Recently I’ve seen a number of presentations by people who are networking and looking for new opportunities, and I have to say I’ve been incredibly bored by most of the information shared. How can you be interested in someone who gets up and says:
* I have been in the financial services industry for 20 years
* I have had 200 people reporting up to me
* I increased sales significantly during my last job
Okay, at this point not one person in the room cares about the speaker. But what if they took the facts and wove them into a story about themselves? Maybe the presentation would sound like this:
Recently I was leading a meeting that involved the 200 people that reported up to me. Everyone was nervous because our sales were 40% short of goal, and we had only six months to make up the difference. Well, I have to tell you my knees were shaking when I stood in front of them, and even with twenty years of experience in the financial services industry my mouth was dry and my heart pounded. Then I said to them “I believe in you, and I believe that you have the ideas in this room that will help us make up this 40% shortage. In fact, today we are going to brainstorm, and I promise you that in six months – on June 20th – we will be 10% over goal because we have implemented those ideas. Today is about all of us coming together and doing what we do best – determining how to make that next sale.” We went on to exceed our annual goal by 13%, and we did it because of the people in that room.
What would you rather hear as a listener – the facts, or a good story about the facts? When I say “story” I’m not talking about making stuff up and embellishing beyond what really happened – you know, like those stories in high school about how the party is being chaperoned by a large number of parents :). What I am saying is that an actual story requires us to open up a little bit about ourselves. In fact, a good story requires us to trust the listener . . . but as Hermnia Ibarra and Kent Linkeback say in Harvard Business Review’s “What’s Your Story?” it also inspires the listener to trust us.
If someone shares an account that is deeply true and engaging, the listeners suddenly feel they have a stake in our success. More importantly, a story weaves a thread through our facts, making them come together in a way that is moving. What hooks us in a movie or novel is the tension, the conflict, the turning point. We want to know – did they meet their sales goals? How did he inspire them to do it? Stories inspire belief in our motives, and actually illustrate our strengths without seeming boastful.
Think about the difference between Michael Phelps discussing the number of gold medals he has around his neck, versus sharing the nerves he experiences at the beginning of every race no matter how many races he wins. Both will reveal his wins, but one includes a human element that everyone can relate to. Stories connect you to people, they make the listener sit forward and listen.
Watch Undercover Boss on television. Every CEO is renewed, not by the facts or numbers, but by the stories told by the people who work for them. Compassion is born when a story begins, and is too often killed by cold spreadsheets and data. If you want to connect with any audience, start by opening up and sharing something that has happened to you. It will make the most of the time you are given, and the audience will remember you because they’ll remember your story.
Stories – don’t network without them!