The Story Economy Blog

The Problem of Oversharing

I once got cornered by an oversharer at a conference in Chicago. It started over pizza on Thursday night, and by Sunday morning, I knew every single bad thing her mother ever did to her. All I did to spark it was eat a lot of pizza: “How can you eat so much pizza and be so thin? I could never do that. My mother always told me I was fat . . .”

It was painful.

Of course, it was awful to hear about this woman’s troubles. My own mamma is one of my favorite people in the world (Hi mom! If you’re reading this, you remembered to hit “send & receive”: yes, it is magic) so it’s sad to think that others aren’t so blessed.

But oy. Boundaries, people! Spilling your guts to a complete stranger after only a few minutes, when there is no context for doing so and no free-flow of energy and conversation back and forth: it isn’t making a connection. In fact, it creates a massive disconnect.

It’s the classic oversharing model.

But, as you know, I’m all about the story. So how do you share your story in your marketing—on your website and in your newsletter and teleclasses and speeches—in a way that builds connection and invites people in?

And how do you know if you’re oversharing?

How Much Do You Share?

Every single week I share personal stories. (Let’s face it, if you read this newsletter, you know a lot about me.)

But I rarely feel uncomfortable sharing it—even though nearly my entire family, my husband, most of my clients, and a big chunk of my friends and colleagues are on this list.

First of all, there is a difference between personal and private. My private life is private. But my personal life? It’s a big part of my brand, because I don’t know where I end and my business starts. And I like it that way. The thoughts I have when I talk to my kids or spend the afternoon at my parents’ house looking at pictures: I pour all of this into my work.

I certainly have different roles in my life. But I only have one me.

Secondly, I think the line between sharing that connects and oversharing that disconnects forms around how you talk about the things you’re sharing. What’s the context around it?

Are you casting yourself as the victim, and sharing because you’re looking for sympathy and/or validation? That’s not really going to create connection.

Are you sharing to hurt or spite? No connection there.

Are you just trying to manipulate? You might get a tear, but you won’t get my heart.

But if you’re sharing to teach me or inspire me, then I’ll drop my guard. If you’re sharing because you’re struggling and just trying to work it out in your head, I’ll gladly come along with you for a while.

So, one of the main reasons I sharepersonal stories is to make conceptual things concrete, and to give examples of how something plays out in life. My stories are basically my playbook.

Lastly, it has to do with how you address people: are you talking right to them, or are you talking around them, to hear yourself more than to be heard? My colleague, Deanne, was teasing me about my newsletter a few months ago, but she wound up giving me one of the greatest compliments. “It’s getting embarrassing, Judi. You really have to stop writing your newsletter directly to me,” she joked.

But that is how I want it to feel—like I’m talking to you. Because I am. And if you and I were sitting in a corner at a party, I would want to talk to you the exact same way I am now.

There’s no formula for how much personal stuff to share. As a reader or a person stuck in the corner, you just know when it’s too much. But when you’re the person sharing, that line shifts around, depending on where you’re standing, what you’re holding onto, and what you want from your audience.

Here’s to a good story, well-shared. And eating a lot of pizza.

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