Public Speaking: The Power of Vulnerability

25 July 2022

    Man falling

    Compare your relationship with your audience to any individual relationship in your life.

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

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

    Applying Johari’s window to your strongest relationships, there are fewer blind spots as you’re open to feedback from that individual. You have fewer hidden or “façade” areas as you’re comfortable to disclose things. The more about yourselves that you have in the open/free 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 that 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 say yes. Think less, doing a presentation and more building a relationship. And the fundamentals to any strong, authentic relationship are outlined above.

    From our experience coaching executives in presentation skills (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. This is the last thing that you want to feel in a high-pressure situation where you’re the centre of attention. Right? Not quite.

    The temptation is to learn tips and tricks to avoid feeling vulnerable, making it through without any disasters. These defence mechanisms 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. Cool.

    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, truly connect and inspire.

    “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weaknesses.” The words of Brene Brown. Couldn’t have said it better myself!

    A comfort with vulnerability is absolutely essential to being somewhat more than satisfactory. All of the very best public speakers have it. The vulnerability manifests itself in very different ways but they all 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.” I will allow myself to be utterly vulnerable, removing all barriers and mechanisms for protection, in order to build an intimate relationship.

    This authenticity is incredibly appealing. It’s only by being authentic and yourself that you can build a genuine, strong relationship with an audience. This foundation allows you to truly influence and inspire as they’re able to connect with you in a human way. 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 that 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 an audience 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.

    Vulnerability is embracing the uncertainty that goes along with such an approach and mindset.

    Vulnerability is an acceptance that being human and imperfect is real, truthful and has the power to make an impact much more than a perfectly delivered presentation with no mistakes, whilst you feel safe and comfortable.

    Vulnerability is getting comfortable in going to uncomfortable places.

    Any great relationship needs all of these things. In order to be a truly inspirational public speaker you must acknowledge the need to build a genuine relationship with your audience. The work that you need to put in, in order 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 3 weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Yeah, it comes across all improvised, authentic and off the cuff- it is- but 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 with your audience. It’s a lot of work but the rewards are massive. Dare to be dangerous. Dare to be vulnerable. Dare to be great.


    1. TRUST YOUSELF & “DO YOU”: No role-playing; you’re enough
    2. KNOW YOUR STUFF: So well that you don’t need to “remember” it
    3. EMBRACE THE UNCERTAINTY: Anything can happen. It’s a good thing
    4. LISTEN & RESPOND: After all, you’re there for them
    5. FORGET PERFECTION: Perfection isn’t very human

    To find out how to prepare yourself to speak publicly, take a look at our tips here.

    What our clients say



    Jonny’s expertise in communication and his personalised coaching approach has made a significant impact on me. It was so much more than public speaking coaching; it influenced numerous other aspects of my life. Under his mentorship, not only did my communication skills improve, but my confidence soared, leading to positive changes in my professional and personal relationships. I highly recommend The Speakers’ Gym for anyone looking to unlock their full potential.

    Kate Bright, CEO & Founder, Umbra International Group


    The Speakers’ Gym is like the iPhone. You don’t realise you need it until you have it, and then you can’t live without it.

    Magda Gonzalez, Group CFO, Monex Europe



    It was completely practical and the open-forum feedback was so valuable. You created a safe environment for everyone to learn. Thank you!

    Nicola Koronka, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Missive



    I was recommended by a friend who works in the same sector to contact The Speakers’ Gym to help me with my presentation delivery skills and I have not been disappointed with the results. Chris and Jonny work with you to provide bespoke training for your goals and needs. They are highly professional and make you feel at ease from the first minute the first session begins. I would highly recommend them to those who have a role which involves public speaking!

    Julia Peake, Technical Development Manager, Sanlam



    It has challenged both my thinking and approach and I will be sure to keep The Speakers’ Gym ‘fireworks’ readily available on my desk to refer to when not only presenting but also when needed through everyday management.

    Liz Paradine – Chief Operations Manager - 7iM


    Transact first engaged with The Speaker Gym late in 2018 where Chris & Jonny made a concerted effort to get under the skin of our business and understand how they could best help us hone our presentational and empathetic skills. The resulting sessions were hugely helpful giving my team plenty of opportunity to practice and also benefit from a great deal of feedback, not just from Chris & Jonny but by including the rest of the Transact team in the feedback and group learning too. I would highly recommend The Speakers Gym

    Glen Sweet, Head of Sales, Transact

    Transact London


    Working with The Speakers’ Gym has been fantastic. We knew what we wanted to say and who we wanted to speak to, so all we needed was technique. Or so we thought. Chris and Jonny helped us to understand the key elements of communication, through a structured process. We now think about communication in a completely different way. There’s a line they gave us that now resonates in my head, every time I write or talk to someone about what we do. We feel we’ve met two great guys and they’ve become an important part of us, our story and how we tell it to others.

    Thomas Skinner, Founder, Barnaby Cecil Financial Planning

    Barnaby Cecil Financial Planning


    The impact of The Speakers’ Gym™ at Mako can only be described as transformational. Over a three month period, they helped transition a group of individuals into a highly collaborative and consultative leadership team. Chris and Jonny have a unique ability to connect individuals with their true purpose, driving them towards self-reflection and ultimately growth. Overall the entire experience of working with them has been a pleasure and I am deeply grateful for their impact. They more than surpassed my expectations and I look forward to working with them again in the future!

    Trystan Morgan-Schauer, CEO, Mako



    We engaged The Speakers’ Gym to provide us with clarity and direction in the look, feel and messaging of the Worldmaker brand in preparation for our official launch. From start to finish, the process has been truly collaborative. They worked with the expertise and experience in our team to create branding that truly represents who we are and what we represent, whilst moving us into a more modern, expressive space – which was our desire. We know that we’re in great hands with The Speakers’ Gym. We’ll certainly be continuing to work with them

    Mollie Marti, CEO, Worldmaker International

    Worldmaker International


    They first took the time to understand our brief and delivered the programme incorporating our culture and brand throughout. They were thought provoking and their unique techniques very well received.

    Mairi Cameron, Learning Manager, Nucleus Financial



    The Speakers’ Gym gave me the skills and confidence to be my normal self whilst speaking and facilitating. They took the anxiety out of public speaking and gave me practical tools to prepare for and manage public engagements. They also helped me to engage more meaningfully with my clients, for which I am thankful. Highly recommend them.

    Matthew Marais, Director, Vertus Capital

    Vertus Capital


    I found the sessions to be a revelation, and I wish I had known some of the techniques sooner. It has completely changed my mindset and focused me in on the needs of the audience. With that, the ability to achieve those aspirations has come more naturally. There is always room for improvement, and I will definitely be revisiting The Speakers’ Gym for a refresher from time to time.

    Kelly Devlin, Wealth Management Consultant, St. James’s Place Wealth Management

    St. James's Place Wealth Management
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