By Raju Mandhyan
MANY A TIMES in my workshops on public speaking, sales, negotiations and other soft skills, I have stressed the importance of acutely aligning our internal resources like our mood, our state of mind and most importantly our authentic agenda behind the conversation.
I have also stressed, referring to the 55+38+7 percentage rule of Dr. Albert Mehrebian which highlights the impact of body language, nonverbal behavior and words used in our conversations.. The 55+38+7 percentage rule on impact and effectiveness states that of a 100% impact upon our listeners, 7% comes from words, 35% from tonality and other nonverbal behavior and 55% from our bodily movements and total presence.
Now this is only partially understood by many and completely misinterpreted by many a trainer and coach of interpersonal communications. When Dr. Mehrebian, originally, conducted studies on communication patterns the results of the studies were widely circulated in the press, in abbreviated form, leading to blithe acceptance and generalization of his thesis.
Dr. Mehrabian’s research was to decipher the relative impact of facial expressions and spoken words. His subjects were asked to listen to a recording of a voice saying the single word “maybe” in three tonalities, to convey liking, disliking and neutrality. The subjects were then shown pictures of the faces conveying the same three emotions. Then subjects were asked to guess the emotions portrayed by the recorded voice, the pictures and both combined. The subjects’ assessment of the picture plus voice drew more accurate responses.
In another study, subjects listened to nine recorded words, three meant to convey liking (honey, dear and thanks), three to convey neutrality (maybe, really and oh) and three to convey disliking (don’t, brute and terrible). The words were spoken with varying tonalities and subjects were asked to guess the emotions behind the spoken words. The finding was that tone created more impact and meaning than words alone.
Thus the 55+38+7 rule was born and has been promoted around for years and decades across disciplines and other learning interaction. Years later, Dr. Mehrebian declared he never intended his results to be applied to everyday conversations and public speakers cannot just depend on 55+38% impact alone. The truth is that the spoken word has several intangible components and a flat out application or the assumption of this rule would be a fallacy. All interactions must equally depend on the three factors, i.e., body, nonverbal and the words. The percentages of each may resemble the rule for 100% impact but in reality will vary upon depending on the medium and the context.
What true and heavy impact will really depend upon is the clarity, the purpose and the authentic agenda of the speaker. Through the filters of the body, the tonality, the gestures, the micro-gestures and flowery language what are truly seen, heard and sensed well are the purpose and the agenda of the speaker. Getting an alignment and agreement between what we truly want, feel and need helps make the outward expression of it more viable, acceptable and impact heavy. Alignment of our internal resources: spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical is guaranteed to create resonance and consensus easily.
In public speaking this is the heart of it. When any speaker or business leader manages to dive deep into her own self and surfaces with valuable insights and resources that will serve and please her audience then she just doesn’t communicate effectively but evokes great emotions and drives transformations. Back in the day, they used to say that when Socrates spoke people claimed “great speech, great speech!” and when Demosthenes spoke people used to get on their feet and claim “let’s march!”
In today’s milieu people experience anxiety, doubt and fear when it comes to facing large audience because we feel we will be judged and truly so. Yes, we will be judged by several pairs of eyes and ears. These eyes and ears and other senses will zero in and probe into what exactly you wish to achieve as speaker and a leader. If you wish to benefit and authentically serve your audiences then most all anxiety, doubt and fear will fizzle away because your heart and mind will move away from being self-focused and more into serving the gift of your knowledge and wisdom to others. The heart of public speaking, as a leader, may be yours but it beats because of your audiences and your world.
Raju Mandhyan is an author, coach and speaker.