Apr 7, 2017

Interview Transcript

Interviewer: You're going to find out the three times you should absolutely use analogies to better communicate your message, and the one thing you should always do before you create an analogy. That's coming up next on The Healthcare Insider.

Announcer: These are the conversations happening inside healthcare that are going to transform healthcare. The Healthcare Insider is on The Scope.

Interviewer: One of the most powerful tools to help people understand what's going on whether you're a physician, or a researcher, or a scientist, is a great analogy, but sometimes coming up with that great analogy can be difficult. Evonne Kaplan-Liss is a physician and a journalist at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University School of Journalism. Is there a formula to creating a great analogy? How do you come up with one? That sounds kind of overwhelming and daunting to a lot of people.

Dr. Kaplan-Liss: An analogy is something that the audience that you're talking to has to understand, right? So you have to understand your audience to know what type of analogy you can use. That's the first thing. For example, when I'm talking about phagocytosis, which is what macrophages do, and I'm trying to explain that to an audience that doesn't know anything about science, a good analogy would be to use Pac-Man.

It's a visual image and Pac-Man is exactly what phagocytosis is. It's eating up something. It elicits a visual image and it's something that most of the public can relate to. But I checked that out before I used it, and I check it out with my teenage sons, 16 and 19, because if they don't know who Pac-Man is, I have to be careful about using that type of analogy. They knew who Pac-Man was. So if they know who Pac-Man is, then I can use that in most audiences.

Another analogy would be like a surgeon when he's trying to tell his patient the size of the tumor that he removed. And he says, "It's like the size of a grapefruit." That also tells the shape and the size of the tumor that was removed. It puts it into context for the patient, but you need to know that the patient is going to understand that analogy.

Interviewer: There are some specific times analogies can be more powerful of a communicating tool than others. Let's talk about the three times that you should really look to use an analogy to make your point.

Dr. Kaplan-Liss: When you're using numbers, it's really important to put them into context. Have you ever read the book by Rebecca Skloot, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks&"? Fabulous book, but she's basically trying to get across the message of the amount of cells that were able to be grown outside of the body from one cell that was taken from this woman, Henrietta Lacks. That's why it was called immortal cells. She was trying to put the number of them into context, and the number itself, millions of cells, that means a lot. But how much is that? Then she'd say, "Well, it's equivalent to 150,000 tons." How much is that? That's equivalent to the weight of 10 Empire State Buildings. That's a heck of a lot of cells.

Interviewer: Now, you finally get it. What other things do you find are handy for using analogies for? Numbers and magnitude is good. What other instances are they pretty powerful tools?

Dr. Kaplan-Liss: The Pac-Man was a good visual. Sometimes you need a visual and you may not have one, like a prop or something. But a visual in somebody's mind is a great way of transmitting information, and it's memorable.

Interviewer: Another instance where an analogy might be a powerful tool?

Dr. Kaplan-Liss: To develop common ground with your audience. You can relate to them better if you have something that they understand and you understand from a common path. It'll bring you closer together. It'll help you engage the audience.

Announcer: Be part of the conversation that transforms healthcare. Leave a comment and tell us what you're thinking. The Healthcare Insider is a production of thescoperadio.com, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

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