Wednesday, March 5, 2008

About Passion

What's so important about speaking passionately? The world is full of talk. Some of it needful and necessary, most of it not. We Americans in particular are a passionately talkative bunch. Traveling through Mexico years ago, I saw some children playing in the street. They were all barking and yapping like a pack of dogs. "What are they playing?" I asked my Mexican companion. "They're pretending to be Americans," came the answer. It's certainly true that we Americans can fill the air, and the airwaves, with verbal noise. Few listen, so we go for volume and quantity over meaning and quality. Which is exactly the mind-set of dogs baying at the indifferent moon.

As for passion, here again we have an overabundance of material to work with. There is spiritual passion, sexual passion, passion flowers, fruit, pie, and perfume. One can have a passion for Thai cooking, sports cars, high-heeled shoes or macadamia nuts. The objects of our passions are many, the fact of our passions is a uniting force that draws us together and lets us recognize one another as fellow humans. We mustn't let the word 'passion' be pre-empted by anger, fear and hatred, nor by lust, gluttony and greed. Passion is in us all. Passion communicates.

Ron Hoff, in his excellent book on presentation skills, I Can See You Naked, writes about speakers who occupy one of three zones. The grey zone is that flat, featureless place where the majority of speakers lead their audiences to be lulled into a stupor by numbing monotony, cliches, predictable stories and points nobody cares about. Hoff contrasts this tedious area with two colorful styles of presenting: the Blue Zone and the Red Zone. Blue is for the mental set - the analytical, academic, intellectual speaker who knows his beans, is super-organized and makes his or her points with military precision. Red is for the emotional set. Here we find the driven, surprising, impulsive and daring speakers - you may not always agree with them, but you won't forget them.

Passion, as I define it, is a purple zone - a combination of red and blue. Speakers, like actors, should remember Helen Hayes' recipe: "Act with a cool head and a warm heart." A "Passionate Speaker" is dedicated to communicating with the audience, has done the homework, knows the topic, feels deeply the importance of the message being delivered. Rather than play it safe, equivocate, hide behind jargon or ambivalent language, a passionate speaker comes from a deep knowledge and an equally deep feeling that he or she has something important to say. Passion, tempered by dispassion, creates compassion.