Have you ever planned a chamber networking event, gotten really excited about the crowd and the possibilities, created what you thought would be a fun game for attendees to play to get to know one another, and then…
Instead, they ask each other the questions – questions you so carefully thought out that you believed would yield amazing connections – and instead, it went something like this:
“What’s your dog’s name?”
End of conversation.
So what happened? That was supposed to be a good icebreaker for networking! You tried to get them to talk about something they cared about.
With ice breakers there needs to be more than just a question or list of questions to go through. If your attendees see information gathering as the main goal, they’ll likely go about collecting it as quickly as possible.
Instead, what you want to do is encourage them to share stories. This type of interaction will yield more memorable results and establish more effective business relationships.
But how do you get there?
First, you want to build
The Value of Stories in Networking
This is likely not the first time you’ve heard about the value of stories. Marketers are encouraging businesses to use them in presentations, advertising, marketing, and pretty much anywhere you want people to remember you and your business.
So why not chamber networking?
The value of stories is easy to understand. Stories:
- connect people and quickly allow those in attendance to realize a common foundation or experiences.
- are memorable. Long after the stats are forgotten, an effective story sticks with the listener.
- make people feel emotionally invested. We don’t listen to stories in the same way we analyze data. Stories excite the same part of the brain that feels and makes emotional decisions.
- put people at ease and make them more comfortable.
- are an effective teaching method without sounding preachy.
- make people view what they do as more magical and more important. When a person creates a story out of what they do they are able to see their significance through their customer’s eyes and the value that they provide. Changing the focus and encouraging attendees to think of their business story can give them a newfound appreciation for their role in their customers’ lives and successes. It shifts the focus to others, which is often more rewarding.
A networker who can harness the power of storytelling can command a room, while an event geared around telling attendees’ stories can be one of the most memorable anyone has ever experienced.
A word of caution: What you don’t want though, is to advertise it as a storytelling event. You’ll have a lot of people mistaking “storytelling” with trying to entertain the audience. That’s not effective either.
So use these steps to encourage natural storytelling and exchange among your group.
Encourage Better Networking
These quick tips can help your crowd get to a much more effective exchange. Email them to attendees, write a blog post, create table tents for your event, record a video….whatever the method, just make sure your attendees know these networking tips.
Challenge them to dump the canned “What do you do” question.
This question is everyone’s foundation, especially at a chamber networking event where
Instead, encourage them to ask a much more open-ended question like, “What attracted you to this event?” or “How’d you get started in your business?” For a very casual crowd, you could even encourage something like, “What’s the coolest thing you’re working on these days.” If “cool” is not the right word for your audience, give them another but the point is to get at exactly what excites them, not their job title.
Set the tone at your networking event to “curious.”
The problem with a lot of icebreakers is that they encourage people to run around and gather tidbits of information, that while interesting, are often irrelevant unless they also share the same random info. But since icebreakers are usually timed, no one wants to linger and talk about the tidbits they’ve uncovered.
Icebreakers or information scavenger hunts often becomes as interesting as a grocery store trip. Get what’s on the list and get out. That’s hardly the kind of exchange you want to foster.
Instead, you want people to look at networking from a curious mind, one where they want to learn more and hear people’s stories. When you feel like someone is really interested in you, it shows and generally makes you want to open up more.
You can also encourage attendees to see themselves as puzzle-solvers or connectors. Instead of acquiring as many random facts about people at the event as possible, encourage them to see how they can help others or help connect others by putting the pieces together.
For example, they uncover a pet owner who needs a pet sitter. During the networking they found someone who does that on the side. Encourage them to make the introduction. They may not personally need a pet sitter but being able to make that connection can help them feel useful and appreciated.
Help People Describe What They Do in a Story
Yes, elevator pitches were all the rage and still are largely effective in helping people reduce what it is they do to a few key sentences. Creating a business “blurb” can really help people understand who they serve and how. It’s also helpful for the listener to get the condensed version instead of sitting through a thirty-minute monologue about the importance of nuts and bolts, for instance. After all, no one is excited about a business in quite the same way as the person who owns it.
A more intoxicating way to win over an audience is to tell your business story. Many people understand this in terms of marketing but may not be thinking about it when networking.
Encourage your attendees to give their story some thought. They can do this by:
- thinking about who they are, what they do, and who and how they help. (They’ve likely already done this work as part of their elevator pitch.)
- Framing their target audience as a character and pinpointing and expressing their struggles. This is incredibly effective because while they’re explaining this in terms of characterization, their listener may be thinking how much that sounds like them and how they can identify with those struggles.
- conveying a satisfactory solution. After hearing about and identifying with the struggles, people enjoy a satisfactory ending and how the business helped the client be their best selves.
- keeping it short. Business or personal stories at networking events shouldn’t be epic tales. Draw them in, make them care, give them a satisfactory ending. Then encourage good listening as the other person shares theirs.
Get Others to Tell Their Sequels (and Prequels)
We all have stories outside of business that apply to our professional lives. They shape who we are and how we view our world. Encouraging attendees to ask additional questions to learn more and connect on a deeper level is important in helping them build their professional tribe. Ways to do that include open-ended questions like:
- What’s the best thing you’ve done for your career and how did it come about?
- What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you close? Before this becomes a
disappointedway to look at unfulfilled dreams, turn it into the commonalities of what they are and what they wanted to be. For instance, they wanted to be a fireman to help save people and now selling insurance helps them save people in another way.
- What do you still want to do in your career? Think of this as a professional bucket list question. Talking about goals and future plans may uncover a way you can be an even greater resource for them.
It may not be in your chamber pro powers to make everyone an expert networker, but adding an element of storytelling to your events or to your networking education (how-to) is likely to have a memorable effect. People enjoy stories. They remember and connect through them. Encouraging attendees to do more of that will make your event more enjoyable and create longer-lasting, deeper connections.