about people – not about goldfish. To mobilise your audience to your cause, or land compelling brand or corporate messaging, understanding what makes them tick is an important starting point on your journey of persuasion. Using shortcuts like these can help us make sense of the human psyche and are vital components in any healthcare communicator’s storytelling armoury.
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