January 28, 2014

Three ways you should never start your presentation



Not only should you never START your presentation with any of these statements, you should never END with them or include them ANYWHERE in your presentation.

Ready?

1. People fear public speaking more than they fear death.

It's trite, and the only study to ever come up with this conclusion was a survey posted in the Sunday Times of London, in a tiny blurb with no citation, in 1973. Get over it -- it's not true.

2. People would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.

This is Jerry Seinfeld's clever version of #1. Again, not original (it was funny when Seinfeld said it... the first time), and not true.

3. Communication is 93% nonverbal.

How many times have you read this in an article about communication or public speaking:

* 7% of communication comes from our words
* 38% of communication comes from our tone of voice
* 55% of communication comes from our body language?

Or, in other words, "our words make up only 7% of the meaning of our communication."

Well, it's bunk.

Albert Mehrabian, the originator of the research that is so often misinterpreted, was studying incongruent verbal and nonverbal communication when a person is expressing feelings. He looked at how subjects responded to images with different facial expressions and recordings of a voice saying a single word with different inflections conveying like, dislike and neutral emotion.

Nowhere in his research does he say that words make up only 7% of communication.

Listen to Mehrabian himself talk about how frustrating he finds this constant misrepresentation of his research in this brief audio interview. This quote says it all:

"Whenever I hear that misquote or misrepresentation of my findings I cringe, because it should be so obvious to anybody who would use any amount of common sense that that's not a correct statement."

Please, for the love of audiences everywhere: If you want to present yourself as stale, unimaginative, derivative and out of touch with reality, then keep on telling these tall tales. Otherwise, stop it.

Be courageous. Let go. Find something new and fresh to say that's actually based on real research and/or your own experiences. You'll be doing the world a huge favor.

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

Richard I. Garber said...

Lisa:

I agree that those supposedly Startling Opening Statements are tired, silly, cliches. How tired are they? The first one is over four decades old, and the second is two decades old.

A fresher statement is that more recent U.S. surveys have found public speaking is the most common social fear for both adults (NCS-R) and adolescents (NCS-A). Pooled results from surveys including lots of other developed and developing countries found that too.

In November I blogged about the adult results here:
http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2013/11/how-scary-is-public-speaking-or.html

and the adolescent results here:
http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2013/11/how-many-american-are-scared-of.html

However, over in Hong Kong talking to people in authority (talking to a super-ordinate or a person of higher status) was the number one fear. Public performance (which would include speaking) was second, and talking in a meeting or class was third:
http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/02/fears-of-superiors-and-public-speaking.html

If body language really counted for 55% of the meaning for communication, than you’d have expected that the telephone, the phonograph, and radio broadcasting all would have been commercial failures, and history would have been bizarrely different:
http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/09/if-mehrabian-myth-was-true.html

Richard

Julia Winston said...

Oh my goodness. I am ashamed to say I have used those statistics. From the interview, it seems that the context is about the expression of emotion, not communication in general. WOW! Thanks for revealing this truth.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for reading, Julia! It's amazing, isn't it, how we just keep saying these things without verifying them. I will confess that, back when I used to do communications training as part of a middle school program, I misused the Mehrabian stats, too. :-) I'm fanatical about getting this out to people!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Richard, I'm glad I can always count on you to stay on top of these statistics.

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