Here’s a question: How confident are you of the validity of the stats you quote to clients and prospects in support of your views?
Misquoting stats and research can undermine your credibility. Here’s a common mistake I spotted again recently:
“Effective personal communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% content of the words.”
This is simply not true. It’s based on a complete misreading of the 1971 research undertaken by Professor Albert Mehrabian. Indeed my 2007 blog post debunking this myth is consistently one of the most popular pieces on this site.
Some years ago I heard a speaker at a seminar on business skills for accountants misquoting the research and stating the 7% statistic as a fact. Sadly it was a key part of her presentation and slides.
I was a fellow speaker at the event so professional courtesy ensured I didn’t point out her mistake publicly. Instead I approached her quietly and privately later in the day. I asked if she knew the origin of the statistics she was using. She confessed she didn’t but that they were well known to presentation skills coaches like her.
After we spoke she told me that it didn’t matter if she was using the stats inappropriately during her presentation skills coaching sessions. She said audiences liked them and they helped prove her points.
In effect this lady, who had seemed impressive, but for this error, was telling me she was actually quite unprofessional. At least that’s what I think of someone who quotes stats or research without first checking the facts and the origin of these. Even more so if the person knowingly continues to misquote the stats or research because “it doesn’t matter”.
Another common example is when people attribute a popular Marianne Williamson quote to Nelson Mandela. It starts:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure….”
Mandela is often referenced as having included the full quote during his 1994 inauguration speech, but this didn’t happen. He didn’t say it, he didn’t write it and it wasn’t written for him. (Here’s the debunking piece).
These days there is no excuse for failing to check first before referencing stats, quotes or research. It’s invariably easy to trace online the original and to ensure you both give credit and get the references correct. And it’s especially important if you are going to build a presentation around the stats or research in question. And, if you get it wrong, to acknowledge this and to avoid repeating the mistake.
Failing to do so means you risk damaging your credibility and, in so doing, standing out for the wrong reasons.
What do you think?