LinkedIn users are talking about a growing trend that some applaud, while others call it “oversharing.” One user who began writing about his personal life and struggles says, “The way you go viral is to be really vulnerable.”
“Conversations are becoming more and more personal,” he says The Wall Street Journal. “And some users have mixed feelings about it.” Feelings are mixed because the exchange of emotions is subjective. So where is the line between showing vulnerability and sharing too much information?
As a communication coach manager, I’m glad we’re having a public discussion about expressing personal experiences. I teach senior executives how to use their personal stories to create stronger, more meaningful relationships with their audiences and stakeholders.
After nearly twenty years of transforming leaders into extraordinary speakers, I have come to the following conclusion:
Aim to be a storyteller, not a storyteller.
Sharing your personal experience doesn’t mean you have to dig up every skeleton, wallow in your regrets, or relive your darkest hours—all for public viewing. Oversharing is when you reveal too much information that is not directly relevant to your audience.
Storytellers, on the other hand, deliberately choose personal experiences that inspire trust, build rapport, and motivate others.
1. Share stories that relate to the topic.
One of the most difficult challenges I face as a CEO communications coach is getting leaders to “open up.” I encourage them to give others a glimpse into the personal events that have shaped their lives and propelled them to success.
The stories they share with me are endlessly fascinating and often inspiring.
I once worked with a senior executive at one of the world’s largest retailers. She wanted to improve her quarterly induction presentations to welcome new employees, managers and supervisors.
I suggested that she replace the pie charts and sales graphs at the beginning of her presentation with a story about herself. She was mostly silent, so I drew her out by asking specific questions: “Why did you approach this particular company and not their competitors?”
This question sparked a personal, emotional story that I will never forget. Before joining the company, this executive was a part-time caregiver for a family member who suffered from a debilitating illness. She made several trips a week to the retailer’s stores because its scale and cost structure kept prices down.
“Lower prices mean something to every customer that walks through our doors,” she said.
One story changed everything—her quarterly presentations became must-sees, and her career trajectory skyrocketed.
A few months later, I asked the vice president why she hadn’t told the story sooner.
“I thought it was too personal,” she said.
Yes, it’s a personal story, but it’s directly related to the topic and illuminates the company’s mission in a new light that everyone can relate to.
2. Share stories that reveal lessons.
Inspirational leaders tell stories, and personal stories make the biggest impact. But the best stories are deliberately chosen to highlight lessons that are relevant to the rest of the team or the audience.
I recently wrote an article about Richard Branson’s new MasterClass. He opens the 13-episode series by saying he has five decades of stories to share from his entrepreneurial adventures. These stories offer lessons for anyone with an idea to start a business.
Most of Branson’s stories are tales of near-death experiences (in business and life) and the struggles he had to overcome to achieve success.
One very personal experience Branson talks about is his experience living with dyslexia, a reading condition that was so poorly understood that it forced Branson to drop out of school at age 15. But Branson turns a negative experience into a positive one. He learned the art of collaboration, delegation and note-taking. The way his mind worked allowed him to see the solution as clearly as Anya Taylor-Joy’s character saw winning chess in The Queen’s Gambit.
The lesson he shares from his personal experience with dyslexia is very motivating. It taught Branson a lesson that applies to every dreamer: “Insurmountable challenges can become endless opportunities.”
There is a fine line between giving away personal information and providing too much information that makes people uncomfortable. Avoid the problem by sharing personal stories that are relevant, educational and inspiring.