by Steve Adubato, PhD
If you’ve been watching television over the last 20 to 30 years, you’ve seen Bob Ross on PBS. You may not be sure what his name is, but he’s very recognizable. Bob Ross is that guy with the big afro and the blank canvas that, within 26 minutes, he would turn into a beautiful landscape with clouds, lakes, and “happy little trees.”
Bob Ross died of cancer in 1995 at the young age of 52, but he continues to communicate in a most unique and soothing fashion on PBS as he teaches “The Joy of Painting” to millions in the United States and throughout the world. But it wasn’t just his painting that had an impact, it was Ross’ unique communication style. It was and continues to be mesmerizing. His soothing voice, his calming tone and ultimately an amazingly positive attitude, even toward the end of his life when he was sick and could barely stand up, but continued to painted on camera for hours with no editing.
What’s interesting about Bob Ross is that it was clear how much he cared not just about being an artist, but more importantly about teaching art through his work on public broadcasting, as well as in seminars and speeches that he used to support his bare bones production. I’ve always said that one of the keys to being a great communicator is to have passion and to ensure that your passion is infused into your audience. Bob Ross continues to prove through his work on television that there is no one way to communicate your passion.
For people like Richard Simmons, being loud and boisterous works, particularly for those who are devoted to him and his message. For Chris Christie, his passion is tied to a forceful and blunt communication style that leaves no doubt what he believes and where he is coming from. As a seminar leader myself, I’ve tried to make sure that every presentation I give is done with enthusiasm and high energy, even though I’m sure at times some may see it as over the top.
But with Bob Ross, he needed none of that to consistently communicate that his passion was tied to caring deeply about painting and insuring that those who watched him would learn in the process and ultimately feel better about themselves as they were doing it. Ross proved that high energy and a loud voice are not always necessary to communicating a deep sense of passion. He also proved that there is no one way or style to move, motivate and inspire others through the spoken word. But it wasn’t just the tone of Ross’ voice that connected with us. It was his positive body language, the smile on his face, the look in his eye and the way he carried himself with grace.
Ultimately, Ross’ effectiveness is demonstrated in the fact that he has been gone for 16 years but still lives on for millions via public broadcasting. His spirit has remained alive through his work on the air as an artist and teacher and through his positive and enduring attitude. The biggest lesson from Bob Ross’ legacy is that there will never be a substitute for passionate communication and that there is no excuse for not having it, regardless of whether you see yourself as outgoing, dynamic or not.
The question for readers is, what do you care deeply about and what is the message you want to share with others? Are you doing that with real passion or going through the motions? Bob Ross figured out a long time ago the answers to those questions and spent every day of his professional life getting that message across to others.