Passion on Fire
‘Passion on Fire’ is always better than ‘Knowledge on Ice’
Actually, if I remember the exact wording, it was:
‘Ignorance on Fire’ is always better than ‘Knowledge on Ice’
But there is no way I am putting the words ‘Ignorance on Fire’ over a picture of the captain of the England Women’s football team.
Reference to the phrase is simply to highlight that passion and excitement will always communicate more forcefully than reason and logic. Sometimes naïve enthusiasm communicates better than any amount of dry, studied knowledge.
Another way of expressing it is through the famous sales mantra of:
Logic tells; Emotion sells
(a catching little phrase which like many other rhetorical phrases may be worthy of quick analysis itself: the rhythm of the ‘noun verb; noun verb’ structure; the rhyming of the two verbs, ‘tells’ and ‘sells’ and the economy of expression and directness of meaning; all making it a neat memorable phrase.)
The Art of Public Speaking
But today my focus is specifically on passion in the art public speaking and how once you have the right topic and the right level of belief in your message, much of the technique of presenting will take care of itself.
I am sure we have all had to listen to many a presentation that is clear, well-structured and well-delivered, but still struggles to lift itself above the boredom threshold. The missing ingredient is nearly always an element of enthusiasm which in turn will be expressed through the voice. Passionate people often do not need much public speaking training (except maybe to stand still and speak a little slower) because instant eloquence pours out of an animated voice.
If I raced into your living room exclaiming:
‘Unbelievable, outside, incredible, oh my word, you must come!’
I would probably have your full attention and I would probably get a response from you.
When we are excited or have passion, we become less self-conscious and instantly a more direct and natural communicator, because as I run excitedly into your living room I am unlikely to be thinking about my stance, body language, tone of voice and clarity of message; I just want to get my words out!
Finding Your Message When Speaking in Public
In the end, most public speaking training is simply about helping people tap into that natural enthusiasm that has always been buried in them somewhere: to help them find a message when speaking in public that they can be excited about, or at least find a compelling reason to express that message.
My Experience Teaching Public Speaking
My experience with teaching public speaking to 10-year-olds was that I just needed to point them in the right direction and let them on with it. They were by nature unselfconscious, natural communicators and their enthusiasm carried them through. Teenagers I found were already becoming more self-conscious and less free in their expression. By the time we have reached adulthood – which in public speaking terms is usually quite a few steps back from that childlike naturalness and confidence – we are mired in a fear of looking stupid, lacking belief in ourselves and what we are about to say. We are also weirdly self-conscious about what we should be doing with our hands while we are speaking.
Chloe Kelly’s Post-Match Interview
Chloe Kelly’s immediate post-match interview having just scored the winning goal in the final of Women’s Euros is all passion, emotion and infectious excitement: the key take-away messages are loud and clear –‘special’ and ‘amazing’.
And then she offers even greater exuberance as she lists her family members, which is childlike in its unrestricted emotion and directness. It is all passion, unbridled joy and enthusiasm. Wonderful!
Finding Your Passion and Emotion When Speaking in Public
Obviously in our regular lives we will not be speaking about anything as ‘amazing’ as scoring the winning goal in a European final and that level of passion and emotion is not likely to be so easily transferable to a presentation on monthly sales figures, or even providing care for the vulnerable, but just to be aware that level of feeling exists within us is already a good place to start and then to be able to imagine and experience what such enthusiasm sounds like and feels like.
Therefore there is possibly little more to learn from Chloe Kelly’s interview other than her expressing loud and clear:
‘Logic tells; Emotion sells!’
Possibly more informative in an analysis of speaking skills is an interview with Leah Williamson, the team captain, as from this we can glean more about the skills of presenting, even though – or maybe precisely because – she is spontaneous and has had little time to prepare her words.
The first thing to notice is that she is very assured (after all she has just captained a team to winning a European final).
At the start of the interview, she takes on an informal stance, holding onto the railing with one hand, with her other arm bent into her side. A great pose for informality, but it would not be recommended if she had to stand on stage and address an audience with weighty content.
Here she smiles and looks confident – all greatly reassuring.
Her voice is lively and, like Chloe Kelly, she answers her questions with feeling.
The informal pose works well for the early part of the interview. We see a woman at ease with her situation and sharing.
However, as a lesson in public speaking and for some valuable take-away tips I would recommend carefully re-watching just the last 10 seconds of this clip from when she starts saying:
‘And that’s the start…’ because from here on her message takes shape and she becomes a powerful public speaker.
Through the interview, she is warming to her task and in these last few moments, she really hits her straps.
She has now arrived at a deeper message to share.
She now shows herself as a forthright campaigner.
She literally expresses a ‘position’ that she is willing to ‘stand up’ for.
This no longer a woman leaning on one arm and sharing her thought about a match,
this is someone of influence with a vision for the future.
Her posture and bearing declare she has a message, and inform us she is delivering a point that demands to be heard.
And because of this we now find her standing much straighter.
Standing Well to Support Your Message
In presentation skills we teach the importance of standing well, looking balanced in order to allow the freedom to use gestures to support the key words in your message.
Leah Williamson has no need to stand straight for early part of the interview as she uses the barrier to support herself. However this means that her hands are not available to support her voice and instead her animation and the vocal support needs to come mainly from shrugs and raised shoulders.
By the end of the interview she is standing freely and the voice is being supported from an upright posture with arms free to supply clear, emphatic gestures.
The American philosopher William James pointed out that happy people may often choose whistle.
Cause and Effect: ‘I am happy, therefore I whistle’.
But more significantly , he said, it also works the other way round and if you are not feeling happy and decide to start to whistle you may then start to feel happy.
So yes, we can work on stance and delivery and encourage our speakers to stand better and gesture more effectively, but approaching it from the other end, when you know you have a message that needs to be heard, you will probably start to do that anyway.
Finding Your Purpose to Speak
What Leah Williamson shows us is that when you have found your purpose and a reason to speak,
many of the apparent techniques of speaking take care of themselves.
It is her conviction that leads her to adopt the proper stance and gestures,
allowing her passion and belief to be channelled through her body and gestures up into her voice.
These words could not be delivered with the same impact if she was still leaning on the barrier railings.
And so, for the last few moments of this interview, we find ourselves no longer listening to a woman sharing her opinions on what has just happened and how she feels about it, we are witnessing a visionary talking about future influence and a legacy.
The repeated gesture accompanying: ‘the legacy of this team is still to be written,’ create rhythm and emphasis.
The pointing to self with ‘I’ll walk away’ and ‘for us’ underpin those words and the words ‘biggest change’ being punctuated with the repeating gesture to the floor, all tell us that this is a message backed up by passion, belief and conviction
Have a look at those last 10 seconds again.
Stance, posture, gestures, animation and clarity are all skills that need to be practised in public speaking,
but find a person with a passion and a message and most of that takes care of itself!
Leah Williamson is a winner: her team mates are winners.
And if she was a politician - with a delivery as strong as that –
I’d vote for her!