Are we ever not communicating? Maybe when we sleep … but even then some communication may be going on as our dreams spin far and wide. Or perhaps we're not communicating only when we are alone, when no one is nearby to see us grimace or smile, make ourselves tall or crumpled small, snap our fingers as a memory emerges or fist-pump in triumph. Or perhaps even when alone we are communicating—intrapersonally, all day every day throughout the years as our minds wander or take hold, as our thoughts begin to form the vaguest of shapes or at last coalesce.
We spend a large amount of time communicating—around 75 percent of our conscious hours. About 10 percent of that time is writing, 15 reading, 30 speaking, and the rest, about 45 percent, listening. Some of the numbers that affect our ability to communicate:
- The number of words in the English language as of January 1, 2016, is estimated to be 1,035,877. That number will grow by about 15 new words daily throughout the year.
- The working vocabulary of native English speakers who have taken the quiz at testyourvocab.com ranges from 20,000 – 35,000 words. A word-deficit of over 1,000,000 words!
- Immediately after listening to a ten-minute oral presentation, the average listener has heard, understood, and retained about half of what was said. Within 48 hours, half of that is usually lost. In other words, we often comprehend only one fourth of what we hear. That's another good reason to use visuals not only to support messages but to emphasize them.
- Most people talk at a rate of 125 – 175 words per minute but can listen at a rate of up to 450 words per minute. That gap requires a speaker to do everything possible to keep audience members engaged and attentive but also requires active listening on the part of audience members.
- We think at 1,000 – 3,000 words per minute, according to PR Daily. Our brain speed can occasionally cause us to misspeak because we think faster than we speak.
- Information travels to and from our brains and through our nerves at different rates. Depending on the type of neuron through which it travels, that information may flow as slowly as 1 mph or as quickly as 268 mph.
- Ohio State University researchers have isolated 21 distinct categories of human facial expression, a number that includes the originally identified six (happy, sad, fearful, angry, surprised, disgusted) and various combinations of them. Recognizing them can help us stay attuned to how our words may be affecting listeners as well as to what our own facial expressions communicate.
- Many sources suggest that for ease of readability, the average sentence length in a document should be 15 – 25 words. To achieve that average, write both short and long sentences, taking as a guide the complexity of ideas, characteristics of your audience, and the need to provide variety in sentence structures and diction.
How do all these numbers add up? Taken together, they suggest that good communication calls not only for careful planning of content, structure, and delivery but rehearsal sufficient to allow you to internalize all three. That kind and degree of attention may well mean that your listeners retain more than a fourth of what you intend to communicate … epic win!