Have you heard these statistics?: “Effective communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal (the non-verbal is 55 percent body language and 38 percent tone of voice).
They are often accompanied by a PowerPoint pie chart:
Maybe you have even quoted those statistics.
I’ve heard so many speakers quote those numbers (including a highly paid professional speaker just last month) that I almost took them for granted, until I was considering quoting them in a presentation a few years ago. And then, I thought, that doesn’t make sense! Words are only 7 percent?
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” –popularized by Mark Twain
It turns out that the statistics are based on studies UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian and his colleagues conducted on human communication patterns. The studies had nothing to do with giving speeches, but were based on information that could be conveyed in a single word. In one study, a woman said the word “maybe” three different ways to convey liking, neutrality and disliking. The subjects listened to the recording and were also shown pictures of the woman’s face conveying the same emotions. They correctly identified the emotions 50 percent more often from the photos than from the voice. The big take away from his studies was that when words and non-verbal messages are in conflict, the non-verbal is what people believe more. Men, especially should take note of this. Men, When you ask your wife, “How are you?” and she answers, “Fine!” with her eyes flashing, her mouth a thin slit and her tone not-so-pleasant, which do you believe more, the verbal or the non-verbal?
Here’s a short, engaging video “Busting the Mehrabian Myth” that debunks the myth:
I do think the video goes too far when it states “It’s just not true that delivery can make or break a presentation.” I absolutely disagree with that statement. I’ve seen far too many presenters fail in delivery of their message. Delivery is important, but it’s not 93% of effective communication!
As a presentation coach, my first focus when working with a client on a new presentation is never about body language and tone of voice. It is about the structure of the presentation and the words used. Structure first. Words second. Delivery third. How you say something is important, but not more important than what you say.