Networking: 3 storytelling skills that turn awkward into awesome

networking photo

photo by TechCocktail

I was surrounded by people and completely alone. It was my first networking event in a new job and I had no idea what to do. I didn’t know what to say or to whom.

EEEEKKKK!!

Thank goodness for Susan. She sat down beside me, took genuine interest in me and eventually turned my panic into a manageable level of discomfort. We shared some stories that night, which helped us connect and build rapport quickly.

Fast forward 15 years. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I’ll never forget how Susan made me feel. She rescued me from all that ugly awkwardness. She reached out to me, asked sincere questions and connected with me beyond the usual “what do you do, who do you work with, do you have a card?”

I’ve been to more networking events in the last year than I have in my entire 18-year career. Before each one, I get a little anxious. Before each one, I think of Susan and how she made me feel. And because of that experience with her, I remember that I just need to be myself, trust my instincts and rely on my strengths.

Networking doesn’t have to be a necessary pain to grow your business . . .

Talking to strangers can be awkward. Now that I’m making the networking rounds more regularly, I’ve learned that when I lean on the principles of storytelling, I actually have fun discovering and connecting with strangers in the room. We do business with people we relate to and trust so why not pepper in some stories?

Next time you’re feeling awkward at a networking event, try these 3 powerful story-inspired skills [Tweet This!].

1. Relax

Before each networking event, I express gratitude for each person I’m about to meet. This calms me and neutralizes transaction-minded behavior. Getting all wrapped up in your own anxiety-ridden story is likely to result in an icy reception. When you shift your energy from yourself to the people in the room, you ditch the air of desperation and your natural authority shines.

2. Ask Thoughtful Questions

Asking (and answering) the same old questions gets boring after a few of these events. Be genuinely curious. Instead of asking “What do you do?”, try “How did you get into ____?” to get a more revealing answer. When you ask questions like “What brought you here?” or “What are you excited about in your business these days?” it makes you stand out and fires up your networking buddy. It also gives you an opportunity to listen for how you fit into their story.

3. Share Your Own Story

Once you’ve got the introductions/elevator pitches out of the way, it’s time to start listening for your opportunity to open up. Hint: People tend to reciprocate, so if you ask thoughtful questions, the person you’re talking with will likely ask them back. This is when you want to have your story ready to go. Be mindful of the other person’s time and level of interest. You may only have a minute or two, so practice telling your story (usually the story of why you do what you do) in a compelling but concise way.

How do you engage with people at networking events? Leave a comment and let us know.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. I liked your tips on asking thoughtful questions. I am going to a networking event this afternoon and one this evening—a double header.

    When I attend a networking event my goal is to meet 1 or 2 people that I want to build a relationship with.

    • Hi Nancy, thanks for the comment. Having a goal in mind helps and it doesn’t need to hinge on the number. For example, your goal is driven by the relationship. It’s hard to build a relationship with 10 or 20 people right? You might end up talking to that many people by the end of the end of the day but going into a networking event with the mindset of connecting on a deeper level with one or two people is really what it’s all about.

  2. Great post Gayle. I LOVED the tip about expressing gratitude for the people you will meet and getting out of your own bubble. I can see where that will really pay off in terms of setting the stage for deeper connections. Thanks for the lovely suggestions!

    • You’re welcome Heather and thanks for your kind words. That one simple act of advanced gratitude has really changed the whole experience for me. I hope it does for you and others too.

  3. Thanks so much for the networking tips – I LOVE this open ended question: “What are you excited about in your business these days?” So thoughtful – get’s people talking not only about their job – but what they Love about their job! This is a great question – going to use it at the next networking event I go to. I always am interested in asking the question: What makes you different or sets you apart from your competition? It gets people talking and you can really learn a lot about the person from that one question.

    • Hi Sonnie,
      So glad you like the open ended questions. I like your question about what makes you different. I think it’s a great way to get people thinking and talking. Having that answer nailed is so important in order to have a strong brand. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

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