A sad story of a gamble that didn't pay off, and a cautionary tale of how using information from unreliable sources can destroy your credibility in an instant...
Myths, research and credibility
I went horseracing last week, and was reminded of an important lesson in the communications, business, and writing trades.
I was at Newmarket, as the guest of a business I’ve worked with, and got to see the unveiling of a statue to one of the great figures (reputationally, rather than physically, of course) of the sport, Lester Piggott.
While I was there, to get into the spirit of it, I thought I would have a small bet on a few races.
But, far from it being my thing, how to decide which horse to back?
I fell back on my instincts, and years of experience, and did some research.
Well, kind of.
Getting myself a beer, I overheard a chat between two beautifully dressed and very credible sounding men at the bar...
One of whom had a cousin, who had a friend, who knew someone, who was in a relationship with someone else, who occasionally worked out at the same gym as someone who was a groom at one of the stables.
And said groom had been talking about a secret weapon of a horse who was a sure fire winner.
I pretended to be busily checking the latest form/betting on my phone, while shamelessly eavesdropping, and yes!
My cunning paid off. After a little longer, the name of the horse duly emerged.
Away I scurried to place my life savings on this reincarnation of Red Rum, (well, £5 each way) and sat back ready to bask in the glow of success and new riches.
You know what’s coming here, don’t you?
I’m not sure where the horse finished. I was too deflated to hang around and find out.
But given the way it was running, it probably still hasn’t come home yet.
The serious point of this blog is that few errors can destroy your credibility (and horse racing hopes) faster than badly researched claims.
For example, I’ve lost count of the number of so-called communications experts who still parrot one of the most misleading myths in the game.
I bet you’ve heard it -
That only 7% of how we communicate is down to the words we use, and the rest is in the tone, and body language.
It’s absolute nonsense, as even a few seconds' thought would tell you.
I won’t go into dissecting it here, but it’s based on an experiment by a researcher called Albert Mehrabian, and he himself is so fed up with hearing the myth that he disowns it on his own website.
Another well-known falsehood is about John F Kennedy and his incredible speech Ich bin ein Berliner.
The story has it that it’s a misuse of German, and actually means Kennedy is saying he is some form of pastry.
Good bar room yarn, but absolute nonsense again.
So if you’re going to use any of these stories which you often hear repeated as fact in any form of presentation...
It’s well worth a few seconds checking the source of the information, and its credibility.
It can save you an awful lot of embarrassment and regret.
Or in my case, the very predictable loss of a few of your hard earned pounds.
I'm a lecturer and coach in Communications Skills at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. I also work in government, and across the private and public sectors.
I can offer communications support in all areas, including:
Branding, reports, investment pitches, presentations and speech writing ~ Conventional and social media ~ Websites ~ Photography and videography ~ Public speaking ~ Crisis communications ~ Building your personal brand