They Say Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover – But Why Not Just Print a Great Cover?

June 8, 2023

A 1967 study by Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, observed college presentations and tracked what percentage of the meaning was produced through what channel. Here’s the breakdown:

7% - Verbal
55% - Appearance
38% - Tone of Voice

Woah, so you’re telling me that 93% of what my audience is understanding has nothing to do with what I’m actually saying? And they definitely noticed that mustard stain on my shirt from lunch?

That’s exactly right. And come on… even the most groundbreaking presentation couldn’t distract from that bright yellow glob.

As humans we’ve always leaned on the non verbals for understanding. In fact, it’s all we had before we developed unique languages! Imagine you’re visiting a foreign country and you're in desperate need of a restroom. Despite all 5 hours of DuoLingo you completed on the plane, the word for bathroom is escaping you. The urge to use one, however, is not. Instead you find a kind stranger, greet them with an apologetic smile, hop from foot to foot, and furrow your brow with an inquisitive sense of urgency. In just 10 seconds you’ve wordlessly communicated your predicament, and in 30 more seconds you find sweet relief after they pointed you in the direction of a porta potty around the corner. Nonverbal communication prevails!

Don’t let these findings alarm you – use it to your advantage. Pay attention to your facial expressions and the tone of your voice. In our experience, we’ve learned these findings also extend in new ways to remote work. Now it’s also about your lighting, your camera setup, your audio quality, your background, etc…Working from home now means creating a movie set of your own to highlight your best qualities and improve your chances of a great impression.

It might be time to invest in the ring light. Turn your camera on for meetings with a smile. Lose the hand-me-down headphones. And carry around a stain remover pen when you indulge in a Cuban sandwich with extra mustard. What your audience sees whether it’s on the screen or presenting live has a whole lot to do with how people take what you say. Set yourself up for success!