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What’s More Powerful Than Words?

October 19th, 2012

With his performance in the recent vice presidential debate Joe Biden single-handedly reinforced one of the most important yet overlooked aspects of effective communication – non-verbal behavior.

There was a seminal study by University of California professor Albert Mehrabian in the late 1960s that contends that message content (words) only accounts for 7% of the overall impact while nonverbal communication such as tone of voice (38%) and Body Language (55%) are the most important aspects in how well a message is received and how well the person delivering it is liked.

Based on the reaction to Vice President Biden’s debate performance, it seems as though the study is dead on. Biden’s attempts to use chuckling and laughs of disbelief to undermine the credibility of his opponent backfired as most pundits, and the general public, thought it came off as rude and disrespectful.  Biden’s performance set off a firestorm of national criticism and sent the Twitter world into a frenzy.

When we’re media training spokespeople we always hit the 7-38-55 rule, as it’s come to be known, hard. But no mock interview can underscore its importance as much as seeing it play out first-hand on live television.

So we’d like to thank Mr. Biden for giving us a great teaching tool for years to come. And maybe next time around he’ll pay a bit more attention to the lessons of Mehrabian’s study. We can say this much for our vice president – he’s no ordinary Joe.

Posted Under: Storytelling
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