Careers blog: How to tell a great story at a networking event

25 April 2024

Konstantina Dee, Alumni Careers Manager at WBS, reflects on her recent visit to a conference and the art of storytelling when networking.  

Earlier this week I attended a three day conference in London with over 180 careers professionals working in different business schools from across the world. Whether I was in a breakout room working on a topic, in a lecture room listening to keynotes and presentations, or networking during breaks, everyone was sharing stories! On a number of occasions, I stepped back and considered how these stories created connections and captured audiences.

“So, what’s your story?” was the question of the first person I met at the event. Bang, straight to the point: “Let’s share stories,” because we as humans are naturally drawn to stories. There are various neuroscientific research papers on that and Lisa Cron’s book “Wired for Stories” discusses the benefits of stories in business settings. Stories trigger emotions and memories, enable reflection, create meanings and contexts, let us get closer to the storyteller and get inspired by their ideas and creativity.  

I don’t claim I offered a great story but I used the conference to observe and identify some insights in the networking sessions. So here are my tips on how to tell stories:  

Selected Stories
Have a few stories ready for networking. Recall personal stories that show specific elements that you would like to highlight – like certain skills and achievements, or strengths of your character that you would like people to remember you for.  It is wise to prepare these stories in advance and if you are not yet a confident networker, don’t be shy to practise aloud in front of a mirror or a computer screen.

Consider the different networking scenarios you might find yourself in: networking one-to-one or in group sessions; networking with fellow alumni; or networking at conferences.  Stories can be:

  • Funny – but be careful how you use humour, as this needs to be appropriate for your audience. Knowing who you will meet can help you navigate any cultural differences. Tailor your amusing statements to be appropriate for the audience
  • Failure– these can also have a humourous side and are great for sharing or demonstrating your humility and establishing rapport. How many of us have been in embarrassing networking situations? Immediately, you can find a common theme to take the conversation to the next level
  • University experience – hours of lost sleep over assignments, industry treks, a module abroad
  • Job context – first months in a new role, career transitions
  • Theme of the event - reasons for being at the event linked to a personal or professional interest.

Strong Start
Even Aristotle observed that the opening of a person’s speech is the most important since “attention slackens everywhere else rather than at the beginning”.  What can you say in the beginning that will be memorable and keep people engaged? Is there an opening line that will be appropriate for this context? 

Golden Middle
Although the middle part of a story might not have such a high prominence as the start or the end, it still serves its purpose in adding context and depth of your convictions, values, and goals, of demonstrating your validity and authenticity.

While delivering the middle of your story, remember Aristotle’s rhetoric device “pathos” or emotion. People are moved to action by how a speaker makes them feel. Aristotle believed the best way to transfer emotion from one person to another is through storytelling. The more personal your content is, the more your audience will feel connected to you and your idea.

Another tool great storytellers use are metaphors. You can use a metaphor or analogy to relate an idea, subject or situation to something that is familiar to your audience. This is a powerful tool that can help make your story more vivid and memorable.  You can use something like: “My career journey has been like a rollercoaster – full of ups and downs, but each time there was a new adventure and learning that I had not planned,” and include appropriate movement.

Open End
Consider how you will end the story and the conversation. What will be the final words that the other person will remember?

You can consider:

  • Leaving a hook for yourself, so you can get into a conversation with this person next time. At the conference last week, I shared a funny story with a person, which had references to “9th floor”. Throughout the conference this became my hook of jumping back into a conversation with the person and continuing to develop the relationship.
  • Go back to the beginning of your story and share what this has led to, what your learning has been or how this relates to the event or the person you are speaking to. “So, this is how my roller-coaster career journey has brought me here today to meet other like-minded people”.
  • Connect your experience to an element of the story shared by the other one. “Just as you were saying, losing sleep over my dissertation has paid off and I was able to talk about my project at a difficult job interview”.
  • Instead of ending, just ask a question that relates to the themes of your story: “So how has your career journey been since you left WBS?”, encouraging the other to share a story with you.  

Some questions to help you craft your stories:

  • What would I like to be remembered for?
  • What will the others remember from this story?
  • How are they going to remember it? What prompts can I include in the story to help them do that?
  • What metaphors can I use? Is it appropriate to use metaphors?  
  • What tone of voice will I use? What about my body language?
  • What can I omit from the story to make it more succinct?  

Further resources: there are innumerable TED talks and podcasts, books, and articles out there on the art of persuasion and great story telling – too many to recommend just one, but if you need support with your career or professional development, do get in touch:

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