Whether in a client meeting, giving a presentation or engaged in public speaking events with your peers, there is an element of relating to an audience, however large or small, that's involved in financial planning.

    Compare your relationships with your clients (or your audience, in this context) to any individual relationship in your life.

    Your strongest relationships are those with the fewest barriers. You're comfortable to be completely yourself, and to share openly with that person. The relationship is, therefore, authentic and intimate.

    In the 1950s, US psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham developed a model called the 'Johari' window, a tool that can be used to develop better self-awareness by understanding what you know about yourself and what's known by others.

    Johari window

    To use Johari's window, in your strongest relationships there are fewer blind spots as you're open to feedback from that individual. You have fewer hidden areas or or façades as you're comfortable to disclose and share things about yourself.

    Between you, the more about yourselves that you have in the open area or 'arena', the stronger the relationship.

    Watching two people interact in this kind of intimate relationship is to watch two people in flow. There's no holding back. Both individuals are comfortable with vulnerability and the relationship is stronger for it. There's such a high level of trust between them.

    So what's the difference when you come to speak to an audience?

    Most people would admit they want to build lots of trust with their audiences. If we acknowledge that the strongest relationships are those where there is the greatest level of intimacy, openness, and comfort with vulnerability, is this the same when you come to present to an audience? I would say yes.

    Think less doing a presentation and more building a relationship.

    Learning to be vulnerable

    From our experience of coaching executives in presentation skills (as a side note, we hate the term presentation skills), there's a discomfort with the word vulnerability. People associate it with weakness. I feel vulnerable = I feel weak.

    Surely this is the last thing you want to feel in a high-pressure situation where you’re the centre of attention? Not quite.

    The temptation is to learn tips and tricks to avoid feeling vulnerable, making it through without any disasters. These are defence mechanisms and they may work, to a degree.

    They may help you to avoid messing up entirely and deliver a solid, polished presentation. If that's what you want, then great.

    But why set the bar so low? A presentation is a massive opportunity. Why not live on the edge a little? Be brave. Be dangerous. Dare to be brilliant, to truly connect and inspire. As research professor Brené Brown says: “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

    A comfort with vulnerability is absolutely essential if you want to be somewhat more than satisfactory. All the very best public speakers have it.

    This vulnerability manifests itself in very different ways, but all great public speakers have this sense of ease in being open and themselves before an audience.

    Watch a great stand-up comedian: it's a masterclass in what we call 'vulnerable intimacy'. It's about allowing yourself to be utterly vulnerable, removing all barriers and mechanisms for protection, in order to build an intimate relationship.

    Why it works

    This authenticity is incredibly appealing. It's only by being authentic and yourself that you can build a genuine, strong relationship. This foundation allows you to truly influence and inspire as the person or people you're talking to are able to connect with you in a human way, and you become relatable.

    This vulnerability gives you tremendous power. Vulnerability before an audience is a fundamental trust in yourself. It's a faith that you're enough.

    Any need to create an effect or play any roles is to say you don't trust yourself, your expertise and your ability to relate to an audience. Trust yourself. Vulnerability is the confidence that you know your material so well you can stand before a person or group without the need to grasp for the script, or the crutch of an over-busy slide deck.

    Vulnerability is a respect for your audience, being prepared to be fully present, listening and responding to their needs. It's about embracing the uncertainty that goes along with such an approach, and an acceptance that being human and imperfect has the power to make much more of an impact than a perfectly delivered presentation with no mistakes.

    Vulnerability is getting comfortable in going to uncomfortable places. Any great relationship needs all of these things. 

    The work you need to put in to be comfortable with this state of 'vulnerable intimacy' is massive. The old adage: "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail" is absolutely right. Only the very best can step before an audience and be prepared to do nothing- trusting their homework.

    Mark Twain said: "It takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." While a good interaction may come across as improvised, authentic and off the cuff, to have the confidence to do that in the room takes a huge level of preparation.

    It's knowing your material so well that when you're there you can focus on the really interesting stuff - the relationship. It's a lot of work but the rewards are massive. Dare to be great. 

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