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5 Ways to Use Storytelling to Expand Your Network

by Rebecca Acree, on Feb 1, 2020 4:19:00 PM

“Rebecca, meet Christina. She’s looking to hire her first content creator for her startup,” my friend said. I knew I only had one shot to pitch myself, and I had to make it count. I took a deep breath and launched into my 3-sentence story: “Nice to meet you, Christina; I’m Rebecca. I have 4 years of experience in content creation and have worked with quite a few startups. If you have a moment, I’d love to share some ideas on shaping your brand’s content.”

In today’s ultra-connected world, networking is more essential to professional success than it’s ever been. It’s one of the best ways to find a job. Even if you’re not currently looking for a new role, networking can also be incredibly useful for learning more about your industry, tapping into a broader talent pool, and advancing your career. Here are 5 ways to leverage storytelling as a networking tool, so you can forge powerful connections and boost your professional value.

1. Memorize your 3-sentence story

As you’re starting to build your network, you’ll need to learn to introduce yourself and your background in a quick, but interesting and effective way. Spend some time crafting a portfolio of 3-sentence stories that communicate who you are and what you do. You can think of the 3-sentence-story as an elevator pitch of sorts — it’s brief and to the point — but it shouldn’t feel canned or stiff. Instead, it should be a genuine and authentic reflection of who you are as a professional. Start with your name and current role, then summarize your expertise and/or specialties. End by mentioning a few of your professional interests, if you’re not currently job searching — or the type of roles you’re interested in. As you get more comfortable telling this story, you can customize it depending on who you’re meeting!

2. Spark conversation using your authentic voice

Although expanding your network is, on some level, about expanding your own opportunities, resist going in with a mindset of “What can this person do for me?” Instead, take the opposite approach — what can you do for them? When you meet other professionals, listen and engage thoughtfully and carefully. Don’t do all the talking; ask questions and really think about the person’s responses. This is another good opportunity to use storytelling to your advantage. Swapping stories will help you establish trust and connection quickly and will leave a lasting impression on the people you meet.

3. Use social media as a conduit for meaningful connections

While meeting people in person can be very effective, LinkedIn has quickly become an essential tool for networking. Make sure that your LinkedIn page is up-to-date at all times and that it reflects your professional story in a way that’s memorable but concise.

Take advantage of your network’s network — scour the connections of your existing connections, and don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone whose background is of interest to you.

LinkedIn isn’t just for sending requests. Posting, commenting, and joining professional groups are helpful for easily expanding your network and sharing your professional story with others.

4. Establish a relationship with informational interviews

Conducting informational interviews with new connections can be a very effective way to bolster your network and learn more about potential career paths. Reach out and ask to meet for a cup of coffee. Use this meeting to give your new connection an opportunity to tell their story. Ask questions that encourage them to open up to you and share the real moments that have marked their professional success. Listen carefully and engage them with relevant stories of your own. While you’re primarily there to learn, remember that every exchange of meaningful moments could represent a future opportunity. Don’t pass up on the chance to showcase your authentic self!

5. Always follow up to sustain your connections

After meeting a new contact, it’s very important to follow up in a timely manner; otherwise, the time you’ve invested in networking won’t be useful to you. This will allow you to solidify the connection and bring them into your network. Follow up within 24 to 48 hours of meeting someone to ensure that the details of your meeting are fresh in your mind and theirs. Send a simple but direct email or LinkedIn message with a subtle reminder of how you met, a reference to something that came up during your conversation — for example, an interesting article on a topic you discussed—and a call to action of some kind, such as an invitation for coffee. Use this opportunity to lay the groundwork for a strong and productive connection!

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