Why the Body Language Industry lied to you.

There is a encouraging trend in the world at present, the rise of the Fact Checker.

Sites like Full Fact  are testing what our politicians say immediately they say it. It’s an encouraging trend because we seem, at the same time, to be moving into a world where many of us are resistant to facts. Brexit and Donald Trump being two issues where the facts clearly suggest Brexit was and is a bad idea and Donald Trump is a dangerously narcissistic idiot who is probably the last person who should be trusted with the worlds most powerful country.

In my world that of Presentation there are many facts bodied around. Here is the “Body Language Expert”;

Q. Typically what percentage of communication is made up from the body language of the speakers? I’ve heard 55%. Is this reasonable?

(Mr Rod Jones, 13 January 2009)

A. The percentage that you have quoted is basically correct, but isn’t always relevant to all modes of communication. 

The figure 55% comes from some research that Albert Mehrabian undertook in 1971, the results of which are still often quoted today. Mehrabian basically came to the conclusion that communication, on a face-to-face basis, is thought to consist of three separate elements: 

  • Words (what is actually said)
  • Tone of voice (how we say the words)
  • Body Language

You can read more of this nonsense here

And then theres stuff like this article or this one.

The facts they quote are just wrong, but they sound authoritative don’t they?

Forbes had a go at tearing down a few myths here, but still muddies the waters.

The source of most of the nonsense stems from some real research in the 70’s which was misinterpreted by a lot of people and then swallow whole by a lot more. You can read a swift debunking here.

But that was nearly half a century ago, so why does it persist to this day?

The obvious answer is to sell knowledge it has to be news to the recipient. If I said to you, you should always be polite and attentive when dealing with people you are selling to. Can i have £1000 please? You might say, with some justification, Bill, I knew that already, please go away and multiply. But if you say, there is a secret language you don’t understand that is sending messages only I can decipher. Can I have £1000 to tell you how it works? You might be tempted to get your chequebook out.

Body language is important. When we prepare for bidding presentations we always devote at least 5 minutes to it.

We say: be positive. Smile. Make eye contact with everyone in the room. Stand open facing the people you are talking to. Pay attention to their responses and respond to them.

Or put it another way we say, be polite and attentive.

Now, we don’t have to explain why our clients have paid for this advice, because most of the work has been done on the CONTENT of what they are saying.

Yes, the CONTENT. Because no one ever won a complex bid by standing in a powerful way, or using their hands expressively. That is nonsense intended to confuse the gullible.

People win bids by thinking very hard about how they can deliver on what their clients want and then clearly explaining that while being polite and attentive. SIMPLES.


Now body language does become more important in Q&A. But I will return to that soon.