My firsthand encounter with the 93-7 myth
It’s been a couple of years now, since I experienced the 93-7 rule firsthand. I had just finished a presentation on pitching that focused on how to create a strong message for a 60 second pitch.
Next up was another presenter, a voice coach, who started her presentation saying that all they’ve just heard (about what I shared on messages) almost didn’t matter since it only amounted to a measly 7%. On the other hand, what she was about to talk about, body language and voice, was fundamental to a presentation and amount to a whopping 93% of the what was important in a presentation.
I was a bit astounded and my intuition told me that something wasn’t right here, but at the time I didn’t know precisely why my intuition was right. Since then, I’ve researched the case – and debunked the myth!
The myth debunked by the man himself
The lead architect behind the famous 93-7, [Albert Mehrabian], a professor in Psychology at UCLA, has since his publication of his research in 19671 tried to nuance his results and avoid the unlucky simplification that often happens to his discoveries.
At the time of the study, Mehrabians test situation was to get people to communicate different emotions with they body, voice and words. The study showed that body language accounted for 55%, the voice 38% (93% in total) and the message or words themselves only 7% of the perception of the communicated emotions.
Now, the simplification and the myth lies in the idea that all situations of communication look alike and can be generalized down to these numbers.
This would definitely make your body language and how you use your voice trump the message itself. But this is far from the truth, which Albert Mehrabian himself also disproved in later articles2. To illustrate this better, have a look at this video by Creativity Works…
In the pitch we never (just) talk about our emotions, but always have something at heart – a message – and because of that we need to be cautious about leaning us too much up the 93-7 rule. But what should we then use instead to understand the importance of body/voice/words?
What does your intuition tell you?
A good place to start, in order to get closer to a more fitting understanding of the importance of message and body language is our logical sense.
Ask yourself: What does your intuition tell you is a sensible balance? What’s important? A clear message told unclearly? Or an unclear message told clearly? You be the judge.
My conclusion is that both parts are essentially important and if we must distribute percentages then I would land on a 50/50% split between message and performance (body language including use of voice included), if we’re talking about ordinary situations of communication, where pitching lives.
Remember, an exact %-distribution is not important. The point instead is that a strong message can never stand completely alone – and doesn’t have good chances for success if not performed well. And vice versa, a convincing body language and voicing without any substance is meaningless.
What matters is that both your message AND your body language work together to best communicate and convince. A clear message is fundamental, but you need performance to optimize your chances for convincing.
Message and Perfomance go hand in hand
The convincing pitch comes into existence when two elements, message and performance work in synergy; by expressing the same and because of that also supports the communicative message as a whole.
The gist of it is that this synergy appears when the two elements intertwine and create something more than the sum of the individual parts; 1 + 1 = 3.
It’s here that the magic happens: it’s here where you ace the exam as a student; where you appear convincing at the investor pitch as an entrepreneur; where you spark genuine interest in your potential client at the sales meeting.
So, where to prioritize your work efforts when creating a more convincing pitch? My advice is where your common sense leads you – the place where you can create most communicative value.
You might have to improve the message itself: make it clearer, give stronger evidence to your claims. It might be the speed of which you talk, your articulation and gestures to support your message. It’s a balance, really.
On one side, the pitch itself is incredibly simple: it’s just about conveying a message in a convincing way. But on the other hand the pitch is incredibly complex and a tightly knit discipline where the message is a catch-all term for content, structure, examples, arguments, imagery while performance is a term for mimicry, gesticulation, body position, eye contact, talking speed, attentiveness and passion.
The next time you either see or hear that body language is everything then remember that pitching is also about much else – and know that preparation and training are the key elements that will help you achieve great results!