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Networking Success Through Storytelling


How long have we been telling stories?  Well, modern science tells us that the earliest cave paintings date back 40,000 years.  What were those paintings if not stories;  Stories about survival, stories about the big hunt, stories about things that happened that were seen as important. 

The nice thing about the cave paintings is that they can be dated.  The origin of language, however, cannot; but most anthropologists believe that an “awakening” of sorts, regarding art and communication are closely linked.  So, although we have no recordings of early human speech, the assumption is that “modern” communication, or the development of sophisticated language can be closely aligned with the advent of other forms of expression, such as drawing. 

If the cave art is 40,000 years old, for this discussion, let’s assume that spoken language is about the same.  What does this mean as far as networking goes, you ask?  Let’s put it together.

If you were to draw a 40,000-year time line, the beginning of language, or in this discussion, story-telling, would start at the beginning.  Thirty seven thousand years would go by before the first evidence of written language (Egyptian hieroglyphics).  If we put this against our time-line, we would see that written communications account for just 7.5% of that timeline.  The first alphabet (the Semites) is dated to 1500 B.C., which means we have had a real alphabet for 3.75% of our communication time-line.  (Keep in mind, just because there was an alphabet doesn’t mean that everyone on earth knew about it or used it.)  

The vast majority of us could not read or write until the introduction of public education over the last couple of centuries.  When public education is put up against the time-line, it falls at 0.5%.  What does this tell us?

That’s right.  For 95.5% of the time that humans have been communicating with each other, we have been doing it orally, through speech and story-telling.  (My calculations may not stand up completely to rigorous scientific inquiry, but the basic premise is supportable.)

Considering the fact that humans have thrived over the last 40,000 years, I think it is safe to say that we understand and learn from story-telling.    In fact, Professor Allan Fels, Dean of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), when speaking at the ci2011 Global Conference explained that, as humans, we are hardwired for storytelling.  70% of what we learn is through stories. 

Eva Grayzel, in an article published on her website, expands on this when she explains how storytelling is essential for innovation.  Stories are how we make sense of the world.  Stories not only help us understand what we hear, but they also allow us to remember and retell it without losing its meaning.  When people hear stories, they suspend judgment.  When told properly, stories provide a glimpse of future possibilities and opportunities. 

Let’s examine that last statement from Eva and apply it to networking.  (I know, you were wondering if I’d get back to that.)  When communicating (i.e., networking) with someone, what are you are trying to do?  Aren’t you trying to provide them a glimpse of the future (with your product or service)?  Aren’t you trying to make them see the opportunities? 

At the heart of any communication are three questions:

  1. Do they understand what I’m saying?
  2. Will they remember it?
  3. Can they share what I said with others?

That’s what storytelling is all about.  If 70% of what we understand is learned through stories, when networking, you should have a story prepared that tells about the wonderful success of your product or service. 

Don’t be that person who verbally vomits on everyone they meet.  You know what I mean; they run through a long memorized list of products or services, never stopping to breathe until they finish.  What do you remember?  Maybe you remember the first thing on the list, or the last, but not much else.  By the end, you have probably stopped listening.  That is not the way to network successfully.

Tell them a story.  If you do it right, they will understand it, they will remember it, and they will see the very real possibilities and opportunities for the same success in their organizations.  At the very least, they will be able to tell your story to someone else who needs your product or service. 

Now that’s successful networking!


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