Good speakers are passionate–and it shows. Bad speakers are dull, plodding, humdrum. There’s no sense that they’re animated by their material. And it’s true–showing that you truly care about a subject can go a long way toward winning over your listeners.
But passion in speaking is like spice in cooking. If you’ve ever added cayenne pepper to a dish, you know you need to be careful to use just the right amount. Too much emotion in your speaking is like dumping in a whole tablespoon of hot pepper–it’ll be the only thing anyone will notice, and they won’t want to finish.
These are the five ingredients of effective, passionate communication that doesn’t wind up sounding overly emotional.
When you speak with passion, your message has vibrancy and color. Passion brings your message to life by showing that you’re fully invested in what you’re talking about–your feelings about your subject are on full display. But if you’re too passionate, that feeling will overpower the content.
Your audience gets blinded by the intensity of your emotions and loses focus on what you’re actually saying, thinking, “What exactly was her message again?” You have to find the balance between feeling and purpose. Make sure your emotions enliven your subject but don’t supersede it.
When you add passion to your speaking, you engage your audience with your movement. Whether you’re using gestures or walking around during your presentation, you have to move mindfully in order to avoid distracting your audience. Taking a well-timed step toward your audience or a strong hand gesture can add impact.
But when you’re too emotional, your movements often come in flurries of hand-waving or continuous pacing–movements that aren’t connected to your message in a meaningful way. You may not even notice you’re doing that, but your audience will. Your behavior can seem jerky, random, and repetitive. You become so caught up in your feelings that you may not even realize that you’re moving. Remember, you want to come across as focused, not frazzled.
Passionate speakers’ voices capture their audience’s attention. They’re clear and commanding. But power does not mean high volume–you can be a passionate speaker with a quiet intensity to your voice. You can also use contrast in order to highlight points of passion without overwhelming your audience: Change your tone or emphasis at key places in your talk, then fall back into a more relaxed voice later. When you’re too emotional, your voice becomes sharp, and you end up shouting at your audience. They’ll hear you, but they won’t be listening.
Incorporate peaks and valleys into the way you communicate. You can build crescendos by telling compelling stories and using rhythm, then you can drop down to consolidate meaning and prepare for your next point. This isn’t strictly about tone of voice–it’s about structure. But that will impact the way you sound.
This mix of passion and substance will keep your audience engaged. But when you’re too emotional, you tend to stay at the same level of high-pitched excitement, without changing pace or tone. Stay at this level too long, and you’ll exhaust your audience and lose their attention. A passionate speaker is like a talented DJ who’s fully immersed in the music but knows when to mix things up.
When speaking passionately, your points still need to flow logically from one to the next, always making sure to emphasize the main idea you want to get across. You’re not overly formal, but you still get to the point. If you go overboard with emotion, you get into stream-of-consciousness thinking. You go off on tangents–even tangents of tangents. Your audience stops following you, and everyone gets lost. It’s as if you’re lost on a long hike in the middle of the woods. You forget how you got there, and you don’t know where to go next.
Passion is great, but too much can derail an otherwise solid presentation. By recognizing the differences between being passionate and being too emotional, you can find the right balance inspire your audience, not stress them out.