There have been a lot of studies done on how audiences take in information. Perhaps the most widely referenced study was done by Dr. Albert Mehrabian. Dr. Mehrabian is an expert in the fields of communications; is Professor Emeritus at UCLA and wrote the book Silent Messages in which he documented his studies on how audiences receive and take in another person's message. This study is widely referenced with regard to any form of communication and yet the actual study specifically related to how we determine likeability of the presenter when they are talking about their feelings.
He found that when a person is putting forth their feelings, audiences take in messages in three ways:
First we take in the message through the WORDS themselves. We consider the vocabulary being used as well as the structure or outline of the information being delivered. Is the person using a lot of jargon or inappropriate vocabulary for the audience? Inappropriate does not just mean poor vocabulary choices, it also means appropriate level of vocabulary for the audience it is being delivered to. All of this is taken into consideration in determining how the words themselves convey the message.
Next we listen to the SOUND. This encompasses the tone of the voice, the power of the voice, the vocal inflection. Is the voice pleasant to listen to or harsh? Is it high pitched, low pitched or just right? How is the pace? Is the person mumbling? All of these components make up the sound.
And finally we take in information through the LOOK. This includes what a person chooses to wear but it is much more. It is how you move or do not move, your facial expressions, and eye contact. Do you tend to stand in one place or do you pace back and forth when you present? Do you tend to talk with your hands moving constantly or do you keep them behind your back etc.? What kind of facial expressions do you have? All of these components make up the Look.
Dr. Mehrabian found that from a likeability standpoint audiences placed certain weighted importance on each of these three criteria and that when totaled the percentages added up to 100%. Can you guess those percentages? You might be surprised at how the percentages play out.
WORDS - 7%
SOUND - 38%
LOOK - 55%
55% of the message being in the Look is not so surprising since there are many studies that say that 55% of our message is visual. It may be surprising however to see that a full 93% of the message you are delivering is in your sound and look and that only 7% importance is given to the words themselves.
This does not mean your words are not important. If you do not have anything to say, obviously there is no reason for the communication. However, what it does say is that if you want your words to be heard and understood you need to make sure your sound and look are in support of your message. If you are flailing your arms all over the place or pacing back and forth when you talk people will be focused on the look over what you have to say, since the look has a higher percentage than the words. If you are mumbling or speaking in a monotone that puts people to sleep they are going to zone out and won't hear your message either.
Mehrabian comes to several conclusions in his study. First he concludes that there are three things at work in any face to face communication and secondly that when feelings are not congruent with the words spoken the non-verbal elements of the communication will have more impact.
An example of Mehrabian's findings with regard to incongruent verbal and non-verbal communication is:
- Verbal: "I do not have a problem with you!"
- Non-verbal: no eye-contact, looks anxious, has closed body language, etc.
So the next time you are preparing to present your ideas, make sure that your sound and look support the words you are about to deliver. You will then have 100% of your audience's attention.
Debbie Darling - © 2013 – The Presentation Pros™