Becoming a great communicator

Albert Mehrabian, a famous psychology professor, is often quoted, and misrepresented, on his findings that communication is made up of 55% body language, 38% voice tone, and as little as 7% content.

The assertion, never actually made by Mehrabian himself, that content – the actual words that you use – only made up about 7% of your message when speaking was astonishing. Of course, we now know this is not true. In actual fact, we often make the point that your message has more to do with the congruency of your words, body language and voice tone to each other. It is the lyrics, music and dance, if you will, all working in harmony to form your (hopefully impactful) message.

We work a great deal with clients on personal impact and presence, such as confident and effective hand gestures, vocal projection, and standing like a person who “deserves to breathe the air”. Over the years of running these personal impact workshops we’ve become more and more struck that if your body language and voice tone is congruent with your words it becomes ’invisible’ to your audience. They won’t even be thinking about it. Therefore, we need to work on our technical body language and vocal tone to make it invisible, but how on earth do we do that?

When we think about great communicators, we often hear ourselves saying “Ah yes! But they are the exception, not the rule”. In other words, someone like Steve Jobs contradicts quite a lot of the widely acknowledged wisdom around presentation skills – his body language rarely settles into a grounded stance, for instance – and yet he is remembered as one of the all-time great presenters. So, what is going on? The truth is that his body language, voice tone and content are all congruently reinforcing the message that he is a credible, passionate, off-the-wall, sometimes quirky, and definitely innovative, thinker. As a casual viewer we are carried away on the waves of the impression he makes, making positive judgements and assumptions about him, without analysing how he is technically communicating. Why? Because the technical skill is congruent with the message it has become ‘invisible’.

By contrast, when we are nervous our body and voice start to work incongruently against our message. Delivered hesitantly, with jittery body language, “I am really pleased to see you today to present some exciting financials from the second quarter” becomes an alarm to your audience that you are about to bore the socks of them, or worse, that the financials for the second quarter are actually something to worry about! Your words are saying one thing, while your body and vocal tone is saying something completely different, and in this instant, we are much more likely to believe the hesitancy and the jitters than the bold words. What is more, the jitters will draw our attention and stop us concentrating on the content of what you are saying.

If your body and voice are congruent with your message – they become invisible, so great verbal communication is not just about standing tall and speaking loudly. It is about all elements being congruent to support your message. Our personal impact workshops cover all of this and more, to get you on the road to becoming a truly great communicator that your audience actually wants to listen to!

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Becoming a great communicator