Let’s kill the Albert Mehrabian myth about 7 %, 38% and 55% forever


I’ve been doing public speaking and management training on and off for many years. One of the most often misquoted research results I keep hearing is the ’7%, 38%, 55%’ rule. Do you know which rule I mean? It’s about words, tone and body language. I shiver whenever I hear someone mentioning and asking about it.

As someone referred to it at the event I would like to share with you how the rule came about.

It all springs from research that was done back in 1968 in the U.S. by Albert Mehrabian.

From a blog post by Toastmasters International in London you can read the following:

Mehrabian’s Human Communication research in 1968 is credited as the basis of the notion that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is voice tone and only 7% is verbal.

If you have ever thought those figures sound unrealistic, you’re not alone. In a Radio 4 interview Mehrabian said: ‘Whenever I hear that misquote or misrepresentation of my findings I cringe, because it should be so obvious to anybody who would use any amount of common sense that that’s not a correct statement.’

If you would like to listen to an interview with Mehrabian follow this link to the BBC website. The interview starts at about 23 minutes in.

The words you say matter, as does tone and body language. I would guess that a more correct analysis would be that each element is of about equal importance.

Be aware of this when sharing your knowledge about public speaking, please never use these percentages as they are totally untrue. Always do your research when quoting studies. These days nearly everyone has a smartphone and an audience can be quick to check up on the facts you are presenting.

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