Does this sound familiar? You are at a networking event. You have your business cards at the ready and you’re in your best blazer, yet when someone asks you what you do you find yourself mumbling that you “work in an office” or are “just a supervisor.” You watch the eyes of the person you are talking to glaze over so you decide to go hit the cheese platter.
What went wrong? You’re interesting, dynamic and always doing cool stuff. Even if your job isn’t your passion, you came to this event to make an impression. Why has your best interaction tonight been between a Triscuit and some jalapeño gouda?
The truth is, you are making a classic mistake that so many women make: you don’t know how to tell your story.
Stories, at a networking event? Yes, the fact is, most of our communication is in the form of stories. That is the way we connect with each other, the way we make ourselves memorable.
So when I go to a networking event, I am saddened at how often women do not introduce themselves with a memorable story or anecdote. And if they do talk about what they do, they downgrade their importance to being a sidekick in their own life. I once met a VP of sales who described herself as “a cheerleader for an amazing team.”
Now, everyone loves cheerleaders. Their athleticism and dance abilities are fantastic. But this woman hadn’t made it to where she was due to her ability to do a picture perfect split-lift. She was there because her expertise in sales, initiative, and amazing management skills had resulted in record sales for her company. She was extraordinary at her job, something that I didn’t learn this until fifteen minutes into our conversation. What she needed was a quick anecdote about her work. A few sentences to explain what she does and the positive results she brings.
A polished anecdote helps the teller make a great first impression quickly. It also allows the person they are meeting to learn important facts about them in a casual way. It’s the social equivalent of a Swiss army knife: everything you need in a small, convenient package.
Sounds great, right? But how do you figure out which anecdote best represents you? Is it the one about you winning the company hot dog eating contest? Impressive, but no. Instead, a simple three-step process will help you craft a killer anecdote that will make it clear who you are and will have people leaning forward, excited to hear more.
Step 1: Who are you?
What is your position? What do you most enjoy most about your job? What do you take the most pride in? A great way to find the answer to this question is to record what you do in a week (or for the keeners among you, what you do in a month). Use this raw data to hone in on what to talk about.
This is your DEAL.
Step 2: What’s in it for them?
What has your work done for your company? Have you made the company money? Do you chair an important committee? Did customers praise the redesign of a client’s website you programmed?
For folks in more junior positions or those who have not been in their job long, this topic can seem difficult. Not sure what to say? The record of what you do in a week or month is a great resource. What work that you do is most important to your company’s/client’s bottom line? How are you doing this well?
Example: A receptionist, new to a large company, spent a great deal of her day ensuring that product samples were sent by courier to high-profile American clients. Her attention to detail and careful records meant that she caught when an important and time-sensitive package had a client’s old address on it before it went out, saving the company both time and embarrassment.
This is your RESULT.
Step 3: Ease on down the road
Why are you at this event? Are you looking to meet more clients? Find an employer that will let you advance along your career path? Are you here to meet others in your field to possibly collaborate with?
This is your MISSION.
Creating your anecdote/story is as simple as Deal + Result + Mission.
For example, our receptionist friend from earlier can tell the story of how she tracks shipments and keeps the lines of communication open between the company and its clients and her proactive creation of a new recording system (Deal). She can mention that her system has meant that she is able to know where packages are at all times and more easily catch human error. This has resulted in both the clients and her company saving time and money (Result). She is here today to meet her peers and build relationships (Mission*).
Remember, you are the hero of your story. Don’t give away credit for your accomplishments. Are you part of a team that did something amazing? Make sure that you are at the centre of the story. You and your team did so and so. You as an individual contributed such and such to the team’s work.
Now go out and dazzle the next networking event with your simple and clear story that lets the world know how awesome you are. Also, try topping your next triscuit with a slice of Applewood Smoked Cheddar. It’s delicious!
*Is your Mission, in reality, to get out of the hellscape that is your current job? Or is your current job okay but you are worried word will get out that you are networking to find something new? It is fine to leave out step three from your story or give a neutral but positive reason for attending.