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The Great Deception: Only 7% of Your Message is Words.


By Mark Kretschmar

How often have you heard the following ubiquitous citation from Albert Mehrabian’s research? “Only 7% of your message is from your words; 93% is from your nonverbals.”

It’s just not true.

Mehrabian’s experiment dealt with what people will believe when your words and your nonverbals don’t match — they will believe the nonverbals. Unless, as a communicator, you plan to be inauthentic most of the time, this number, 93%, does not apply to you.

Mehrabian himself has urged others to stop citing his findings in this inaccurate way.

It’s time for everyone, especially professional communicators and trainers to stop using this misleading statistic.

Words carry the bulk of your message. The words must be right. They must be well thought out. They must be compelling. They must be organized, clever, creative, and above all, authentic.

Let’s talk about what Mehrabian’s study does reveal. The best way to make your message compelling? Make it true. If you don’t believe what you’re selling, most likely your nonverbals will give you up. It’s called “leakage.” The reality of your content leaks through your nonverbals. The audience will find you out. They won’t buy what you’re selling, and they’ll resent you for it. When you are authentic, that leaks out too. Don’t pitch it if you don’t believe it. If you don’t believe it, why are you asking your audience to believe it? Find another way, another story, another approach.

Do nonverbals matter? Oh yes. The best presenters are excited to have a positive impact on their audience; it energizes them; their excitement leaks out. That energy engages the audience and they cling to your words. Your words – the biggest and best part of your message. Your words are now better positioned to have the impact they deserve. If you’re not excited about what you’re about to present to people – get a different message!

“Hey wait! Sometimes I have to present bad news!”

Fair enough. Sometimes bad news is the order of the day. The same rules apply. Authenticity wins the day. When you have to present bad news, authentic empathy for your audience will make a big difference in the delivery and reception of your message. We’ll have to wait for another post to delve into the details of the delivery of bad news.

Stay true. Stay authentic. Stay connected to your audience. Be a good presenter.

To increase your value by bringing your communication skills up to match your technical skills, contact Mark at mark@engineerspeak.com or 651-728-0352 and check out the helpful, free content on engineerspeak.com.