The REAL Research – and Truth about the “7% -38% – 55%” Myth

Have you ever had the experience of hearing a “fact” over and over that somehow
never feels true? Your intuition is telling you “no way”, “uh uh”, “I don’t buy it”. Then you shake your head thinking you must be wrong because so many people are saying the same thing, over and over and over.

Such has been the case for me and the oft spouted “The audience is only influenced 7% by the content of your message.” “Baloney” I thought each and every time I heard or read this statistic. And then about 3 weeks ago a miracle happened, or what felt like a miracle to me. My husband, Michael Grimes, PhD, sent me several links to the actual study from which these misinterpreted statistics came. There it was, in blinking neon and five stories high; I WAS RIGHT!!! (OK, I exaggerate, but it felt that way…)

First, here’s what you’ve probably heard; that when we speak, audiences are influenced by our content only 7%, by our facial movement and body language 55% and by our vocal inflection 38%. Thus, we are lead to believe, content is nowhere near as important as our vocal inflection or our gestures. WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Albert Mehrabian’s research centered around a listener’s divining of a speaker’s true feelings behind his or her message. For example, if I say, “I love my mother.” and I put both hands over my heart and get a little choked up, you the listener, absolutely believe that I do in fact love my mother. My message is in alignment with my tone and gestures. Conversely, if I say, “I love my mother.” while rolling my eyes and accentuating the word ‘love’, you hear and see the sarcasm in my voice and movements and believe the opposite; I’m not so crazy about my mother. My vocal tone and gestures far outweigh my words.

THIS, my dear presenter, was the conclusion of Mehrabian’s research. It was all about the speaker’s feelings and/or like-dislike. It did not apply to factual statements; only those to which feeling was associated. Mehrabian, in his book, Silent Messages (1971) made explicit that “we should be careful to note that these assertions about the disproportionate contribution of implicit, relative to verbal, cues is limited to feelings and like-dislike.”

What does this mean for you, the presenter? Simply that your facial expressions, your gestures (or lack thereof) and your vocal inflection must match your message. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, the audience will know it. If your gestures are not your own (choreographed for you) your message will ring false. The audience may not know why, but they’ll know that something is not syncing, and will believe what your voice and gestures are ‘saying’ rather than your words.

The solution to this? BE YOU! DO YOU!!! Don’t say anything you don’t believe or believe in. Let your body, your face and your voice speak in YOUR way to YOUR message. Don’t allow someone else to suggest gestures or vocal patterns or inflections that are not your own and don’t feel right or natural. Your message is most important; it must be easy for the audience to understand, in their interest in order to be accepted, and compelling enough to spur them to action. Deliver it with them in mind, believing whole-heartedly what you’re saying and you absolutely can’t go wrong. Better still, you absolutely, positively will be heard.

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