“You’re Just Trying to Sell Radio Ads”
They say, “One picture is worth a thousand words.”
I say platitudes are not proof.
They say, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters.”
I say every person is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.
They say, “But it’s been scientifically proven that 93 percent of all human communication is nonverbal.”
I say show me the study. Show me who verified it. And please, for the love of God, don’t pretend to quote Dr. Albert Mehrabian because not one person – ever – who has quoted Mehrabian to me has ever read any of his books. People who think they’re quoting Mehrabian are actually just quoting a sales trainer who showed them a pie chart illustrating how 55% of human communication is body language and 38% is tone of voice and only 7% is the words we speak.
Pie charts are not proof.
In Mehrabian’s earliest book, Silent Messages (1971,) he speculated that during moments of extreme word/gesture contradiction, the words themselves contribute about 7 percent of the meaning we perceive, while tone of voice contributes about 38% and the rest – 55% – is body language. But Mehrabian makes it plain that these estimates pertain ONLY to moments when (1.) a speaker is describing their feelings and emotions and (2.) their physical gestures and tone of voice contradict their words.
When a person is holding up their middle finger as they say, “Yeah, I love you, too,” don’t trust the words; trust the finger.
When it became obvious that sales trainers in front of white boards were grievously misquoting his 7/38/55 statement, Mehrabian said for the record in 1994, “Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”
To communicate information, you must say what you mean.
To communicate emotions you must mean what you say
or your gestures and tone of voice will give you away.
“I’ve been told we remember more of what we see than what we hear.”
You’ve been told wrong. In fact, quite the opposite has been proven by a number of verified studies. Auditory memory is far more reliable than visual memory.
Dr. Josef Albers, while head of the art department at Yale University, wrote an important book about visual processing called Interaction of Color (Yale University Press.) It became a 2007 AAUP University Press Book for public and secondary schools and is quoted by scientists around the world. In the opening chapter of that book, Albers illustrates the deficiencies of visual memory by citing a variety of specific examples, then says,
What does this show? First, it is hard to remember distinct colors. This underscores the important fact that the visual memory is very poor in comparison with our auditory memory. Often the latter is able to repeat a melody heard only once or twice.”
– Dr. Josef Albers, Interaction of Color, p. 3
What allows humans to communicate so richly is our unique ability to attach complex meanings to sounds. In fact, the written word has no meaning until it has been translated into the spoken word it represents.
“But I’ve been told that everything we’ve ever seen is stored somewhere in our brain and that under hypnosis we can remember all of it.”
Matt Crenson, a science writer for the Associated Press, answers,
We often imagine our memories faithfully storing everything we do. But there is no mechanism in our heads that stores sensory perceptions as a permanent, unchangeable form. Instead, our minds use a complex system to convert a small percentage of what we see into nothing more than a pattern of connections between nerve cells. Researchers have learned that this system can be fooled. Ask a witness, ‘How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?’ and they will name a much higher speed than if they are asked, ‘How fast were the cars going when they made contact?'” – Matt Crenson, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 10, 2000
Although Matt Crenson failed to identify the unnamed “researchers” he was quoting, I immediately recognized the study as a Loftus & Palmer experiment reported by Dr. Alan Baddeley in his 1999 book, Essentials of Human Memory. In that experiment, groups of people were asked to watch the video of a collision between two automobiles. Viewers who were asked, “How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?” gave answers averaging 40.8 MPH and reported having seen broken glass. But the group who was asked, “How fast were the cars going when they made contact?” reported speeds averaging only 31.8 MPH and remembered no broken glass, even though both groups watched the same video just moments before the questions were asked.
When you change one word in a sentence – particularly if that word is a verb – you will often change what a person remembers having seen.
I won’t bore you by describing how Broca’s area – the “verb attachment” region of the brain’s left hemisphere – is the gateway to the Visuospatial Sketchpad, more commonly known as “the mind’s eye.” It’s one of three functions of Working Memory located in the dorsolateral prefrontal association area.
Good ad writers know how to use this link to implant memories of events that never happened.
Want to give it a try?
Slowly read the following words to a friend, allowing one or two seconds between each word, then ask your friend to repeat back to you all the words they can remember: bed, rest, awake, tired, dream, wake, snooze, blanket, doze, slumber, snore, nap, peace, yawn, drowsy
The average person will be able to remember about half the words. But according to Matt Crenson, 55% will swear they remember the word “sleep,” even though it wasn’t on the list.
“That’s why I say a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Find a wordless image that you believe communicates the word “Trust.” Show it to 1000 people. Ask each of them to write down the word they believe that picture is communicating. You’ll find that not one person will write the word “Trust.”
The point-and-click graphic interface is what distinguished Apple computers from keystroke-based DOS computers.
But in 1985, after finding that pretty but unlabeled icons confused customers, the Apple Computer Human Interface Group adopted the motto, ‘A word is worth a thousand pictures,’ and a descriptive word or phrase was added beneath all Macintosh icons.” – Alan Charlesworth, Digital Marketing: A Practical Approach, p. 123
“Well, I still say that we remember more of what we see than what we hear.”
Would you be willing to trust the opinion of Professor Steven Pinker whose research on vision, language, and social relations was awarded prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, and the American Psychological Association? Would you believe Pinker? He’s also received eight honorary doctorates, won several teaching awards at MIT and Harvard as well as numerous prizes for his books The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. Prospect magazine listed Pinker among “The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals” Foreign Policy named him in their “100 Global Thinkers,” and Time magazine put him on their list of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” Would you be willing to trust the opinion of Steven Pinker?
“No, I’m sure he’s just trying to sell radio.”
Yeah, I love you, too.
Roy H. Williams