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November 10, 2020

The 30% Rule of Communication

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In an episode of “Charisma on Command” by Charlie Houpert I learned of the 30% rule, which essentially goes as follows - When speaking, we give ourselves 30% of the time a listener would give us to fill a pause without it feeling uncomfortable. It’s crazy to think the contrast is that drastic, 30%, but it's true.

To materialize this into an example, let's say you’re giving a speech in front of a group for work. You make a solid point, make a great transition to the next topic, then forget what you were supposed to say next. As you think, there’s a pause in speech. We know this moment, our adrenaline starts pumping, we feel our faces flush, and the moment feels like an eternity. You feel the pressure to continue saying something intelligent, so you rush to figure it out and then continue.  

That pressure and discomfort you experience is the 30% rule on display. In this scenario, I’d estimate that the average person starts to feel uncomfortable at 2 to 3 seconds of pausing. But what’s important to keep in mind, is the audience is much more tolerant, giving you more than 3x as much time to continue speaking without attributing it as an error or noticing anything too wrong. According to the math, your 2 to 3 seconds is their 7 to 10 seconds, and when you watch a video of someone pausing for that long you'll realize how it’s not that long after all. 

I thought that was important - being aware of this 30% rule of communication will help us be more confident speakers when expressing ideas we care about.


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