I’m often asked, “how do you build rapport with someone at a business networking event?” Once banter has broken the ice, you begin to build rapport by sharing more about yourself. The key to rapport is to make the other person feel good in your presence. In his classic book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie tells the story of two British politicians, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, who were running for the same office. These two bitter rivals happened to dine with the same woman on back to back evenings. The press found out and asked her impression of these two powerful men. The woman replied, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.” Her words ended up predicting the outcome of the election.
Mr. Disraeli won the election because he understood human nature. We are not remembered for what we say, but rather how we make people feel when they are with us. Those who know how to make others feel good in their presence have influence. In my last article I wrote about the three sources of charisma. A fourth element of charisma is storytelling. Storytelling can be a great way to connect and be memorable.
“The #1 quality of leaders throughout history, from Caesar to the present day, is the ability to tell their own story.” These words from professional actor and athlete, Bo Eason, reflect the success of countless leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Lincoln to Gandhi. Their stories moved followers to action by creating feelings of purpose, empowerment, and meaning within them.
The keys to a good story are to create:
- Tension by setting up a situation that needs to be resolved or overcome (tell about your challenges and set backs)
- Interesting characters (you) by sharing details and feelings
- Resolution to the tension so the listener can feel the thrill of victory
- Empathy by allowing the other person to see how they can overcome and win, too
Today I had the privilege to shake hands with Olympian and triple jump world record holder, Mike Powell, during his visit to Idaho’s Simplot Games track and field event. He is a master storyteller. He followed the storytelling formula and held us spellbound for an hour as he recounted his struggles and victories throughout his amazing career.
- He opened by telling of his escape from the crime filled inner city of Philadelphia. He overcame poverty and found self-worth through athletics.
- He vividly described his feelings of consistently losing to Olympic great, Carl Lewis, for over 10 years. He then filled us with excitement and pride as he recounted finally beating Lewis and setting the world record that still stands.
What stories work best when you are building rapport? Those that deal with things you are passionate about (then you’ll speak with energy and interest). Tell of challenges you’ve overcome (vulnerability makes you real and likeable). Tell your story in enough detail that you become an endearing character in the story. Allow the reader to somehow get involved or relate to the story. Make sure they have a way to comment and build upon the common ground provided by the story.
Everyone of us is interesting. Some just need a little help expressing it effectively. This storytelling formula will make you the most charismatic and influential person you can be. Practice these steps, then go out and share so we can all benefit from your story.