Research – Delivery

Albert Mehrabian

Probably the most miss quoted communication statistic is Albert Mehrabian’s 7, 38 55 rule. The incorrect interpretation states that in all communication:

  • 7% happens in spoken words.
  • 38% happens through voice tone.
  • 55% happens via general body language.

The people at Changing Minds articulate this well on their site where they say: Of course this cannot be true: does an email only convey 7%? Can you watch a person speaking in a foreign language and understand 93%?

They go on to say that the implications of the actual study are:

  • It’s not just words: a lot is communication comes through non-verbal communication.
  • Without seeing and hearing non-verbals, it is easier to misunderstand the words.
  • When we are unsure about what the words mean, we pay more attention to the non-verbals.

You can read more on their site.

Also have a look at Olivia Mitchell’s site Speaking about Presenting.

Intuitively we know that that words, voice and body language are all important and the type of event will determine how important each of them are. More research published last year titled ” How the Voice Persuades” highlighted its importance when we are trying to persuade someone. See below for a brief discussion.

How the Voice Persuades

Alex Van Zant and Jonah Berger of Rutgers and Pennsylvania respectively, published a study in 2019 to understand “how persuasive people are when they attempt to persuade through paralanguage, or acoustic properties of speech (e.g., pitch and volume).” Their research revealed ” that communicators tend to speak louder and vary their volume during paralinguistic persuasion attempts, both of which signal confidence and, in turn, facilitate persuasion.”

Here’s an interview with Jonah Berger, an article by Alex Van Zant, and the research paper.

The implication when presenting is that when we need an audience to take on an idea or be persuaded to do something we need to make sure our vocal delivery is appropriate for the given context. For example if you are trying to persuade someone to join your organisation, part of your delivery may be conversational, but the part where you tell them that it’s the best place to work may include a quicker pace and a slightly higher pitch. Or when you are delivering a technical pitch for the construction of a football stadium, think about the parts that need more emphasis by using pause and speaking slightly louder and slower.

I like to think of the use of voice like a graphic equaliser and each of the sliders have an attribute such as pitch, pace, pause, tone, volume, emphasis and intonation. Each event, from meeting through to town hall has a preset for the sliders, which is then adjusted as the presentation progresses. Bit of an overkill probably – but you get the idea.

Importance of Delivery

The impact of entrepreneurs’ oral ‘pitch’ presentation skills on business angels’ initial screening investment decisions

This paper which reflected the findings of previous research, found that “entrepreneurs’ communication skills and personal attributes influence investor decision making”. This is probably really obvious but the interesting thing was that the business angels said it wasn’t a factor. It was discovered through the research that it actually was! (Clark 2008 p. 257)

Clarke stated further that “collectively, these findings indicate that the business angels’ judgements about what constituted a pursuable investment opportunity had been derived not only from the investment-related substance of the entrepreneurs’ presentations or the traditional ‘human capital’ elements of an investment opportunity, but also from the way that substance had been delivered and the perceived attributes of the entrepreneurs that had delivered it” (Clark 2008 p. 272)

So what was important? (Clark 2008 p. 272)

  • clarity/understandability
  • structure,
  • the level of information provided,
  • the entrepreneurs’ personal characteristics,
  • their ability to sell themselves as well as
  • their investment opportunity.

Clark, C 2008, ‘The impact of entrepreneurs’ oral ‘pitch’ presentation skills on business angels’ initial screening investment decisions’, Venture Capital, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 257-279.