A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to coach a very bright manager with a great deal of potential, helping her deliver the presentation of her life. In preparing for my coaching assignment, I read the latest books regarding successful presentations (check out The Presentation Coach by Graham Davies if you are interested). I also used my knowledge from previous training courses, in which I learned that 55% of what speakers convey is passed on through body language and facial expressions, while 38% is communicated through the tone of their voice, leaving only 7% of the presentation to rely on words.
When I chewed over this statistic and the realization hit me, I couldn’t help but think… Really?
Let me give you an example about the absurdity of this statistic. According to this myth, my wife should be able to tell me where I left my keys without me saying a word – I just have to make my ‘honey-where-are-my-keys face’.
I decided to conduct some further research online, and found that these statistics (as the previous example indicates) are a load of rubbish. And the professor whose research has created this myth, Professor Albert Mehrabian, is actually the first to point this out. He himself indicates that his famous formula (Total liking = 7% verbal liking + 38% vocal liking + 55% facial liking) is solely related to a very specific aspect of nonverbal communication. His work and formula relate only to inconsistent messages about feelings and attitudes, that is, face-to-face exchanges in which the meaning of what we say is contradicted by our body language and tone of voice and not verbal communication. So if I say ‘I am sorry’ to my wife, she will interpret 55% of what I said from my facial expression, 38% from my tone of voice and only 7% from the actual words I say.
Of course, as you would expect, there is a great YouTube video about the Mehrabian Myth.
What is interesting to me is how statistics that seem to distort reality can so easily seep into the collective consciousness of trainers and professionals alike (including mine!). I guess the most important aspect to remember about verbal communication in terms of presentations is that the content should be simple, credible and, to a degree, surprising. Take this as advice for your next career transforming presentation: make sure the content is simple, credible and touches the audience, but be sure to watch out for the ways in which you nonverbally communicate your ideas too!
My coachee absolutely nailed it. She won the coveted award she set out to attain and was the talk of the town in her organization. How did she do it? She prepared, prepared and prepared. As a result, her content was rock-solid and engaging, her presentation technique was immaculate and her confidence and passionate was clear for all to see.
– Paul Keijzer