The 55-38-7 rule !

7 % – Words
38 % – Tonality
55 % – Body Language

Many years ago, that was professed as part of the ‘basics of platform skills’ I went through. It was very simple. What was taught ( or whatever remains of what was taught) is this : when a speech / presentation is made, 55% of the meaning comes from body language of the speaker, 38% from the tonality of voice and 7% from actual ‘words’ spoken!

Needless to say, the importance of ‘body language’, voice modulation, intonation and all of that were emphasised many times over.

Turns out that facts of the actual research point in another direction.

The numbers themselves are said to have appeared in 1971, for the first time. By a gentleman by the name of Albert Mehrabian in his book titled ‘Silent Messages‘. But the context and even the subject of what Mehrabian said is vastly different from whats being bandied in the open.

What Mehrabian says

* Total liking = 7% verbal liking + 38% vocal liking + 55% facial liking

* Total feeling = 7% verbal feeling + 38% vocal feeling + 55% facial feeling

What Albert Mehrabian seems to have been getting to is advocate CONSITENCY between action, message and the real self. And also between words, voice and body language. Any INCONSISTENCIES between these is going to make it difficult for the audience. And more importantly, the audience will believe ‘less’ of whats being said.

His pronouncement that the audience will perhaps rely more on the actions that are seen than the words that are spoken, perhaps have been twisted into this 7 % + 38 % + 55 % theory. It is reported that there is ‘nothing said about the relative contributions in general speech’

So, here are my notes to myself !

a. Words are as important if not more!
b. Consistency between words, actions and tone is very important for the belief quotient to be high

Any inconsistency between what is spoken and how it is spoken will have a telling effect on the end result that a presentation is supposed to achieve.

Ah research and its interpretations !


2 thoughts on “The 55-38-7 rule !

  1. Sanjith Menon says:

    Nice Post ! Much needed.

    Am I shocked reading this ? Not very. My undertanding is that , People will try to use academic research to sell you something AND people will also try to put down academic research to sell you something else. Words do matter. Language conditions thinking.

    My big take – if you want to be believed,you’re going to have to put some effort into persuading people. Shocking, isn’t it?


  2. Now, this is interesting! Sometimes, we repeat and rehash concepts so much without understanding the true origin / background.

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