Passion beats Knowledge 9 times out of 10
Ok, before you get all bothered by my statement let's first make sure I caveat it correctly. If you're a scientist presenting a paper for your dissertation, then maybe knowledge is more important. But if you're presenting at a trade show (before or after 3 others), if you're speaking at a rally (before or after 3 others), if you're speaking at a church (in the midst of a 5 part talk series), or if you're speaking to the team you manage in a conference room with people who already know and trust you – your passion says more every time!
Here are my five observations.
First, many people don't learn knowledge by listening.
Some learn by talking. Others by trying. But rarely do people learn by listening (UCLA research suggests that only 7% of an audience's take away is the words they heard You can read more about it here:The Exceptional Presenter: A Proven Formula to Open Up and Own the Room).
Second, you speaking is pretty non-interactive.
People need to work with material, discuss it, touch it, try it, evaluate it and/or ask more questions about it – none of which they can do while you're speaking.
Third, other people will speak before and after you.
You need to make your goal to stand apart and to invite people to follow up with you, to motivate and convince them to take the next step and interact with the material. Knowledge won't do that.
Fourth, passion is compelling.
Maybe you're not hoping to cause any change in your audience, so you can ignore this whole post. But if you want even the slightest change, you'll need to engage your audience's emotions. In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the authors call this the “elephant” and it's not easy to get an elephant to move – especially if you're only using facts. Make your case passionately and see if people ignore you.
Finally, passion is contagious.
Maybe the most important thing to understand about passion is that it's the more likely tool in your belt to grab and keep your audience's attention. If you care about your material, they're likely to care about it. If you don't, they won't.
So now that you know, what can you do? Especially if the topic was decided by someone else (or a committee) and you're not very excited about it? Find a way to get passionate about it. Find a part of it that excites you. Better to talk more narrowly about something that you can be passionate about, than broadly about something that bores you and your audience. Find ways to get your audience excited about it – as that will often translate into getting yourself going. But whatever you do, stay away from topics and presentations that don't captivate and engage you.