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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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You’ve just finished your sales pitch.  You have told the potential client everything that your product or service can do; every way it can benefit them.  It’s a no-brainer.  They’re not interested.  They have to talk it over with their partner.  Their budget is empty or they have to wait until the next budget cycle.  The liturgy of excuses is almost endless.  So, you have to ask yourself, what went wrong?  Did I not explain it correctly?  Did they not understand it?

There’s a good chance that the problem isn’t with them, but with you.  The question you should ask is “did I listen to them?”  Don’t confuse hearing with listening.  Hearing is essentially a physiological process.  We simply receive the sound, it then registers with our brain, and the brain makes auditory associations (we perceive words).  But these are just mechanics.  Even if we have great hearing, it doesn’t mean we are great listeners.  In fact, as anyone with teenagers will attest, hearing is not listening.  No one can tune you out better then your fourteen year old. 

So, before you rehearse your presentation or your sales pitch yet again, stop and ask yourself “am I the problem”?  The answer could be yes, but not in the way you think.  You could simply not be listening correctly.  Robert Fripp, guitarist for King Crimson said “I’d say that what we hear is the quality of our listening”.  Granted, he was talking about music, but I think he hit the nail on the head in more ways then one.


If we focus on what we want to tell our prospective client, we lose focus on the most critical component of any sale.  What does the client need?  We could have the best product or service since sliced bread, but all the client really cares about is how we can solve their problem; and we can’t know this unless we listen. 

The American Communication Association (ACA) recently published an E-Textbook entitled “Public Speaking – The ACA Open Knowledge Online Guide”, with one section devoted specifically to listening.  Makes sense if you think about it – how important is listening to communication?

 In their guide, the ACA provides 12 characteristics of a competent listener.  If you approach your next sales pitch with this listening attitude, you will find out exactly what it is your client wants.


12 Components of a Competent Listener:

  1. Uses eye contact appropriately
  2. Is attentive and alert to a speaker’s verbal and nonverbal behavior
  3. Is patient and does not interrupt, waiting for the speaker to finish
  4. Is responsive, using verbal and nonverbal expressions
  5. Asks questions in a nonthreatening tone
  6. Paraphrases, restates or summarizes what the speaker says
  7. Provides constructive verbal and nonverbal feedback
  8. Is empathic, makes an effort to understand the speaker
  9. Demonstrates interest in the speaker as a person
  10. Demonstrates a caring attitude and is willing to listen
  11. Does not criticize, is nonjudgmental
  12. Is open-minded.



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Event at Marley’s on the Beach

Event at Marley's on the Beach

The fun was just getting started! We had a great time at our first annual Mid-Holiday party on Dec. 28th. Chris Perez’s photo booth was a hugh hit, as well the “create your own drink contest”! (More on that later)

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Re-thinking 55/38/7


I have a confession.  No, not like the ones I had to do in catholic school.  (Is it a sin to make up sins to have something to tell the priest every week?)  This confession involves a little intellectual laziness on my part.  I’ve been quoting Albert Mehrabian’s 55/38/7 rule regarding communication without putting any thought into it.  Until Continue Reading »

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Communication – 11.17.2012

Rich will be speaking at the Networking at Noon event on 11.28.2012 located at Crickets Restaurant – 280 Washington Highway – Smithfield, RI. He will be expanding on the items mentioned in this video blog. To attend, RSVP to Bernie Klimaj at BKFS@cox.net.

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Body Language

My last post was about opening a presentation.  (Thanks for the positive feedback by the way.)  Now I want to talk about body language.  Not just our body language, but that of our audience as well.

First, what about us?  What was it your Mother always told you?  Stand up straight!  (I know, some of you were probably thinking “somebody’s going to lose an eye!”  Mom’s were always worried about our eyes.)  But no, the admonition I want to concentrate on first is “stand up straight”.  This does more than make us look taller.  (Although for some us, it wouldn’t be much help.)  What else does it do?  I allows us to breath better and project our voices.  It provides the diaphragm with the proper space to expand and let our lungs take in air.  Standing up straight also gives you an air of confidence, even if you are feeling a little nervous.

Fifty five percent.  That is how much our body language impacts how people understand what we are saying.  There is long list of visual clues we use to interpret what people are saying.  We don’t even think about it, it’s just how we communicate.  Standing rigid impedes our ability to be understood.  Move.  Use your hands.  Use your body.  All of this movement should be natural, not manic.  Practice this a bit.  Let it flow naturally.  Watch yourself in a mirror or make a video of yourself speaking or presenting.

One tip about body language, or movement.  If you are speaking and/or presenting to a large audience in a large room, you may want to practice exaggerating your body movements.  This allows everyone in the audience to pick up on the clues that help them understand what we are saying.  Think of what a stage actor looks like when you see them come off the stage.  Their makeup is emphasized so that everyone can see their face.  Their movements on the stage are more pronounced.  I’m not suggesting we all use face paint, but we need to be aware of our surroundings and adjust our presentation style accordingly.

Another thing that I would put under the heading of body language is eye contact.  Some books on public speaking suggest, if you are nervous, to focus on the wall at the back of the room.  Don’t do that.  Everyone will be turning around to see what it is you find so fascinating back there.  Instead, try to make eye contact with everyone at some point.  Use the 5 to 8 second rule.  Find someone in the center of the room, and speak directly to him or her for 5 to 8 seconds.
Than find someone on the right side of the room, and do the same thing.  Than return to the center of room, and than to the left, back to the center, etc.  Make everyone feel that, at some point, you were speaking directly to them.  One warning; don’t focus too long on any single person.  I was at an event recently where, because I asked a question, the speaker spoke directly to me for several minutes.  Made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Finally, what about the body language of the audience?  You can’t really control it, but you can influence it.  The eye contact technique is a great way to do this.  It makes them sit up and take notice.  If someone seems to be mentally drifting off, make eye contact and focus in on them, maybe more than once.  Of course, the content and delivery of your presentation should have them riveted to their seats, but sometimes, someone may just be having a bad day.  It happens.

Last point.  Smile.  It makes you feel better, and it makes your audience feel better.  It makes the mood in the room upbeat.

That’s it for today.  If you have any questions or comments, let me know.  If you like this, jump over to my facebook or linkedin page and like or recommend me.  Last thing, if you have anything you would like me to talk about in this blog – let me know.


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Dynamic Openings

Hello all.  This is the first in a series of posts intended to provide tips and strategies on dynamic, powerful and memorable presentations or conversations.

The first thing I want to talk about is your opening.  Most people start with “Hello, thank you for asking me to talk with you today”, or “Thank you to so and so for inviting me.”, etc., etc.  Sorry, but that’s not the best way to capture your audience.  That is what they are expecting, and when they hear it, they are already on the road to tuning you out.  The quicker you lead them down that path, the harder it is to get them back.

So don’t do it.  You can thank them later on, but don’t open with it.  Start with a story or an anecdote.  Use a statistic or a quotation.  Ask a question.  For example; if you are speaking to an individual or a group about financing their children’s education, you might want to start out with the statistic “The average non-tuition cost of education is $23,000 a year.”  After you drop that bomb, just pause for a few moments and let that sink in.

When I am speaking about the importance of communication, I often use a quotation from George Bernard Shaw “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has occurred.”  This never fails to make people think.

A great question that many professionals could start off with would be “What would be your dream job?”

Finally, let’s say you are going to urge an audience, or your employees to be more honest in their business dealings.  You could open with the story about the farmer and the baker.   “A baker in a little country town bought the butter he used from a nearby farmer. One day he suspected that the bricks of butter were not full pounds, and for several days he weighed them.  He was right. They were short weight, and he had the farmer arrested.  At the trial the judge said to the farmer, “I presume you have scales?”  “No, your honor.”  “Then how do you manage to weigh the butter you sell?” inquired the judge.  The farmer replied, “That’s easily explained, your honor. I have balances and for a weight I use a one-pound loaf I buy from the baker.”

That’s it for today.  Remember, a memorable, strong opening with grab everyone’s attention right of the box.  After that, it’s up to you!