In 2017, a doctor working in an English hospital was distressed by a survey that showed 55% of nurses and doctors in his hospital weren’t following guidelines on the management of asthma. Even worse, 38% of them didn’t even know these guidelines existed.
He created a communication to fix this, and astonishingly only two months later 100% of doctors and nurses were now aware of the guidelines and compliance rates had shot up remarkably.
Doctors aren’t exactly known for their top-notch communication skills, so how the hell did he do this?
The secret is surprisingly simple: he used rhymes.
Here’s the communication that Dr. Tapas Mukherjee created, using just his smart phone and some colleagues.
Why was this communication so effective? It’s the rhymes.
Rhymes are surprisingly powerful. They help us to remember things. Rhymes increase processing fluency, in other words they help us to understand messages more easily. We can process them in our brains and make sense of them more easily. This makes us more able to remember the key message.
Not only that, but rhymes are very persuasive.
Scientists have identified a cognitive bias known as “the rhyme-and-reason effect”. This shows that people are more likely to believe statements that contain a rhyme compared to statements that don’t. Rhyming actually influences our perception of accuracy.
In a fascinating study published in The Journal of Psychological Science in 2000, researchers found that participants who were given rhymes found the message more accurate and more insightful.
Another study from 1999 had similar findings – people rated rhyming phrases as more accurate than non-rhyming ones even when the message was exactly the same. For example: "Anger restrained is wisdom gained" was more believable than "Anger held back is wisdom gained".
You were probably told as a kid that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. And you'll probably remember that phrase for your whole life. Would it have been as memorable or believable if the phrase was “an apple a day keeps you healthy?” Probably not.
Rhyming in advertisements
This science explains why companies around the world use rhymes to advertise their products. They know what they’re doing and they know it’s a good commercial investment to produce slogans like:
Researchers have looked specifically at the role of rhyming in the world of advertising and found similar results to the studies cited above: rhymes were consistently rated as more likeable, easier to remember, more persuasive and more trustworthy.
Rhymes in… the courtroom?
Even lawyers know the power of rhymes.
During the OJ Simpson trial, rhyming was used as a rhetorical technique to influence the jury’s perception of truth. When OJ Simpson struggled to put on the gloves that were allegedly worn by the killer, his defence lawyer theatrically used the rhyming phrase “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. (Guess what, he got acquitted.)
But what about rhymes in internal communication?
I’ll level with you. I’ve never used rhymes in internal communication. At least not deliberately. But I absolutely will now that I’ve uncovered all this research.
Will you give it a try too?
How about adding a rhyme to key statements that you want to make more convincing or memorable to employees. This can apply, for example, to something that is traditionally very boring and you need to capture people’s attention. Crafting catchy and concise rhymes can make messages more compelling and help employees to remember crucial information.
But a word of caution… while rhymes can be powerful, don’t overdo it. Use rhymes sparingly and cleverly and when you really need to make your message stick.
So... If you give it a go, let me know, it might just make your creativity flow.
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