The Reluctant Hero: the gentle way to make your audience listen

“Please bear with me, I’m not a professional”

Hectoring and lecturing is a quick way to turn off an audience.

Doing more preaching than teaching is a big turn-off when you’re trying to build a relationship with an audience.

Looking back on some emails I’ve sent to audiences, I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of coming on too strong. At the time, I thought my audience enjoyed my heartfelt pitch – urging them to take whatever remedy I’d prescribed that week.

But I think with hindsight some of them were probably irritated by it.

Today, I see a lot of experts and leaders making the same mistake. They’re overbearing when they try to land their message.

For a long time I struggled for the solution. How can you change people’s behaviour, something inherently manipulative, without appearing – um – manipulative?

The answer, I think, is to become the reluctant hero.

If you can cast yourself as a reluctant hero when you spread your message, people will be much more likely to engage with you.

In stories and films, the reluctant hero is a common heroic archetype. They’re just an ordinary person who gets swept up in something much bigger than themselves.

The reluctant hero is humble. He rises to the occasion, but he still questions whether he’s cut out for the role. His doubts and misgivings create a kind of tension that makes the story more satisfying.

  • Star Wars’ Han Solo is the classic example of the reluctant hero. (He doesn’t want to join the Alliance)
  • Spider-Man is another classic reluctant hero (constantly questioning whether he should be a superhero)
  • In fact, almost every single “epic” story like Braveheart, Gladiator, Beowulf, and the Iliad feature a reluctant hero

The humble, reluctant hero is a great image to project.

If you can, cast yourself as an expert who’s only here because you have no other choice. You’re not some slick orator. You’re just an ordinary person who’s stumbled upon something you need to bring to the world:

  • “People kept asking me to explain this, so I finally agreed.”
  • “Please bear with me, because I’m not a professional”
  • “I thought I’d share this, because somebody has to.”

I know suggesting you behave in this way sounds sneaky. But for a lot of introverts like me, the reluctant hero is a mask that suits their features very well.


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