Ok, perhaps I’m becoming a bit ‘Mills and Boon’ in my description here, but ultimately, it’s our personalities that count in a world of networking. It’s our ability to engage, connect and be memorable so others may want to give us a call and offer us a lovely contract!
Being a social bore is not a good idea if you rely on making contacts. You won’t attract clients or build relationships with others if you can’t speak passionately and with interest about yourself and your work. Of course, dear reader, the solution is easy. (Well, ish). As with all good films, plays, and pieces of art, it’s all about a good story. So – I thought I’d share the secret of constructing a good story, so that you can sharpen your saw.
To help me teach you the art of how stories are constructed, please read the following two stories:
Yesterday I went to a good party. It was in a Moroccan bar in north London and there were loads of people from work there. To be honest, I wasn’t really in the mood for going, but I knew my boss would be annoyed If I didn’t show up, so I made the effort. The new secretary organized it and I think she picked a decent venue. The food was good; I had a few drinks, danced and caught up with friends. YAWN!
Yesterday I had a such a fabulous evening. I was invited to our work’s notoriously dull Christmas party and didn’t want to go. I was exhausted, having worked 12 hours flat to meet a deadline. I knew that Davina the dictator (my boss) would expect me to show up so that she can bore me with her marketing strategy, but I was underdressed, in a scruffy pair of jeans, a stained tee shirt and wanted to sleep.
Turns out, our enthusiastic new receptionist, Dali, had booked this Moroccan themed bar, full of red and blue brightly coloured cushions, lights, sparkling belly dancers and exotic, percussive music. Dali greeted me with a fez hat on the way in, a shisha to smoke and there was a mountain of delicious food in these little ornate dishes. I sat next to Dali, who turns out to be a budding Bollywood actress on a gap year. I could see Davina sneering at me for sitting next to the temp. By this time, I was enjoying the tails of drama school, travelling and star spotting. Three cocktails later, my exhaustion turned to jubilation as the dazzling Dali got me up to strut my stuff alongside the belly dancers. She even gave me tips on how to roll my stomach (which is definitely my new party trick).
The highlight of the night was when Davina staggered over to me, slurred a congratulations on my performance, attempted to dance, but looked a bit like a penguin attempting to fly. She soon sat down, to my relief.
Dali even told me I had quite a flair for belly dancing, so I’ve even taken up an evening class. As for Davina, and work, it’s somehow lost it’s edge. I don’t know what the big deal is anymore…
Ok – so the contrast was probably a bit extreme. But let me explain the difference between the two.
Story 1 simply told the facts, it didn’t engage us because it had no colour or journey.
Story 2 is colourful, takes us on a journey and brings out the characters. It is also told in a classic story structure. (Ok film buffs, I know you’re probably expert at this!)
How to construct a story
So here’s how you do it:
All stories need a structure.
They need to include:
- A protagonist
- A conflict
- A journey
i.e.: In the second story:
- Told as ‘I’ as the protagonist. (It can be about someone else).
- The conflict was between myself and the ‘dictator boss’ The inner turmoil of feeling exhausted and having to go to a party against my wishes.
- The journey is the unexpected turn of events. The party was not dull as usual, Dali injected fun and new insights for me. Her influence changed my (the protagonist’s) view of myself, life and work. The journey means a change in the protagonist’s view of the world.
Use the senses: feelings, touch, visuals and sounds. This helps the audience imagine the story in their own minds.
Stories need to paint a picture, using all the senses, so that people can be on the journey with you. In the second story, there were descriptive words describing the colours in the venue, the feelings of exhaustion, the scruffy clothes and the percussive music.
Incorporate points that add colour, drama and interest. For example, create characters that are memorable. A dictator boss and a fun, budding actress receptionist. The contrast of the dull to the exciting.
Include metaphor. Metaphors also add colour and interest i.e. ‘a mountain of food’.
So it may sound obvious, but consider using stories to highlight your expertise as an artist, photographer, actor or director. What stories can bring out the journey you’ve been on? That’s what will engage people in stuffy networking events. Now go – practice, have fun.