Imagine 800 women carrying oversize handbags, coats and umbrellas, hurrying into a hotel lobby to escape an icy winter morning.
Chatting, greeting and hugging simultaneously while jostling through a single pair of double doors to reach one of 80 round tables in a cavernous ballroom, the din falls just a whisper short of pandemonium.
Once seated, and beneath the clamour of the chatter and the rattle of cutlery and crockery, the anticipation grows.
We were to be addressed by Dr Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work and something of a Ted phenomenon.
I’d speculate that most in the audience had watched her TED Talk on Vulnerability more than once and had been touched by this beguiling Texan and the theories she posed.
The Art of Influence
Nancy Duarte also gave a TED Talk called The Secret Structure of Great Talks. In explaining the structure, Nancy alludes throughout to the power of great story telling.
When Martin Luther King said, ‘I had a dream’ that day in 1963, he wove his legend into the hearts of those who were listening and were to listen in generations to come, because he spoke in cadences, taking us from what was to what could be.
Nancy explains that all great talks have these cadences, this structure that takes the audience from the status quo to what the speaker wishes you to aspire to. In between are stories.
Brene Brown is a masterful story teller. How else do you persuade millions that vulnerability is not a weakness but a measure of self worth? Her research backs this up entirely but research alone does not persuade. Stories do.
Brene threads the research, day to day stories, personal accounts and her own vulnerability through her narrative and in doing so moves her audience to her cadences like rustling reeds in a breeze.
I watched that morning as 800 women leant in, intrigued. Brene moved from one side of the stage to the other and along with her movements 800 heads tilted too, from one side to the other. She held us in her thrall.
The story within the story
Accompanied by just an ordinary snap shot of an extended family walking toward a stretch of water, she told a simple story of her, her husband and their extended family on an annual holiday.
The account she gave of an event between her and her husband and where it led was not epic in itself. The outcome for tens of thousands of men and women choosing to act differently as a result of listening to her story could be.
She spoke about how when things go awry between people, we start to make up our own stories about what is happening. On this occasion, rather than leave the story to grow to a point where silence, anger and resistance reigned between her and her husband, she chose not once, but three times to expose herself, to make herself vulnerable in order to resolve the tension.
As this story unfolded, we lived the event with her, we moved through her emotions and felt them ourselves. We laughed at her spoken and felt responses and imagined them to be ours. We shared in her puzzlement and resentment.
We were amazed given what had gone down between them, when she went in for the third time to try and get a resolution. We knew, as she did, that few women or men would do that. Few of us could expose ourselves to that level of vulnerability.
Brene explained, “We are hardwired to make connections. It’s what gives meaning and purpose to our lives.” Her research shows that the difference between those who feel a deep sense of love and belonging and those who struggle for it is that the former believe they are worthy of love.
So the connection she strove to make that day could only be made from one who felt worthy of that connection.
We waited for her to tell us his response and like any great story teller, she paused. In that moment, she brought us to a moment of complete stillness. A room of 800 women so hushed you could hear our bated breath and its exhalation as she delivered the denouement.
That same story told in passing at a cocktail party without the context and the aspiration would have been just an anecdote. We would have learned nothing, aspired to little and perhaps been a bit bored while looking for an excuse to pass on to another conversation.
Brene gave us the context. She told us how it was that she came to step up in her life. She set the bar for us to aspire to. She told us what life is like when you don’t step up, but seek to slip under the radar. She gave us evidence of life when you choose to step into the arena.
She prepared us for this story within the story. She gave us a graphic description of how things would be had she chosen not to keep connecting that day with her husband. While we related to the emotional fallout that results in “I’m hurt, it’s pay-back time,” we learned instead the value of vulnerability. We took away with us a different way to do things.
When blogging becomes much more than blogging
Brene has a purpose. She wants us to understand the results of her 12 years of research on shame and vulnerability and that when you embrace vulnerability and ‘dare greatly’ it transforms how you love, live, lead and parent.
When everything you communicate is filtered through your purpose, you too can enthrall, inspire, influence and change lives. It matters less what you do, it matters more why you do it. Once you embrace that then becoming a masterful story teller is in your hands.
What story can you tell that will transform lives? How can you set the context and the aspiration for that transformation in your next post? How can you ‘dare greatly’ to change how people think about why you do what you do.
Having a purpose and a framework (the equivalent of Brene’s research) from which to communicate is the difference between the hush in that room as she changed our perceptions with her story, and moving on to another conversation bored by an anecdote.
Cheeky I know, but I had a purpose that day. Brene has an enormous and loyal following. I asked her the question in the signed copy of the book I handed her, “What can you do with your clan?”