This post aims to dispel 2 myths you might have heard about public speaking:
- an old, very persistent myth, and…
- a new one that seems to date from just 4 months ago.
So let’s get straight into the myth-slaying…
Have you heard people say that you convey only 7% of any talk through your words? The same people will likely say you convey much more of your message through tone (38%) and body language (55%). Well…
If anyone tells you that,
please let them know it’s nonsense!
Here’s why that’s the case…
The 7-38-55 figures come from studies by Albert Mehrabian, but his work focused on:
- People speaking about feelings or attitudes
- …and when their facial expressions or tone contradicted what they said.
So the figures simply don’t apply to public speaking – unless you’re in the habit of sharing your feelings with a crowd, and at the same time saying one thing but meaning another!
The video below shows the problem with this “Mehrabian Myth” as it’s become known:
As mentioned in the video, here’s Albert Mehrabian’s website, where he seeks to dispel the myth:
“Unless a communicator is talking about their
feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”
Despite Mehrabian’s own attempts, and those of many presentation experts (like Olivia Mitchell, Carl Kwan and Joshua Davies), sadly the Mehrabian Myth is one of the most persistent falsehoods in public speaking.
What’s more, even very recently, a variation on the Mehrabian Myth came up when Ethos3 published an infographic on Slideshare with this headline:
“Did you know:
85% of what an audience takes away
is based on body language…” [Untrue!]
Ethos3’s infographic was promptly shared by prolific public-speaking blogger Alex Rister, and then on the Teaching Public Speaking blog. In all, it’s had over 18,000 views in the 4 months since it was published.
The 85% figure is based on comments made by Professor Jerry Shuster, though it seems they were specifically about political debates. Naturally, in politics, one of the key takeaways is how much you trust each candidate, and hence whether you’ll vote for them. (And I dare say there’s plenty of politicians saying one thing and meaning another!) But Ethos3 mistakenly applied the figure to public speaking in general.
As I said in a comment on Alex Rister’s post:
“Try this experiment: Split an audience into 2 groups. Show 1 group a video of a speech (without slides) with the sound turned off. With the other group, play them the sound but don’t show them the screen. Who do you think would come away with more understanding of the talk? Of course, the people who could actually hear what was said would!
…There are some good points made in the infographic, but having an untrue statement as its headline means that it could cause more harm than good, and casts undeserved doubt on its other content.
Please, let’s not spread misinformation
about the importance of body language!”
If you see public-speaking myths being shared,
please challenge them.
What other myths have you heard about public speaking? Please share them in the comment box below.
Also check out:
- Critique of a TEDx talk on body language [Video]
- Using true eye contact, meaningful movement, and natural gestures [Video]
- 2½ reasons why (to me) Seth Godin’s wrong about how many words to put on your slide [Video]
- Boost testosterone – present better! (Regardless of your sex) [Video]
- 6 of the world’s best blogs for presenters
- When’s a table not a table? When it’s a series of striking stats!
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