Lesson 22: The Power of Passion

By Gerard Braud


Few things are as underestimated in a media interview as the passion a spokesperson conveys.

In lesson #8 we talked about why the facts don’t matter and how to create great quotes. If you learn to combine great quotes with passion you not only insure your quote gets used in a news story, but you can also dominate and control the direction of the news story.

Too often in the world of spin, “truthiness” quotes are developed that spokespeople memorize, rather than internalize. Hence the spokesperson sounds stiff and rehearsed when they deliver the quote.

A quote that is internalized and delivered with believability and passion gets used in a news story every time.

The best role model that I have for the power of passion is to study the behavior and media tactics of protesters and activist groups. One activist can say more in 4 seconds than all the facts a detail-oriented person can say in four hours.

The example that comes to mind most for me is the night I was covering a public hearing in which a multinational company wanted to build a chemical plant in the rural industrial community.

In this community, a vigilant group of environmental activists was working to convince the community that the proposed chemical plant would belch out so much pollution that it would essentially kill everyone with cancer. And although many residents believed the activist, an ever larger number of people believed that the plastics plant would bring much needed jobs to the rural area and help boost the area’s tax base.

The hearing was held in a rural courthouse and began with testimony by engineers from the company and environmental experts representing the state’s department of environmental quality.

For several hours, engineers and scientists presented data on why the plant could be built and operated safely. It was excruciatingly painful to sit there for hours listening to the monotone drones of these experts as they moved through their boring PowerPoint slides.

Several hours into this hearing it was time for me, the reporter, to exit the courthouse, head out to my live truck and begin editing my story for the 10 p.m. news. I knew it was going to be a difficult story to write because I really didn’t have any good quotes.

As my photographer and I began to gather our equipment and head to the door, a member of GreenPeace came rushing up to me. He said, “Gerard, you can’t leave yet, we haven’t had a chance to speak.”

I assured him that I would tell both sides of the story and that I was willing to interview him or another representative of the opposition if they would just step outside of the hearing room with me.

“Just give us 5 more minutes,” he pleaded.

Curious, I agreed to stay in the hearing room 5 more minutes.

As the engineer at the podium continued to drone on in monotone fashion, the activist stood, walked to the podium, delivered a thundering fist pounding to the podium and shouted, “This hearing is a sham and we are out of here!” With that, all of the opponents stood up and walked out of the hearing room. Wow!

With that, I had my quote to finish telling the story. In just 4 seconds, the activist said more than the official corporate and government experts said in several hours. All of those technical facts did not matter.

The quote from the activist summed up all of the frustration of the people they represented. Most of all, they passionately conveyed their beliefs. Although the scientist, engineers and experts may have high belief in the facts they presented, they were unable to present them with any passion.  And while the protestors could be challenged on whether the hearing was really a sham, they successfully summed up and encapsulated their feelings.

The lesson here is that when you create those great quotes, internalize them, then add emotion and passion to make them stand out and become memorable. When you do, you take control of not only the quote, but of the entire story.

In our next lesson we’ll discuss ways to select the right spokesperson for your organization.

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