Invented in 1967 , not by Einstein but another Albert, surname Mchrabian, the long accepted presentation formula of “7% words: 38% tone: 55% body language” is dead.
A campaign, ‘Why the stickiest idea in presenting is just wrong’, is dominating the presentation blogosphere. Spearheaded by the admirable Olivia Mitchell, www.speakingaboutpresenting.com it spells out the weaknesses. Not least is the basis of the thesis, a limited study based on responses to single words such as ‘brute’ or ‘maybe’.
From this flimsy starting point the formula became ‘fact’.
Given that it cannot, when considered in isolation, make sense- words and content clearly are more than a mere 7%- why has its use been so widespread? My own non-scientific, non Albertian, view based on rehearsing teams for business pitches offers this explanation.
Once the invitation to pitch is received, the almost inevitable tendency is to focus every bit of effort to developing the words, the content, of the response. Can the proposal be improved, is the fee expressed well, have we covered off our credentials and so on.
Too often, a feverish determination to perfect the words, the content, means little if any time is left to consider the pitch performance. Rehearsal is ignored. No time is spent on assessing the likely impact on the audience.
This is where the “formula” can be a shot across the bows to help a team realise that, no matter how good their words, they will suffer from poor performance. Words just aimed at an audience like bullets of proclamation rather than in, say, a tone of engagement and sharing, will backfire.
Words, however brilliant, expressed with poor body language will undermine any sense of teamwork and, worst of all, signal a lack of confidence.
Perhaps the “formula” should be replaced with this? Words =good. Words+tone =better. Words+tone+body language =best.
Or, with these brilliant words from Proverbs ch. 25, v.17:
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver”.