Marcie, a Chicago attorney, attended a “Women in the Forefront” luncheon hosted by The Chicago Network. Even with the network’s great slogan, “Connecting Chicago’s Women Leaders,” Marcie knew it would be up to her to have the kinds of conversations that would lead to real business connections. She did several things to lay the groundwork before she went to the event.
First of all, since three other attorneys from her firm were also attending, they agreed not to stick together, but instead made a pact to be on the lookout for people to introduce each other to based on their various specialties. Then Marcie reviewed the bios of the directors on The Chicago Network, and chose two she wanted to try to meet. As her third step, she prepared a couple of conversational stories she could tell that would highlight her character and competence.
Here’s one of the stories Marcie told over lunch when a new contact said, “Tell me more about what you do.” Here’s what Marcie said.
“Sure! Here’s an example.
“One food product company that’s been with our firm for about 10 years got the opportunity to do its first acquisition—a small, high-end pet food company that’s located in Sweden.
“John, the owner, called me all in a panic. He said, ‘I’ve never done an international deal before!’ He was afraid he’d be overwhelmed by the intra-country legal agreements and pages and pages of contract papers. He wanted to close the deal before the end of the year, so we had to move quickly.
“I’d done acquisitions like this in Germany and Italy, but each one is unique, so I reviewed the laws and then suggested that he and I get together with his CPA. I made sure the whole thing was completed in just five days.
“He was so relieved that we took all of those issues off his desk. He called me to say he and his wife are planning a trip to Sweden next month to meet the former owner and see the sights.”
Marcie’s story will stick. The listener will use that story to anchor other things she learns about Marcie and her firm. Giving an example or telling a story stays with listeners much longer than a bunch of facts or statistics.
To find a story, think back over the last year or two and bring to mind:
- Successes you’ve had at work or in life.
- Situations that brought out your best.
- Times when you faced a challenge or had a problem to solve.
- What others find unique and interesting about you or your job or your life.
Chose one of those experiences and, just like Marcie did, use this tried-and-true formula to create a story:
The segue is a transition sentence. It signals that you have something to say; it gets you into the story. “I’ve been meaning to tell you … “ Or, “You won’t believe what happened last week.”
The situation briefly sets the scene, giving time, place, and who’s involved.
The SNAFU is the challenge or problem you had to solve. (SNAFU is military jargon for Situation Normal, All “Fouled” Up.)
The solution is the turn-around, the highlight of the story—how you solved the problem, saved the day or served the client. It provides the dramatic energy that makes the story memorable and exciting.
The significance is the positive impact it had. What good came of what you did?
Stories from your life outside of work also can teach people more about your character and competence. That’s because of the All or Nothing Rule of Networking. That rule says that if you do one thing well, people will believe you do everything well. So, if you chair the Women in Technology Annual Conference magnificently, they will believe you treat your clients with the same sense of professionalism, teamwork, and creativity.
Let’s look at a story that one of Marcie’s colleagues told. Helen’s specialty is working with high-tech companies. She wanted to tell prospects that she’s an expert on the legal issues faced by cutting-edge innovators. When an acquaintance said, “Whatcha been up to?” Helen told this story:
Segue: “I just finished writing a keynote I’m going to give on some of the legal issues people face who work with ultra-new technologies.”
Situation: “As the deadline for submitting the outline got closer and closer…”
SNAFU: “I was worried that while I’ve helped clients with these issues for 16 years and continually scour new rulings for the latest on this topic, I wondered if there were something else I could add.”
Solution: “So I interviewed a wide variety of experts in the field—my mentor at the law firm where I used to work, my law school professor who’s known worldwide for his expertise, and a 30-something friend who’s in love with all things techie.”
Significance: “Now the outline’s done and I am so eager to give this talk—it’s in three weeks and I’m like a horse at the gate ready to go.”
Once you’ve written your story—yes, I do recommend you write out a few stories until the five-step formula becomes a conversational habit with you—ask yourself these questions to make sure your story is as impactful as possible.
- Is it strategic? Does it teach the listener something I want to be known for?
- Is it short? (About 10 sentences is the max.)
- Is it clear and concrete? Have I eliminated all the extraneous details and legal jargon?
- Do the SNAFU and Solution work together to show a strong turn-around? Have I taught more about my character and competence?
- Is it service-oriented? Does it tell how a client, or colleague, or someone somewhere benefitted?
- Is it exciting? Would I want to listen to my story?
Speaking of exciting, how you tell your stories is as important as what you say. Here are two ways to practice your delivery. One is to get with a colleague or mentor, tell your story, and ask for her feedback. Another is to pull out your phone, video yourself telling the story, and then coach yourself using the questions above to make sure you “show up” and are easy to listen to. The more you can show your excitement, interest, or pride—without bragging, of course—the more the listener will want to build her relationship with you.
To deliver your story in a way that makes people want to listen, consider using some of these techniques:
Punch: Give one or two of the most important words in the story extra emphasis.
Pause: Decide where in your story a short pause would create more drama or interest.
Pace: Choose where in the story you would naturally talk faster to show excitement, or slower to show the seriousness of the situation.
Pitch: Each human voice usually talks within a five-note range. Is there a place in your story where it would make sense for you to get out of your five-note range and go higher or lower for emphasis?
As the philosopher, Plato said, “People who tell the stories rule the world.” Women attorneys who hone the skill of storytelling know that this is a skill that develops over time, not overnight. So be patient, and watch your impact grow as you add more and more stories to your repertoire.
About the Author
Lynne Waymon is the CEO of Contacts Count LLC, an international training firm focused on teaching networking skills to people in professional services. Contact her at LWaymon@contactscount.com.