Silent Messages, a book published in 1971 by writer ‘Albert Mehrabian’ talks about the 7% rule, the non-verbal attribute in a speech or a conversation. The analysis was done on the basis of a sample conducted on different salespersons. It was concluded that 55 percent weight is attributed to the speaker’s body language, 38 percent to the voice tone, and only 7 percent of credibility assessment is given to the salesperson’s actual words.
The theory has been subject to numerous discussions over the years and the claim about only 7 percent importance of spoken words has caused disagreement among many life coaches and pundits worldwide until analysts looked closely at the successful body language of US President Barack Obama.
The 7% rule theory gained popularity after 71 and in many years to follow, various speechwriters, and book publishers emphasized this context. In 2007, Allen Weiner published a book and explained how to put this principle to work in organizations.
The principle focuses on ‘how you say it’ and the ‘way you say it’s over ‘what you actually say‘ as the latter only weighs in at 7%.
In simple words, Albert claims, communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal.
The theory contradicts modern research though. Toastmasters International, a worldwide club for improving public speaking, talks about speech and its importance in the first 4 chapters of its beginner’s manual. The emphasis is laid down to improve the speech, the importance of words, and how to convey it effectively. The book only talks about the importance of body language and vocal variety in chapters 5 and 6.
The theory has different anatomy to it. If you look at President Lincon’s speech that became so popular that even today many Presidential candidates talk about it could prove this theory wrong.
The speech is popular because the words and the meaning were highlighted. Today, nobody has seen the body language of President Lincon and we do not even know how animated he was when he spoke in public.
In contrast, the theory seems to hold true if you look at the body language of President Obama. After his 8 years in office, a lot of research is done on the 44th President’s victory speech in democratic primaries, what he said vs how he spoke it.
We can conclude this principle by saying, an exception can never prove a theory but yes, it’s research worth pondering thoughts for. The voice pitch along with great body language is certainly powerful to grab the audience’s attention. A great speech with poor voice tone and non-impressive body language would not make a high impact. However, it is hard to assign a certain percentage for each attribute as done by Mehrabian in his research.
If you want people to listen to you, and follow you closely, the significance of all three elements cannot be ignored. Speak well, present well and the selection of words should be powerful.