Making any communication memorable or perhaps in modern parlance ‘go viral’ might seem a relatively new challenge, however as far back as 350BC Aristotle identified 3 key principles of effective communication, clearly this predates Facebook, Twitter and other social networks by a few years!
Stick people multiplying exponentially
Aristotle argued that for any message to be persuasive it should have these three elements:

  1. Ethos: an ethical appeal
  2. Pathos: an emotional appeal
  3. Logos: a logical appeal

Yet to really engage with an audience in the modern age, you might add simplicity, plus an excellent speaker or other effective mode of communication like social media, and you’re halfway to making your message stick.

Recent research by academics including Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Katherine Milkman (of the same institution) identified other key components of what potentially makes a message go viral:

  1. Make the message emotional
  2. Give the message a positive angle
  3. Make the message arousing and not dull
  4. Give the message a memory inducing trigger
  5. The message must be relevant (that is have social currency)
  6. Enliven the message with a relevant contextual story

A sticky conversation in action

Let’s look at an example from a real patient safety-focused conversation my colleague had with a consultant anaesthetist (anonymised) which closely mirrors the criteria above to make the message clear.

Anaesthetist: So what’s this TalkSafe all about?

TalkSafe champion: Well let’s do one now. What were you doing today?
A: I was in theatre.
T: So take me through the day. How did it go?
A: Well the first two patients went smoothly but Mrs Smith turned out to be more complicated and took longer than expected. But in the end we were successful.
T: Well done. It must be very rewarding when you overcome unexpected difficulties and help the patient. What happened next?
A: The next patient was Mr Jones. So it was my job to give him a local anaesthetic and then follow it up with a general. Normally I would also put in a cannula but we were running out of time so as it was just a routine operation I didn’t. We need to keep theatre occupancy up.
T: What’s the cannula for?
A: Well if a complication had developed, which is a pretty rare occurrence I would need to get stuff into him quickly.

T: So if a complication had developed in theatre what would you have done?
A: I would probably have been able to get a cannula in and rescue him.

T: And if you hadn’t had time what would have happened?

(Long pause…)

A: Well I suppose the patient could have died.
T: How would you have felt if that was your wife being prepared for surgery by another anaesthetist and he hadn’t put in a cannula?

(Another long pause…)

A: Hmmm.

T: So what could you have done?
A: Well I suppose I could have asked round to see if theatre staff were prepared to stay late to give me time to put a cannula in.

T: And if they couldn’t?
A: Well I suppose it would then better to abort the operation.
T: So what will you do next time?
A: Stay late or cancel.