Who cares about the facts?


I was doing a bit of reading the other day and I came across this soundbite.

“Research shows that in a presentation before a group, 55 percent of the impact is determined by your body language – posture, gestures and eye contact – 38 percent by your tone of voice and only 7 percent by the content of your presentation.”

(Mehrabian and Ferris, ‘Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels’, The Journal of Counselling Psychology Vol 31, 1967 pp.248-52)

Watching your audience and seeing how they respond to you is an interesting, if perplexing, thing. I’ve had many discussions with other presenters over the last couple of years about the balance between information and entertainment. From my own experience, the presentations I enjoy watching the most are the ones where I feel a connection with the speaker. Likewise, I enjoy presenting when I feel a connection with the audience. Since this sort of connection has very little to do with content, I find myself agreeing with the above quote.

Anyway, enough of this hippy stuff… 🙂



PS. If you are teaching a course for an exam, please don’t remove all the content and replace it with slides of your dog. An audience love-in won’t get them through the exam. 🙂

Author: Tim...

DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer.

11 thoughts on “Who cares about the facts?”

  1. Firstly, a soundbite while reading?! 😉

    Secondly, it reminds me of that book by Barbara & Alan Pease – Body Language. It’s main message was most day to day communication is through non-verbal signals.

    The key word in that quotation though I think is “impact.” Sure, we could destroy content for pictures of cute puppy dogs (or our kids reading Oracle books – Connor!) but I guess if we remove technicalities from the equation, we’re not going to have the desired *impact*.

  2. Hi.

    Re: Soundbite. Point taken 🙂

    Re: Content. Certainly. People are there to learn something about Oracle, not see a stage show. I just think it’s interesting to remember that being a good presenter is not just about presenting facts.



  3. Of course non-verbal communication is important, and it’s good to see that being picked up in a technical world.

    Your quote isn’t however correct, or rather it’s out of context. Firstly it’s an old study of a stylized US presidential debate as perceived by tv viewers and radio listeners. As the title suggests some implications about certain very specific types of communication were considered by the study, it’s interesting as well that it’s nearly always this study that is cited – we don’t really know how well it was confirmed by further research and how well it stacks up with reality, though I think we can be somewhat sceptical that 93% of what (say) teachers teach their kids is not content.

    so yes, non-verbal communication is important, it’s simply not true (nor claimed by the study’s authors by the way) that 93% of all communication is non-verbal. Content does matter, if it didn’t we’d all be watching reality TV — errr hang-on a mo’ 🙂

  4. Hi.

    I think the percentages are irrelevant really. The quote was more of a starting point that focused me on my own experiences.

    I would certainly not go to a presentation with zero content, but I’ve also been to many that have lots of content and zero soul.

    My point was that my enjoyment of a presentation (receiving or presenting) is based on more than the content. The connection I have with the speaker/audience has little to do with the content.

    I’m glad the post got a couple of people thinking anyway. 🙂



  5. By the way Niall, interesting to see the debunking post is on “The Selling Professional Services Blog”. If anyone should know about making an impact with zero content it should be a salesperson. 🙂



  6. Nice spot :). I don’t think the percentages are irrelevant actually, and some good research would be helpful, if it turns out that content is , say. 80% of the driver for a successful presentation (my bias) then that says something about what to concentrate on when preparing. If it turns out that the figure is 20% (often quoted by salespeople who as you say should know) then that also says something.

    by the way if you haven’t found TED yet you probably should – take a look at http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen.html for example and sorry if you’ve already seen it.

  7. Hi.

    I guess I should have said “irrelevant in the context of my post”.

    My post is not about the quote. More my observation that followed the quote. The quote got me to thinking about my experiences etc.

    I guess the actual numbers will vary greatly depending on the subject matter and the audience. At a technical conference, the emphasis will me much more on content than at your standard get-rich-quick scheme.

    The point really is that regardless of the quality of the content, if the speaker can’t engage the audience, then the presentation will feel like running through mud and some of the audience will be lost.

    It’s funny that the comments on this post are focusing on the facts, not the feel. Maybe if this had been a conversation, we would have focused more on the feel, rather than the facts. Who knows? 🙂



  8. I also like the foreign film example. When I was in the hospital for a few days I shared a room with someone who kept the Spanish soap opera channel on all day. I don’t remember any of my high school Spanish, but I was able to follow the soap operas, not that they had any technical content, except something about voodoo potions. Not Romeo and Juliet, by any means. But if you used those actresses to present about 11gR2 RAC, you’d probably get a lot of attention.

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