The words you say.
The tone you say them in.
The larger non-verbal cues you use to put them across.
We can all agree that all three of these elements are important in the communication of your message in a negotiation, a job interview or in delivering a presentation. But can you do a neat pie chart of how much impact each of those elements has on your audience? As with so much of life, scientists answer that question by saying, “It’s not that simple.” [How very tedious!]
In Where’s My Oasis? I included a brief chapter on body language, highlighting the elements you need to become aware of in your practice for face-to-face situations. I posted some thoughts on your verbal tics and irritations and some other thoughts on Phil Schiller’s physical and vocal presence when he stood in for Steve Jobs at an Apple keynote here on my presenting blog. Here’s what I wrote in Oasis:
Psychologists across the world argue as to just how much information we communicate with our bodies; but put a group of them in a room together and they will all agree that we receive very little information merely from what people say.

UGLY FACT No. 9: Just 10-30% of all the information an interviewer takes on board will be as a result of what you say.

Harsh eh? (With the obvious exception of a telephone interview). Okay, an interview is a rarified circumstance. Most of the candidates will be trying to say the right thing and to not put their foot in their mouth as they speak. Many of the candidates will be displaying a certain … moral flexibility … when it comes to the truth, and will either be economical or inflationary with that truth. Which means that interviewers, over time, learn to become very interested in how you say things – sometimes to a greater extent than what you are saying.

How different is that in a presentation setting? Lots ofIt depends” qualifiers in response to that. Your audience will listen to how you say things a great deal if you are one of 20 start-ups presenting to a group of VCs, but if you are the all-knowing professor delivering a fact-based, 101 lecture, your students will be almost exclusively concerned with what you are saying.

Which brings us to the Mehrabian Myth that only 7% of the information that human beings take from one another derives from the words that we speak. This is obviously twaddle, based on multiple misinterpretations of the research and I loved the Creativity Works‘ simple debunking of the notion:


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If you still need to read more on this, I’d recommend Olivia Mitchell, Lisa Braithwaite and Max Atkinson’s thoughts on the subject.