The Master Communicator Blog

Public Speaking by the Numbers

There’s no magic formula for public speaking, but there are a host of statistics behind the art of effective communication that may make a difference in your own ability to command the stage.
December 11, 2023

In this edition of the Master Communicator Blog, I offer you a potpourri of numbers about oral communication. Some of them are just fun facts, others underscore just how important public speaking is to humanity. Sort through this assortment and see where you can put some of these lessons into practice to improve your own speaking.

The art of oratory dates to Aristotle in the First Century AD. In modern times, Dale Carnegie, a pioneer in the human potential movement, offered his first course in public speaking at a YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in New York City. His seminal book, “Public Speaking for Success,” was published in 1926. 

Like in the case of Carnegie, Toastmasters also sprang from a YMCA, this time in Bloomington. Illinois, where Ralph C. Smedley christened the first Toastmasters club in 1924. With its 100-year anniversary approaching, today the organization has 280,000 members in 15,800 clubs in 149 countries.

Both Carnegie and Smedley sought to help people (mostly men at that time) to overcome their fears and inhibitions and become more self-confident, personable, and influential speakers.

Those fears persist with 70 percent of people around the world identifying public speaking as their number one fear. More accurately, it’s fear of rejection and embarrassment, yet public speaking gets thrown into the mix.

Over the years, attention spans have shrunk. In the last 15 years alone, attention spans have markedly decreased from 20 seconds to 8.25 seconds. From technology to constant distractions, humans need to find ways to be able to focus for longer periods.

When it comes to first impressions, those are formed in just 7 seconds, even shorter on video calls. The moment you greet someone, walk into a room, join a Zoom or Teams call, you have made an indelible impression. 

Studies confirm that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Visual data is processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. Hence, the power of images and showing up as your very best on video should not be taken lightly.

With so many distractions, it takes the average person 7 times to hear or see the same message before they act. That means, that your key message or proposition needs to be repeated 7 times for people to remember.

Concepts shared in groups of 3 are more memorable. The Rule of Three states that people tend to remember lists of 3 things: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, Three Little Pigs, etc. Our brains are wired for information in triplets.

5-second pauses are highly effective speaking devices. Pausing your speech for 5 seconds creates a moment of transition, drama, suspense and gives you a moment to compose your thoughts. Pauses of less than 5 seconds can be used to breathe and take the place of filler words.

Presenting data as story improves recall by 22 times. Stories, anecdotes, and metaphors are remembered far better than mere facts. That’s why they are such powerful communication tools.

In general, women speak at a higher pitch—about an octave higher than men. An adult woman’s average range is from 165 to 255 Hz, while a man’s is 85 to 155 Hz. Note that nervousness and tense muscles may make your pitch higher.

If you consider how many words there are in the English language, there are 3 key numbers to remember: more than 1 million total words, about 170,000 words in current use, and 20,000-30,000 words used by individuals.

How many words do we speak daily? Estimates say from 6,000 to 10,000 words a day. There is no evidence that women speak more often than men do.

51% of the world’s population speaks more than one language. English (1,452 million speakers) is the most-spoken language including native and non-native speakers.

In English, particularly, filler words are a fact of life. An experienced public speaker uses about one filler word (um, ah, well, you know) per minute, but the average speaker uses one every 12 seconds or about 5 fillers per minute.

Non-verbal communication is more consequential than the words you say. The verbal components in a face-to-face conversation account for less than 35% of the overall impact. The rest, 65%, happens nonverbally via your tone of voice, gestures, and body language.People can make and recognize around 250,000 facial expressions. A genuine smile is the universal language of kindness. That should not be a surprising statistic.

Rosemary Ravinal

Business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to elevate their public speaking impact, executive presence, and media interview skills come to me for personalized attention and measurable results. I am recognized as America’s Premier Bilingual Public Speaking Coach after decades as a corporate spokesperson and media personality in the U.S. mainstream, Hispanic and Latin American markets. My company’s services are available for individuals, teams, in-person and online, and in English and Spanish in South Florida and elsewhere.

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