The following statistic, from a study done by Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, is among the first things I tell every client. Known as the “7%- 38%- 55% Rule” it states that there are three elements to any face-to-face communication: words, tone of voice, and body language, and we are influenced by these things as follows:
• 7% of our influence comes from the words we say
• 38% from our tonal quality while saying it
• 55% by what our body is doing while we’re saying it
What does this mean? So often we think presentation and communication are about the words we say. In fact, it’s often far more about how we say them, and what our body is doing while we are saying them.
For example, we’ve all been introduced to the person who says, “Nice to meet you” with a fishy hand, a nominal smile, and an over-our-shoulder-to-see-if-someone-more-interesting/important/attractive-is-coming-in-the-room gaze. Contrast that with meeting someone who’s genuinely delighted to meet you.
Same words, very different message.
My goal in telling you this is to help you begin to consider the ‘global’ impact of your message—to understand the importance of managing every aspect of your presentation style.
• Knowing that listeners often remember just 7% of the words you say will remind you to choose language that’s precise, colorful, and concise.
• Knowing that 38% of your impact comes from your tonal quality will reinforce the importance of having your tone match your message: be authoritative, commanding, persuasive, entertaining, etc., depending on your objective.
• Knowing that 55% of your impact comes from what your body is doing while you are speaking will encourage you to focus on how you can best express commitment to, and enthusiasm for, what you are saying through your facial expressions, posture, and gestures.
Breaking down your message in this way makes it much easier to figure out what you need to do to capture your listener’s attention. You can ask yourself:
• Is my language flabby?
• Do I sound happy when I’m giving good news, or genuinely sorry when I’m apologizing?
• If I were on television—and the sound was off —would someone walking by the TV know from my body language that I was enthusiastic about or committed to what I was saying?
As with anything, the first step to creating effective change is awareness. Now that you have a greater understanding of the factors in play when you present yourself, you can begin to pick and choose, strengthen or minimize, bump up or play down each element to achieve the results you desire.
“My Name is Bond”
From time to time I teach presentation skills seminars for new hires at large corporations. Inevitably, at some point during my pitch the concept to a new firm, I hear, “Yes, but most of the time all these kids get to say in meetings is their name.” “ALL??” is my response. [At this point, I know the person I'm speaking might benefit from some presentation skills training, too.] Why? Because you are never “just” saying your name. Presenting the self is an opportunity.
The best example of this I can think of is, “My name is Bond. James Bond.”
Regardless of who’s saying it, Roger Moore, Sean Connery, or Daniel Craig, within that one sentence we hear a world of possibility.
In the same way, then, whenever you introduce yourself you need to say your name with such panache that your listener:
• remembers it
• is left thinking, “Wow, that guy was impressive….Am I supposed to know him?”
• is so knocked out by your ‘presentation’ he wants to get to know you better
If it helps, you can imagine you have ‘Q’ as your backup, an Aston Martin as your getaway car, and a cold martini waiting at home.
So whether you are sitting in an executive board meeting, standing up at the PTA, or shaking hands in an elevator, always give your name the VIP treatment that flags it as a ‘Marquee’ name for those around you, leaving them alive to the possibilities knowing you will offer them.
Useless Modifiers are Just That:
“It’s great, it’s amazing, it’s incredible, it’s so cool…”
Can you tell from the above whether it’s your boss talking about the new hotel he just stayed in, your co-worker telling you about her new car, or your teenager describing the new telephone he wants you to get him?
The only way we’ll believe your experience or product or skill set is amazing is if you tell us WHY. And it’s not enough to include the answers to the standard ‘reporters questions’: who, what, where, when, why. We need to know what did you see? Hear? Touch? Taste? Smell? How did it make you feel? What did it remind you of?
A good place to see people practicing this is on cooking shows. Because we can’t smell or taste the food, these chefs have to describe those elements in detail, “The smell of these cookies baking reminds me of sitting on my Grandma’s back porch watching the laundry dry on the line…”
As with most things, this is a skill that comes with practice. Initially, your practice will just be to notice when others are falling back on ‘great’ ‘amazing’ ‘incredible”. One place I hear this a lot is with actor interviews. A common interview question actors are asked when their new movie opens is, “What was it like to work with so-and-so director/fellow actor?” In these moments, unless there’s been some coaching, many actors fall back on, “He was great.” “He was amazing”…Granted these stock responses are understandable. They don’t want to say, “Oh my goodness, I was in hell.” What, then, could they do instead? What’s a safe answer that also highlights their intelligence? Tell us a story: “One thing I didn’t expect was his wicked sense of humor. He played the most ridiculous jokes on the entire cast. For example, one day he…” etc.
Once you’ve spent some time observing others, you will want to begin to notice your own habits. How was your day? Your sandwich? The movie? Have your friends challenge you. Can you get through each of their questions without using a single useless modifier? Once you accept the challenge, you’ll discover that it’s great fun—and they’ve started referring to you as a master storyteller.