To Inspire Your Team, Share More of Yourself

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It was once believed that scrubbing notions of the self from presentations and regulating emotions at all cost was key to being perceived as an effective leader. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that in order to inspire people to follow you, sharing personal stories with vulnerability, humor, and humility allows audiences to see you as human and thus be inspired by you. The reason? Telling personal stories helps lead to more trust in relationships. We tend to trust people who we believe are acting as their real selves and demonstrating empathy. Increasing realness and humanity by sharing personal stories is one powerful way to build that trust. Luckily, connecting more personally in this way is a teachable skill. The author offers four steps that will help you add humanity to your presentations and increase your team’s inspiration.

My client, let’s call him Karl, was struggling to motivate his team. Karl came across as mildly stern even when smiling, and his presentational style in team meetings was clinical and measured. One-on-one, Karl was known to be a good listener and thoughtful boss, but in large forums, he tended to freeze, defaulting to offering quick solutions or doubling down on the company line when presented with complicated questions instead of taking time to share his own perspective. The result? His audience felt he was formal and lacked authenticity, and his employees gave him low marks for his ability to inspire.

It was once believed that scrubbing notions of the self from presentations and regulating emotions at all cost was key to being perceived as an effective leader. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that in order to inspire people to follow you, sharing personal stories with vulnerability, humor, and humility allows audiences to see you as human and thus be inspired by you.

The reason? Telling personal stories helps lead to more trust in relationships. Research tracks three key drivers of trust: authenticity, logic, and empathy. We tend to trust people who we believe are acting as their real selves and demonstrating empathy. Increasing realness and humanity by sharing personal stories is one powerful way to build that trust.

Luckily, connecting more personally in this way is a teachable skill. The following four steps will help you add humanity to your presentations and increase your team’s inspiration.

Cultivate your top three stories about failure.

Stories of failure help us relate, normalize setbacks, and create intimacy. When they end with a lesson in resiliency, they galvanize audiences to keep going. Karl took a risk in his most recent leadership team meeting by sharing a critical mistake he had made in front of a well-respected colleague. This helped normalize risk taking and earned him several private notes of gratitude for his vulnerable share. Write down your top three stories of failure and think of venues where you could safely share them in the coming weeks.

Incorporate vulnerability in real time.

Research shows that when we think back on leaders who took time to build emotional resonance with us, our brains show increased positive emotion and social connection. As you respond to questions in real time, find quick and easy ways of inserting your vulnerability. Tag your statements with phrases like “my feeling is,” “it feels scary to share this,” or “I hesitated to bring this forward” — they peel back the curtain on your thinking and build a connection with your audience.

Share what’s top of mind for you.

Karl now starts his monthly all-staff meetings with a personal story about something that has been impacting him that also relates to the larger world, current events, or business. These stories are not always positive, but he has been getting feedback about how they’re appreciated and make people feel close to him. By spending a few minutes ahead of time to prepare his story and jot down notes, he has been able to incorporate more warmth and authenticity into meetings he leads.

Study inspiring stories from others.

Watch your favorite TED Talks and listen to podcasts to collect cues on how powerful and persuasive strangers share stories to inspire. When do you feel most connected? What did the speaker do and share that helped lead to a feeling of authenticity and human connection? Note your favorite techniques and practice incorporating them into your daily speech for low-stakes practice.

By incorporating more personal storytelling into your presentations, you will be able to quickly connect with larger and larger audiences to get your message across. As you become more real, accessible, and inspiring, business outcomes will improve, and people will feel like they have permission to share their own stories. After practicing his new techniques for a few months, Karl received feedback that he was seen as more accessible by junior members of the organization, and his team felt more connected to the overall vision of the group. Leaders who take steps to break down walls of stoicism and let audiences see the human behind a business-focused front will create better followership.

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