Are you concerned about sharing your personal story? Do you worry that you’ll reveal too much, scare off your audience or bore them talking about yourself?
Telling your audience about who you are and what you’ve experienced is an important part of business for any coach, personal brand or thought-leader. Whether you’re writing blogs, filming videos, public speaking, doing social media or creating a book, your audience really wants to hear your story – they want to know the person behind the business.
There are many benefits to being vulnerable. It helps your audience connect with you, it gives you instant credibility as someone who’s overcome a challenge, and it’s a highly motivating way to teach other people.
But it can be difficult to know exactly how much of your story you should share with them. You don’t want to share too much and freak people out but you also don’t want to share too little and fail to connect with the audience you want to help.
There is no one-size fits all answer to this dilemma. It really depends – on your type of business, your comfort level and what’s going to help your audience.
In this blog I share 3 important questions to ask yourself to decide how much of your personal story to share.
1. How relevant is my personal story to my business?
The first question you need to ask yourself is how relevant your personal story is to your business. This will dictate how much of your own story you need to share with your audience.
For example, if you are a life coach, then it’s more important that you share your story than if you’re a business consultant. Sharing your story as a life coach would give you more credibility to help your clients by filling them in on the journey you’ve been through. If you’ve overcome a struggle that your ideal client is facing, then you it adds to your expertise.
If you specialize in a certain topic – health, relationships, overcoming fears – then it is wise to share your own experiences on that topic.
If you’re a business consultant then your audience would be more interested in your business experience than your personal life. But if something in your personal life – like a health crisis – made you redesign the way you do business, then that part of your personal life would definitely be relevant.
Choosing the parts of your story that are relevant to your business is important because it is those experiences that will help you establish yourself as a relatable expert with your audience.
2. What am I comfortable sharing about myself?
You also want to ask yourself how comfortable you are sharing about your own life. Your comfort level is important because if you reveal details about yourself that make you feel embarrassed or ashamed, then your audience will pick up on those feelings and then feel uncomfortable listening to you.
It’s not necessary to ‘let it all hang out’ about your personal life in order to be vulnerable and connect with your audience.
Check out Brene Brown’s version of being vulnerable with us in her TedTalks on Vulnerability and Shame and you’ll notice that she never reveals any nitty gritty details about her personal life. In ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ she talks about having a breakdown and tells us some of a conversation with her therapist but she doesn’t go into anything more personal than that – such as childhood trauma or problems in her marriage.
But if you do feel “called” to be more radically honest – following the Glennon Doyle Melton (Love Warrior) or Sheryl Strayed (Wild) version of vulnerability where your most vulnerable moments are laid on the table – then please do so. Just keep in mind that you need to be comfortable talking about them, and potentially responding to questions about those experiences.
Remember that your comfort level might change in different settings.
A story you might feel comfortable sharing 1:1 with a client or with a small intimate group might be something you wouldn’t want to share with a big audience (in a public talk) or in an online forum such as YouTube.
Decide what you’re comfortable sharing by assessing the specific situation. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and let your gut instinct guide you.
3. What parts of my story would help me teach my audience?
The final question you need to ask yourself is what part of your story would help you teach your audience. Sharing your story for the sake of being vulnerable or wanting to connect with your audience is not a good enough reason to share. Each personal experience you reveal should also come with an important lesson that would benefit your audience.
You simply don’t have enough room on your website or time in your talk to share your whole life story. So you need to be selective when sharing.
Ask about each story: Does it have a valuable lesson in it for other people? What is that lesson? How much detail do I need to share in order to communicate this lesson?
In Brene Brown’s talk on Vulnerability she could have shared more details about her breakdown and how it was affecting her marriage and family relationships but she chose not to. Brene only shared the part of that story that added to her talk topic. If she had added more personal details, she might have lost the audience’s attention on the lesson she really wanted to pass on to us.
Brene’s message about vulnerability was complemented by her personal story but your message might be centred on yours. If that’s the case, then sharing more details about how you achieved something or overcame a personal struggle would strengthen the lessons you’re passing on to your audience.
If you think about what lesson you’ll be teaching when you share a personal story, then you can make sure that it adds to (rather than detracts from) your main message.
One last thought…
Sharing personal stories and being willing to open up in front of your audience doesn’t just have benefits for your business or allow you to connect with others who may relate to your story. It can also be a deeply rewarding thing to do because it gives you the opportunity to understand and accept the experiences that have led you here.