One question I try to avoid asking at cocktail parties is, “so, what do you do?” The question is designed to keep conversations at a superficial level. While I am always happy to talk shop, and actually find it relaxing to do business deals, the secret ingredient to effective networking is in getting beneath that question. The question I usually lead with is simply, “so, what’s your story?”
We all live in stories. Stories have parts, and arcs, and characters. Stories with good characters draw us in. Good characters have great conflicts, and hopefully, great triumphs.
Is it possible to attend a networking event, fill the time with chit chat only to go home and turn on some terrific character driven show where you feel more deeply connected to the fictitious characters than you did with real people at the party? In my experience, yes.
But lately, the stories of those around me are more interesting and intense than anything in a TV show. <I still love good shows though>
When you ask that question, “What’s your story?”, I would recommend not setting parameters on what constitutes a proper response. Just see what happens. Here’s a typical response I get and how I roll with it:
New Acquaintance: Hey, nice to meet you..
Me: Pleasure to meet you as well! So tell me, what’s your story?
NA: My story? What do you mean?
Me: Your story. Any part you want to tell me. What should I know about you?
NA: Well….I grew up in…and I am here tonight to…what I would really like to do is…
Me: Thank you. I see a lot of possible connections here…I think we have a few things in common…
Networking effectively depends heavily on building trust. While (as Admiral McRaven has said and oft repeated) “you can’t surge trust“, trust can be built sometimes more rapidly than you would think if you just consider the weight of glory in each person’s story. The person to your right and to your left, the person who works for you and the person for whom you work – they all have stories with plots, arcs, conflict and characters. What is the beginning? What will be the end?
Critics of networking are those who get stuck in the middle. I am all for seizing the day, but not at the expense of the past and future. The whole timeline is important. In order to build trust, you have to take an interest and have a vested interest in the whole timeline of the characters around you (which would explain why trust can’t be surged).
So, feel free to leave a note below if you like. I’d like to know!