I saw Brené Brown’s animated clip on empathy a few years back. I was hooked. Emotions can be hard to explain and yet Brené explained something as complex as empathy in such a simple and fun way I think I properly understood it for the first time. Brené is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising StrongDaring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection. Brené’s 2010 TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most viewed TED talks with over 25 million viewers. Her storytelling has reached and engaged millions of people around the globe. I’ve broken down her speaking style here so we can all add a dash of Brené brilliance to our speaking approaches.



Brené is very comfortable in emotive, active voice. She does not hide behind passive phrases she says, “I believe” and “I think” when voicing her opinions.  She makes it feel personal, heartfelt and therefore authentic.


Relatable topics

Brené tackles subjects such as ‘trust’, ‘fear’ and ‘empathy’. Always emotion driven topics that are widely relatable. She doesn’t restrict her subject matter to a segment of people, if you are human you can relate to Brené.



Brené is comfortable poking fun at herself in an honest way, which really helps her build rapport. She does not place herself in an untouchable space as the all-knowing, infallible expert. She puts herself right there beside you, warts and all in her human-ness.



Brené’s metaphors are 40 feet tall and made of steel. She doesn’t use weak similes and comparisons, she draws on symbols and imagery that genuinely build your understanding of the point she is making in a bold way. Some of my favourites: “Perfection is a 20-tonne shield.” and “You put shame in a Petri dish and you douse it with secrecy, silence and judgement and it grows exponentially, if you add empathy it creates a hostile environment for the shame and it cannot survive.” When Brené builds a visual metaphor, you are in no doubt of the point she is making, you can see what she is seeing.



Brené always comes from a place of science so whenever she makes a bold statement she can always back it up with data or research. She has personally conducted such wide testing she always has a powerful example of a story someone has told her or a theme that emerged after thousands of conversations.



While Brené may take her time to make a point, once she gets there, she summarises it with a very succinct phrase that is memorable such as, “empathy is a practice.” Her speeches and presentations are dotted with these punctuating phrases that stay in your mind.


Like many great speakers Brené tends to follow a repeatable formula. Each speech will have its own unique blend of the ingredients we’ve just been through, woven into a similar pattern. First, she states her topic, then she tells a short story giving a personal insight into her experience or relationship with the topic. Next is a reflection in the form of a ‘challenge to self’ or big question that needs answering. Brené then goes on to provide the answer usually in the form of a strong metaphor, then she backs it up with data and research to really bring it home.


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