Vulnerability is like cleavage. Reveal just the right amount, it draws your subject in and leaves them wanting more. Too much and it can be repellant or worse, it can make you come across as cheap or crass.
In a world where every social media platform is egging you on to share more of your personal life--now live and without filters--the line between raw and provocative versus cringe-worthy has become a blur.
The damage can be catastrophic if certain filters aren't in place. So how much sharing is too much? And how do you pull a Brene Brown without feeling like you've got your pants around your ankles?
Here's a checklist to get you started.
These tips will serve you well whether you're on TV, answering a tricky question at a job interview, writing marketing copy, or posting on social:
1. Be relevant.
Before sharing your story, you need to know who your audience is. Who are you talking to and why? Telling a story about your sex life will likely sound and feel different if you're sharing with the audience of Oprah as opposed to Cosmo.
You're also likely to get a warm reception to a vulnerable share if the audience can relate to you because they are going through (or have been through) something similar.
2. Answer the question: Why now?
The latest trend or a breaking news story all affect the public's stream of consciousness. People need stories to make sense of events that trigger big emotions. For example, a news report on teenage suicide may spark discussions on people's own struggles with self-worth and depression. Depending on your message, you might be able to reach out to people with your story and inspire them to do the same.
And it needn't be serious. Celebrity scandals, silly awareness days--they create context within which you can share your story.
3. Meet them where they are.
When positioning yourself as an authority, it's important to meet your audience members where they are on their journey. Make yourself impossible to ignore by listening intently for the way they describe their problems. Where they're stuck. The scripts that are holding them back.
That's where your story starts: where they are right now. Then you can take them on your imperfect journey and share the insight you gained along the way. The crucial piece is that the insight serves them, not you.
4. Connect by relating.
Vulnerability is sexy. It fosters connection and can turn prospects or buyers into raving fans. It seems counter-intuitive, but when you open up, you become more relatable. You put a human face to your brand.
That said, no one ever won anyone over with their whiny voice. Complaining or ranting is verboten unless you have some serious skills in the humor department. If you can make them laugh, you can pretty much break all the rules.
5. Get dirty.
Being vulnerable is only powerful if you're willing to really up the stakes and share something real. Something few others are willing or able to reveal. Real numbers from last quarter, that product that totally bombed, the time you borrowed cash from your ogre father-in-law to make payroll--these are the stories that will make people cry or laugh or cause the hair on the back of their neck to stand up because they feel you.
And that brings us to the next point.
6. Build your story around a clear takeaway.
There's a fine line between bashing them over the head with the "moral" of the story (not recommended) and walking them through your transformation while leaving enough room for them to have one of their own.
One of my favorite storytelling mentors, Lou Heckler, has a fabulous trick for deciding which parts of the story stay and which get cut: Figure out the exact insight you had. That moment of transformation where you left your "old self" behind. Now every single word, breath, pause, and gesture must serve to bring the audience to a similar point of their own.
7. Make it about them.
It's your story and that's yours to own. But the fact that you're making the decision to share it comes with a tacit contract: There has to be something valuable and actionable in it for your audience.
If you take away nothing else from this piece, make your story all about your audience. Yes, you're sharing details from your life--sometimes incredibly personal ones--but if the story doesn't somehow enrich, educate, inspire or entertain your audience, it's probably an overshare.
And that's just awkward.
Can you think of a recent overshare you witnessed, whether in real life on on social media? How did it make you feel and what lesson did you learn from it?