How to (let Google help you) get ready to network and tell a compelling story

Women-entrepreneursMonday’s schedule was hectic: public speaking, potential client meetings followed by a women-only networking event in the evening. It was going to be a long day, and all of the activities would be outside my normal comfort zone because they would demand selling myself to people. Hmmm. I approached it with positive energy – excited and a little nervous, but in a good way.

Thanks to twenty five years on stage performing music and some practice the night before, I sailed through the public speaking engagement in the morning, relied on this success to support me during a one-on-one meeting with a potential client in the early afternoon, and with a couple of hours to kill before the networking event in the evening, I took a breather to think about how I was feeling, and realised I just did not feel ready for it.

How do you introduce your business to 130 entrepreneurial ladies in a friendly, non-salesy way? how do you tell a compelling story? how do you get listeners engaged?

Because my business is still in its infancy, I haven’t got marketing copy ready, and to be honest I don’t have a sales pitch yet. The reason is that I’m still working on how to position it, and narrow down the products and services I offer into a concise proposition. I am providing different types of services to different types of clients during this experimental stage, and therefore I worry about not being able to coherently explain what it is that I do.

So I sat down at a cafe near St. Paul’s, with my MacBook and a notebook, and started researching “how to tell a compelling story”. I found loads of helpful material. For example, Jeff Goins blog has a page dedicated to how not to bore your audience, and there are many other pages dedicated to telling stories in business. It’s only half amazing how much material there is out there about anything you could ever dream to ask. OK it’s pretty amazing. Previously I’d have to buy a book about it or something… but then again, the proliferation of blogs and freely available information on “how to” do things, means it’s more difficult for my blog (and perhaps yours) to stand out! I digress. Sorry.

In any case, here are my notes about how to prepare to tell a compelling story before a networking event:

1. Start with a hook – a question, a quote, as crazy, contentious and attention grabbing as you like. I am currently using: “my clients all want to change the world”.

2. Tell the story – try telling it chronologically, anecdote after anecdote.  Ira Glass explains why this works when story telling in this video – this way your story has momentum, there is a destination for the listener to follow. Ask questions to keep people listening. Use imaginative leaps – ask the audience to imagine or picture something, and they’ll engage in the activity without even realising.

3. Reflect – help the audience understand the point, why you’re telling them this story and why it’s been worth while for them to listen. Bring it all together at the end – what’s the moral?

4. Listening to other people’s stories could be hugely beneficial and provide insight into who they are. What’s the emotional theme around their story? what appears to be important to them?

I thought about these things during the course of the networking event, and felt at ease throughout. I was ready to listen, to ask questions, and be honest about where I am with my business. It didn’t seem that important that my proposition is still not 100% clear – it isn’t clear to me yet so what’s the point in trying to clarify it? rather than bore people with an endless ramble on the fifty different things I could help them with, I just told my story, as it was, on that exact day: I’m a digital consultant, I’ve just started my own business, I’m here to connect and learn from other women.

Thankfully, that’s what most of the other ladies did as well, and I think we all benefited from it. Just listening and being honest improved the connections we made and I swear I learnt a thing or two. I watched some ladies telling good stories with brilliant energy, I watched a few stumbling around their insecurities but managing to rise above them, and I felt like I wasn’t alone on this journey. Excellent experience.

In conclusion, what I learnt this week:
Doing a bit of prep before networking is a good idea, keep it honest, keep it warm, listen to other people and it could actually be fun.

…and one last thing, don’t take your laptop with you, it’s too heavy to carry around all day and you may hurt your back! or take a tablet instead (when is the new i-pad being release?)

First published October 10, 2013

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