Why What You Say Matters Less Than How You Say It

Read Time : 5 Minutes

What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying
— - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am sure you have heard that old statistic that only 7% of communication face to face is the actual content, the words. The other 93% is the context, the tone of voice, the body language, etc... 

But I don't think that most people have fully embraced what that means for how we work on presentation skills and more generally how we become better communicators. 

All those nonverbal things which shape what is being communicated collectively are known as sub-communications. What we are sub-communicating is the context of communication, it is what gives our words meaning.

If you say "let's get out of here" at a bar it can have drastically different meanings depending on your body language, your tone of voice, and who you are saying it to. 

It could mean "This band is awful"
Or ... 

You get the picture. 

Sub-communications matter, how you say something is more important than the words you say because it colors the words you say and lends them their meaning. This is why texting and emailing is so confusing from time to time. 

Content without context is meaningless

What we are sub-communicating shows up in our non-verbals. That is pretty obvious, but what is often overlooked is what shapes our sub-communication and how massively important this is if we want to be likable and trustworthy when presenting.  

What shapes what you sub-communicate is your mindset and your emotional state. Flat out, what you feel is what you sub-communicate.

This is so very important because when you are speaking with someone or when you are presenting an idea, part of your audiences brain is constantly watching to see what your sub-communications mean and if they match your content. As social creatures, we have learned to constantly be sizing one another up, to be checking to see if people are honest or not. To be acutely aware of their emotional state. 
The reality of sub-communications is that we can not control them directly (at least not most of them.) The way you feel causes tons of tiny shifts in your body language, in your tone of voice.  

When our words and sub-communications match each other we are being congruent (other words for this are authentic, sincere, real)

But when there is a mismatch the other person immediately distrusts the words we are saying and believes the sub-communications (again, because anyone can say anything they want but sub-communications are very, very hard to change) 

This is why learning to manage your sub-communications is so key to your success.  

But wait a minute, didn't I just say they were out of your control?

Yes, but there is good news... 

You can get around the fact that you don't control your sub-communications directly with two techniques 

But before diving into those two techniques let's take a look at what most presentation training courses try to do to help you sub-communicate better.

Knowing the importance of body language and tone of voice most trainers and courses which I have looked at immediately try to teach you how to manage the end result, to modify your tone of voice and your body language consciously. They attack the symptoms of nerves and try to get you to fake confidence. 

This is like sending food to starving people rather than looking at the root cause of why they don't have food. It works (kind of) but it is massively inefficient, and in the end it breaks down when you stop doing it. It is a temporary, mentally intensive, and ultimately unsuccessful approach to changing what you are sub-communicate. 

Knowing what I know as a public speaker and someone who understands how to really change how you communicate from my journey out of anxiety I can tell you without a doubt in my heart that taking that typical approach to projecting confidence will do more harm than good. 

So what is the real way to manage your sub-communications? I think it lies in marrying up those techniques for good body language and good tone of voice with two inner techniques to really get to the core of what causes your sub-communications to be attractive and congruent. 

First off, take charge of your mood. We are more or less in control of how we feel, not all the time and not all the way but we can manage our moods relatively well. By managing your mood and putting yourself in a head-space where you genuinely care about the other person your sub-communications will automatically change to reflect your inner world. You will actually have empathy in your voice when you say "I'm sorry to hear that" you you will get genuinely excited when someone shares a success with you. Little things like that.

And that ability to sub-communicate actually giving a shit about another person, though simple, is rare. 

Second, don't even bother lying. Flat out unless a lie is literally the only option to save (your job, your marriage, your relationship etc...) then it is a waste of time and it will only serve to degrade your relationships. People know it is a lie at a gut level because every-time we lie or fudge the truth, we become in-congruent. Our sub-communications are a mismatch for what we are saying and people feel that. Even if they don't know why, they wont trust you. 

Truth is handsomer than the affectation of love
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

Remember this, if you want your audience to feel that you are confident (or any positive thing) the answer is not in using tactics to fake it. The answer lies in you actually being what you want to be seen as. 

And I think that that is a challenging truth which no presentation coaches today are talking about because it is hard to sell you the reality of hard work. 

Take charge of your mood and be brutally honest. 

That's the shortest route to being a captivating presenter.

'till next time,

- Max

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