For my second blog post this week, I’m reaching back into the archives for a piece first published in 2014. I’m concerned in this information-overloaded world that posting twice a week may be too much for my readers. So here’s an experiment — digging into the archives for a post that still seems useful today. Please let me know in the comments if you think this is a good idea, if I should just go to one post a week, or if I should keep doing two new ones each week. Let’s hear from you!
A word on passion. I’ve talked since 2007 about techniques, neuroscience, and rhetorical devices designed to make you the best communicator you can be – the best public speaker you can be. In the end, though, I never forget – and you should never forget – that it comes down to passion. You’ve got to show up and be present in order to reach people through communication, and that takes passion. Otherwise, don’t bother.
What else is passion about? Passion is both authentic and charismatic. We don’t fully trust people until we’ve seen them get emotional — angry, sad, ecstatic — because these moments allow us to take the measure of their values.
What gets them angry, sad, or ecstatic? That’s how we size them up. If we see someone giving a tongue-lashing to a sales clerk because the store is out of an item, we make one kind of judgment about that person. If we see someone else standing up to a bully, we make another kind of judgment.
Sincerity of emotion shows up in nonverbal conversation through, perhaps surprisingly, stillness and openness. While the strong passions — anger, joy, excitement of various kinds — can all be signaled with energetic body movements, sometimes extreme stillness can be just as effective. Think of it like the voice: the point is to establish a baseline and then vary that to exhibit the emotions.
I worked with a speaker who was telling a personal story to a large audience and revealing information that had not been public before. There was a lot of tension on his staff before the big night. We talked about the many ways that he could indicate his passion to that audience, but in the end we settled on simplicity. He stood very still and told his story very quietly. The passion came through.
That said, for most of us, when we want to telegraph passion, we need to do so with raised voice, higher voice, more hand and arm gestures, more body movement in general — all the signs of energy and passion that we are used to recognizing.
But rather than thinking about this as a technical exercise, the better way is to focus on the passion itself. Before you go into an important meeting, begin a high-stakes speech, or have that conversation with your teenager that you’ve been putting off, focus on the way you feel about the topic and the person or people you’re communicating with.
This technique has two benefits. First, it will put you in the moment if you do it well, allowing you to connect the two conversations (content and body language) and appear authentic and charismatic. And second, it will occupy your mind and keep you from getting nervous. If you think only about your nerves, your self-consciousness, and how poorly the scene is certain to go, you will almost certainly telegraph nervousness in your second conversation and undercut your own best efforts. So spend a moment outside the room or before the meeting begins feeling the excitement you have over this concept you’re about to propose, or the passion you feel for the company and where it’s headed, or the love you feel for your teenager who has to understand the importance of a curfew and personal safety.
Being passionate is ultimately about allowing yourself to fully experience the emotion. Inhabit it, revel in it, and soak it up. That way you’ll send a consistent message, not a mixed one, and you’ll come across as an authentic communicator.
If the moment is right, you’ll show up charismatically, because someone who is radiating a strong emotion is fascinating, eye-catching, and lit up in a special way that we call charismatic.
Great actors have something they call the offstage beat that they use just before they go onstage. Mediocre actors just walk on and deliver their first lines. But the great ones are already inhabiting the character offstage before they go on. They figure out where the character just came from and what state of mind she was in, and they play that rather than “an actor coming onstage. ”
The result is a fully believable character, and one you can’t take your eyes from. You need to develop a little of the same magic, and the way to do it is to prepare, just before the communication, not only what you’re going to say but how you feel about it: strongly, fully, and with all your physical being. That, after all, is where passion originates. And that’s how you radiate passion, align the two conversations, and convince audiences large and small of your authenticity.
If you do it with enough conviction, you will be charismatic.