Don’t be “that” presenter people are whispering about

You have heard it. You may have even shared it.Busting the Mehrabian Myth

And to be fair, there was a time I shared it too.

“7% of communication comes from words,
38% from your tone of voice, and
55% comes from body language”

This is one of the most quoted “truths” by people making a point about the effectiveness of communication.

But it’s wrong.

The “Mehrabian Myth” is quoted SO often, and it somehow seems SO right, but Dr. Albert Mehrabian himself is on record saying that this has been taken out of context and shouldn’t be used like it is.

In the last month I’ve seen and heard it by a blogger for respected company and a professional speaker who teaches communication skills. In the case of the latter, two people at the conference table I was at turned and whispered, “But that’s not right.”

I felt bad for the speaker. It’s a blow to credibility.

What I’d hope is that YOU aren’t the person that the crowd is whispering about. Obviously this doesn’t mean non-verbal communication is not important…but we just shouldn’t be quoting these numbers this way.

Don’t take my word for it.

Want to pay it forward and gently help someone you know save a little face? Send them this post or drop it in your Twitter stream for them to see.



11 thoughts on “Don’t be “that” presenter people are whispering about

  1. Bob Burg

    Good for you, Roger! For years, I’ve been gently and tactfully letting people know about this myth. And, I remain amazed by how many well-respected speakers and authors quote it as fact. My heart went out to Dr. Mehrabian as he discussed his frustration at hearing and seeing his research continually taken out of context. I can only imagine how he feels. Thanks again for bringing up this very important point!

  2. Mel

    Will be definitely forwarding this to a few people…Thanks for sharing!

  3. Erin Donley

    Ahh Roger, this is painful to read! I truly had no idea it was so overused. What troubles me more is your suggestion that ONE misstated statistic prompts an audience to dismiss the rest of the message. Harsh! I question the accuracy of that!

    I’m more likely to remember how a speaker made me feel, what I learned and the energy they gave off versus the accuracy of their facts.

    So, maybe the percentages are off. It’s still true that words are hard to convey when we’re not in person. For the general population, it’s still a way to awaken their awareness. That’s what most important to me.

    I appreciate the opportunity to advance my own message… we’re all a work in progress… so thanks for this article, despite the sting it caused.

    1. TheVP

      We are ALL a work in progress, Erin, me included!

      Glad to be getting to know you.

  4. Erin Donley

    Roger, it’s a taste of my own medicine. Cheers!

  5. Erin Donley

    and may I add… why not challenge the speaker right then and there next time we hear it? It may open up dialogue that’s valuable to everyone.

    1. TheVP

      Fair question, Erin.

      The incident that led me to post this happened during an event where the comment was made by a senior NSA person whose specialty was teaching speakers. In that context I judged that it’d have been hard to make it a cordial, professional discussion and would most likely sound like an attack, regardless of intent.

      Too, because it’s so pervasive (heck, I’ve seen it quoted in workbooks from esteemed organizations who really should know better), I wonder if such a challenge might devolve into a standoff. If someone has believed it, if not taught, for years, I’m not sure I’d change their mind by simply standing up and pointing out that the prof himself said that those numbers are taken out of context.

  6. Erin Donley

    I’m stuck on that comment, “esteemed organization who really should know better.” At some point, I’d love for you to write about the unspoken rules of marketing in our industry, as you see it.

    I want to be both esteemed and aware. Any guidance you can provide would be helpful.

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