Networking Stories

June 2019 update:

I love checking Google Analytics.

I check it every single day, trying to make sense of who is coming to my website, why they are showing up, and what they are reading once there.

Most of the time it feels like I am deciphering hieroglyphics. But there is an occasional glimmer of clarity and understanding, one of which is the Page Visits report. Lately the most visited page on the Tell Me A Story website is… this one. The problem? I wrote the original blog post in the Spring of 2016 and so much has changed for me since then!

In the past three years, I went full time with Tell Me A Story and have been building it into a full service brand. I started a podcast. I joined several professional networking organizations. And I grew less and less nervous showing up to events because as I showed up as my true self.

No blazer.

No agenda.

Just presence and an open mind to meeting new people, learning new things and seeing what might come of it way down the line.

What a relief to have this shift in mindset!

The other cool thing that has happened? I’ve discovered my ideal type of networking event: a small, intimate roundtable with like-minded female entrepreneurs and change seekers. And it turns out that Philadelphia has had a group like this for the last five years. Enter Sarah Zero and her monthly Wellstruck Lady Boss gatherings. If you are a woman entrepreneur/small business owner in the Greater Philadelphia Area, you must attend a Wellstruck event in the near future. It’s a meaningful way to build community, give & receive, and feel less alone while growing your enterprise. On this same wavelength is the fairly new (but rapidly growing!) The Lunch Club 215. Their lunch get togethers are on my radar and cannot wait to join at some point in the near future.

I’ve also had a hybrid workshop/intimate community gathering up my sleeve for the past few months. I am still working out all of the details, but it will definitely align with my new approach to growing a network. It also stays true to the Back Pocket Story approach that I wrote about in the original post below. Read on for my full journey.

From May 2016:

I used to be terrified of going to formal networking events. I never felt like I had the right outfit; I wasn’t confident when talking about what it is that I do for a living; and the idea of having to stand alone at any point during the evening would overpower my thoughts and I’d become too scared to go. 

There was a time when I was supposed to attend a really important event at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and as I was carrying my bicycle down my front steps to ride over there, I got sweaty and nervous and started to come up with a list of “what ifs?” My unrealistic assumptions of failure, caused me to chicken out. I carried my bike back inside and spent the evening watching the Real Housewives of New York City. It was hard to shake off the feeling of defeat and I couldn’t quite identify what it is that I was scared of. I performed comedy and storytelling on stage in front of strangers all the time. When I was in social situation with friends, I loved it. But the idea of going to something with the word “networking” in the title made me queasy. 

Earlier this year, I made a deal with myself. Go to more events that are out of my comfort zone. And I’ve been doing it a little bit. I’m getting better at talking about myself, meeting new people, and following up afterwards. It’s not easy, it’s work. 

Although I am making more of an effort to get my butt to the events, I found myself developing a new bad habit when networking. A few weeks ago I went to the signature event for Philly Tech Week at the Urban Outfitters Home Office down at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. I brought my boyfriend and we both filled our pockets with business cards, ready to make new connections and mingle with a crowd that we didn’t otherwise spend time with. The amount of people at the party was overwhelming. We had to push through the sea of people to even get near the bar for a glass of wine. And, once we settled into a standing spot, we ran into a friend of ours and spent the remaining 90 minutes chatting with him!

Instead of meeting new people, we stayed in our comfort zone and chatted with the one person that we knew at the event. The business cards stayed in our pockets, and we went home having had a nice social evening — but not a networking one. I was a bit disappointed in myself. It is so much easier to catch up with old friends and acquaintances then to walk up to someone new and spark a conversation.  I admitted that what I did was the easy way out, but would I really be able to accomplish my networking goals the next time I went out?

A week later I was teaching a storytelling workshop to a fabulous group of women of all ages and backgrounds. When introducing myself to the group as Hillary, one of the women yelled out, “Do you have a boyfriend named Bill?” As the Presidential election gets nearer and nearer, comments about my name are becoming more frequent. Instead of rolling my eyes or brushing it off, I launched into a story about how in middle school the boy who came before me in the roll call’s name was Bill. So the teachers would always say, “Bill?” “Here” “Hillary?” “Here” and the rest of our class would go “Oooooooooooooh. Bill and Hillary sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.” It was the era of Bill Clinton as President and this went on for most of his time in office. 

I’m really good at telling this story. Even though it was traumatic at the time, I can laugh about it now and it instantly makes others laugh. Once I share that story, tension is eased and I’ve made a connection with the audience that I’ve shared it with. Here’s a story that I can share with a group of strangers, no matter what sort of networking situation it is. And I’m happy to have it in my back pocket. 

On Thursday, I was wrapping up a class that I’m taking as part of my Independence Fellowship for the Arts. There were only about eight of us in the class, but we didn’t really have a chance to chat too much during each session. On the last day, I happened to sit next to a woman that I hadn’t been sitting near prior. She was asking me what my plans were for continuing the type of work that we were doing in class and I asked her the same. It turns out that she is a police officer that is planning to make a podcast both about the police in Philadelphia and the community that they serve. She wants to collect their stories. I found this fascinating and it also connects to the work that I do. So we exchanged business cards to follow up in the future. I also had a question relating to obtaining a police report and she offered to help me with that as well. It was a win win! I had just networked in an unexpected circumstances and I had succeeded. 

Now that I’m equipped with stories and strategies from networking in off-the-beaten-path type situations, I am going to bring those tools with me to a larger, more formal networking event and put them to work. I recently joined the Philadelphia Chapter of the Ellevate Network and am eager to meet the women that are a part of this organization. I’m ready to share my stories to a new crowd. 

Interested in working with Tell Me A Story on growing your network, deepening connections, and using stories to get you there? Check out our forthcoming offering Don’t Network, Connect. And while this hybrid workshop and networking event is still in its planning stages, you can go ahead and download our free guide on that page: How To Start An Interesting Conversation.