Value of Video: 93 Percent of Communication is Nonverbal

Last Updated January 24th, 2019

It’s often said that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. This is a misinterpretation of the research.

Whether or not that’s actually true or meaningful in our day to day communication, the concept behind the statistic still builds up the value of video.


“93 Percent of Communication is Nonverbal”


93 Percent of Communication!

The 93% figure is often poorly cited and used out of context. It’s based on research by Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, who published two separate communication studies in 1967 with Morton Wiener and Susan Ferris.

Results of these studies were combined to produce the “7%-38%-55% Rule” that builds total liking for a message. Here’s the basic idea …

Albert Mehrabian, nonverbal communication, 93 percent of communication, face, voice, words, meaning, message

Though I’m dumbing it down (Mehrabian’s 1971 book Silent Messages is still on order), the idea is – very basically – this: in finding positive emotional affect in a piece of communication, a receiver relies 7% on the actual words said, 38% on vocal elements and intonation, and 55% on facial cues.

38% plus 55% gives us the 93% that’s often shared.

The point that’s made from this rule: very little of the “liking” derived from your communication is in the specific words you say, while the human elements – face and voice – carry significant value.


93 Percent of Communication?

With great ease, I found criticisms of popular use of Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule. The rules’s derived from the findings of two separate studies; the findings really can’t be combined and hold meaning. The words were all geared around emotion. The words were individual, not in the context conversation. Only women participated in the study. The list goes on …

Still: what if, in day to day communication, the formula was half right? Something like 25-30-45?

What if the elements were, in effect, equally weighted? Something like 33-33-33?

You’re missing a significant share of complete communication when you eliminate or undervalue face, voice, posture, personality, enthusiasm, expertise, and all those other things that come through in video.

In short, despite its questionable application to day to day communication, the 7-38-55 Rule speaks to the value of video.


Be There In Person When You Can’t Be There In Person

Right now, your alternatives to communicating with simple videos recorded with your smartphone, tablet, or webcam include:

  • Being there in person
  • Sending a typed text message
  • Sending a typed email
  • Calling on the phone
  • Leaving a voicemail
  • Sending some kind of physical piece of communication

Each is a tool with its own strengths and weaknesses. Most of us should be using each of these alternatives throughout the day, week, or month to connect and communicate.

Being there in person is the best way to communicate fully. It’s rich with nonverbal communication and allows for feedback and exchange. Of course, you can’t always be there in person. And you can’t be present with multiple people at once unless you’re all in the same place.

Both in person meetings and phone calls are synchronous – you both have to be available at the same time. And voicemail removes the face element.

Typed text messages and emails are missing significant communication value and often get misinterpreted.

Physical pieces have a strength in being asynchronous, but a weakness against an urgent timeline. They can also be expensive.

Video is asynchronous and includes all those elements that make the message and meaning clear and help people feel more connected to you.

You can record and send simple video email at your convenience. Your recipient can receive and take in the message at their convenience. It allows you to be there in person when you can’t be there in person.


The Bottom Line

As flawed as it may be when invoked out of context, Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule advocates for the use of video in that it breaks out and assigns value to some nonverbal elements of your message.

If you’re trying to communicate completely, truly connect, and build relationships, video is a communication medium that must be in your mix.


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Ethan Beute

Ethan Beute | About The Author

Chief Evangelist at BombBomb, co-author of Rehumanize Your Business, and host of The Customer Experience Podcast, Ethan collects and tells stories of clearer communication, human connection, and higher conversion with simple, personal videos. BA: University of Michigan. MBA: University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Fresh air & clean water.

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