Passion versus Purpose

We are often encouraged, particularly when we are young, to find our passion and follow it to greatness. The traditionally held logic is that if we do what we love success and money will follow. However, commonly as we grow older we come a conclusion that our passion isn’t realistic, or simply not an endeavor worth pursuing.  Having a passion is no doubt a driver to do more, be better you and make a mark on the world. However following raw passion without clear direction isn’t any better than being apathetic and having no passion at all. How does all of this translate into public speaking? In this post we explore how to add passion to your presentations, while maintaining a clear focused purpose.

“Do what you love, and feel as if you never work a day in your life!”

Leonid Pasternak - The Passion of creation

Start from the beginning.

Many of us have several different things we are passionate about, the trouble is finding the time to focus on any one thing. When I began writing this blog I wanted to focus on something that I am passionate about, science communication. The posts I write are aimed at helping people (particularly scientists) communicate, present their work, and speak more clearly to an audience. However, with all the different aspects of science communication, how could I stay focused to get my message across? The answer is a clear purpose. Although I had passion about the message, creating a focused blog aimed at specific group with specific problems was, I found, the best way to go about disseminating my message. Yet, when you devote yourself a single endeavor, it can be difficult to pinpoint where passion should end and where purpose should begin.

Passion vs. Purpose

passion – noun 1. A strong and barely controllable emotion.
purpose – noun 1. The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

In the old days it wasn’t uncommon for someone to have complete and utter devotion to a single body of work. Workers trained for years as apprentices with more experienced craftsmen. These understudies would work diligently, until they were able to prove themselves in their field by becoming a journeyman.  Some people were born into this type of work, and embraced it whether it was their passion or not. Particularly before the advent of computers, some works of science and art would literally take a lifetime to complete. This level of devotion is not commonly seen these days, as most of us have many different responsibilities, tasks, and hobbies that play significant role in our lives. Our daily work, may not reflect our true passions in life, but it is possible to have a purpose in life driven by passion. We usually consider the definition of greatness  simply talent or inherent intelligence. The fact is that being driven by a passion will cause you to exert so much more effort you would normally put into a task. The outcome is, that when driven by passion and focused by purpose, we can achieve much more than we ever though possible.

It is entirely possible that your purpose is to let your passions spread through the world. However it is important to consider why we are doing what we do in the first place. In the case of public speaking and science communication you might ask yourself, am I trying to get feedback from the audience? am I trying to present new information that others can then use and benefit from? or perhaps you want to simply update a group of people on the progress that has been made on a project. Whatever your reason, if you allow some passion behind your words you can naturally captivate and inspire the audience. Although this can be difficult focusing on a positive reason for speaking in public can help tremendously. Whether it be, trying to impress your boss, or to help others, giving yourself a clear reason to communicate with improve your message.

“We have a chance to take advantage of everyday occasions to … to be of service to the world.” 1

An example of pure passion.

The video below is a compilation of several clips of Niel deGrasse Tyson speaking about how the US space program is underfunded. The emotion of Tyson and the force with which he speaks is raw, yet he is able to put these feelings into a coherent and clear message. His way of speaking is convincing because it has tremendous passion, but with great skill he is still maintaining a clear message. There is no doubt that with the deepest part of his soul he believes what he is saying to be true, you can not only hear it in his words you begin to feel it as you watch the video. When giving a presentation there often times when this  type of moving reaction is needed when you want to convince your audience about a certain point, or to rally them in agreeance. These types of speeches or presentations are particularly useful when you are trying to garner action by your audience members.

Let your passion drive you, let your purpose refine you.

The difficult thing about passion is that for the most part we don’t consciously choose what we are passionate about, rather we find our passion in our lives along the way as we grow and mature. Therefore, purpose has to drive our actions while we use passion to keep us motivated despite setbacks and difficulties in life. In the case of speaking in public, our purpose can feel much more mundane than passion, but without having a clear purpose we would simply end up ranting about a topic rather than speaking clearly. Combining these two ideas is key to becoming a great speaker. There are times, even when giving a boring quarterly report to the board room, that we must remind ourselves of the purpose of doing our job while keeping passion alive.

Perfect practice makes perfect

It is highly unlikely that going out on our first time speaking in public we will be able to make a convincing argument such as Dr. Tyson has done in the above video. That level of skill when speaking in public takes years of practice. Research has shown that those who are willing to stick it out with many hours of practice, end up becoming better at their task and are more successful. 2 Although we may feel that we are born with a set amount of skill, talent, or ability through dedicated practice and effort we can master any skill. 3 Keep in mind however, becoming excellent at a task requires lots of practice, discipline, failure, and often years to perfect. 2 With some effort however we can improve our communication skills and begin to have moving speeches just like the above video.


  1. Brooks, D. (2015). The road to character. Random House.
  2. Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(6), 1087
  3. Robinson, K. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything. Penguin.

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