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Being Vulnerable in Front of an Audience


My hubby Rich and I had just finished watching a movie on Netflix.  When we switched back to TV mode, it was about 9:45 PM.  I started flipping through the channels and came across the last part of an episode of Undercover Boss.  The male CEO was standing in front of a large group of employees, tears in his eyes, speaking with such emotions and sincerity.  The camera cuts away to show the employees, some of them with tears in their eyes and several nodding their heads.  I got the impression that the employees were feeling more connected to their boss and to the company than ever before.

One of the things that business presenters, and business leaders in particular, shy away from is being vulnerable in front of an audience.  Far too many presenters want to have the appearance of being “strictly business” on the platform.   The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t connect you more deeply with your audience.  Your message is more memorable and your relationship with the individuals in the audience enhanced when your audience feels an emotional connection with you.

So if building a relationship with the people in your audience is important… If having your message be more memorable is important… how do you do that in a business presentation?

Tell a Personal Story

Tell a story about yourself that relevant to the point you’re making.  By making the story personal, it’s certain to be original.  And you give your audience insight into who you are as a person and how you think.

The story needs to make a point and it’s helpful for the story to be on a subject to which your audience can relate.  But it doesn’t necessarily need to be linked to business.  Stories help engage and audience and tap into their emotions.  It doesn’t need to be a sad story to tap into emotions.  Humor is an emotion too.  And people love to laugh.  Personal stories are a great way to connect with an audience.

Whoops Moments

Don’t be the hero of every story.  Audiences love to know their presenter isn’t full of themselves, especially if the presenter is their boss.  Audiences love to hear the personal stories where things didn’t go so well.  So tell a story or two where you messed up.  Be vulnerable.  Poke fun at yourself.   Let the audience know that, yes, you are human.  We’ve all got those stories that were embarrassing at the time, but which taught us a lesson.  Share those stories where you screwed up and your audience will love you for it.

Your Heroes

Another way to not be the hero of every story is to make someone else the hero of the story.  If you’re trying to make a point, think about how you learned the lesson you’re trying to share.  Tell a story about the person who taught you that lesson.  Let the audience see how you came to that particular lesson through the wisdom of someone you respect.  Seeing how you were willing to learn from others will help your audience to be more open about learning from you.

Take a Lesson from Undercover Boss

When I saw that last 15 minutes of the Undercover Boss episode, it was obvious to me that the CEO cared about the people in his company.  If you care about your co-workers and your organization, let that come through in the words you use and in the way in which you deliver your message.  Be passionate.  Be emphatic.  Be vulnerable.  It seems to me the bosses that have appeared vulnerable on the Undercover Boss show won more respect than they lost by being vulnerable.  If it worked from them and if you’re sincere, it can work for you.