When Vulnerability Is Power

Published in Audio Agency, John Mellis

Here's something I never thought I'd say: Vulnerability = Power.

You're going to have to stay with me on this one. I should say ahead of this article, none of the examples I'm about to detail here were measured in their approach, or considered carefully in advance in order to deliver an impact, and that's almost entirely the reason for their incredible power. 

Here's the principle of my thinking. At a time of major significance, when a large group of people are feeling exactly the same way - whether that group is a fan-base, a workforce, a town's population, or the world - often, the greatest way to communicate with that large group, is to let them know you're one of them, and you feel the same way too.

Here's the first example. It's from CNN's Anderson Cooper. I first saw it last week, and thought it was some of the most powerful broadcasting I'd ever witnessed. It astonished me somewhat when I searched for it today, to see the impact it's had around the world, from all sides. The timing of this is significant in understanding the nature of the output. In the wake of the horrific shootings in Orlando, Anderson Cooper wasn't first on air. His CNN show doesn't screen until night time. By the time he made his broadcast, the news churn was in full cycle. We knew just about everything factual from the events which had taken place. All information gathering was virtually complete. The reporting of the story, done. And then Anderson Cooper came on air, and delivered the one piece that everyone will remember. 

Why will they remember? 

He shared a piece of himself. He was vulnerable. Not weak, but vulnerable. He was the guy who hit the nail on the head by making the 'me too' broadcast. He was human. Watch.

When I was younger, I would've completely shied away from trying to deliver this type of output myself, but I promise you, I know now, emoting with your audience is one of the most powerful, cut-through ways you'll ever find to connect with them. 

Showing you're human, on occasion, isn't a sign of weakness - it's a mark of bravery. That you feel what they feel, but it's your job to go out there and do it even when you don't want to.

Here's example number two. Long have I been in awe at Billy Crystal's ability to connect with an audience. I don't mean necessarily his superb comedy gift. That in itself is staggering, but his true power resonates in the moments when he opens up and shares that vulnerability I'm speaking about. When he delivered this eulogy at Muhammad Ali's funeral, obviously he was affected by losing one of his friends, but the way he captured that loss felt by everyone in the audience, and delivered it in this way, was nothing short of wondrous. He made them laugh when they thought they were incapable. And then shed a tear on the end of the chuckle. 

He took his grief, and his love of a man who had always called him 'Little Brother', and made it into this. 

I'm no Anderson Cooper or Billy Crystal, but in my own experience, most recently, I was affected in exactly the same way as everyone else in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, when I heard the news of the death of Bailey Gywnne. I took time to consider those thoughts, how I would articulate them, and then felt compelled to break from normal programming to share them.

Showing a side of yourself, that ability to emote, and tell your audience - 'me too' isn't a weakness or flaw in you as a human being, it's possibly the most powerful way you'll ever communicate. I hope you never have to use it, or do so only rarely, but the important element is, never ever be afraid to.