When Brené Brown talks, people listen. 
Millions of people. 
She’s gone from little-known academic to world-renowned speaker and author since her 2010 TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability. 
Every time I see Brown speak, I’m struck by how she fuses her professional expertise with everyday humour and self-deprecating reflections. She’s delightful and inspiring. 
Yet when I watched her in The Call to Courage on Netflix, there was something more than what she was saying that struck me.
The lights were not only on Brené – they were also on the audience.

Bringing us closer

Have you noticed that in most talks – the ones you go to as well as the ones you watch on video – the audience is in the dark?
Why is that?
Communications theorist Nick Morgan from Public Words says it’s an old school approach that needs rethinking. 

‘When slides first became widespread, the tech involved projectors pushing light from the back of the room to the front, so a dark audience was a necessity. Now we have backlit screens… that need is no longer there.’ 

He makes the point that most lighting crews set up for a talk as if it were a theatre show with actors on stage, not speakers.
But actors are there to perform for the audience and not to interact with the audience, in the way that good speakers do now.


 I do remember seeing the splendid Australian actor Joan Sydney reproach a late audience member during Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot. It was a tiny theatre and as the poor man tried to slip into his front-row seat, Sydney gave him a nod and a curt ‘Evening’, all still in character. He didn’t come back after the intermission.

Joan Sydney aside…

Apparently Brené Brown makes it a condition of her appearances that the auditorium lights are turned up.

She knows that seeing your audience is the way you make connections with them. 
In The Call to Courage, we see people in the audience laughing in recognition or wincing as they realise that they too have been where the speaker has been. Brené gets to see her words touch people’s hearts.
Not only that – the rest of the audience sees too.
They see the people around them showing their feelings without shame.
At a talk on vulnerability, given by a speaker who isn’t ashamed to share her own mistakes and fears, surrounded by people who feel safe enough to let their feelings show.
All because Brené Brown was brave enough to turn up the lights.
Isn’t that something?

If we don’t turn up the lights, we can’t see how we make people feel. 

We don’t all speak for a living but we do all have people who watch what we do. 

We can turn up the lights in our own minds by acknowledging them as people. Not an amorphous, invisible mass but real people with lives that can be affected by the way we make them feel.

We turn up the lights every time we create content that is worthwhile for them as well as for us.

Otherwise, we’re just actors on a stage in a performance that is all about us. And there’s no audience for that anymore.

Turn up the lights.

Photo by Elijah Ekdahl on Unsplash