If you were at a cocktail party and you had just met Amanda Marko, the conversation might go something like this.
At Christmastime last year, Amanda was talking to her sister at her family's home in Cincinnati when her six-year-old niece, Evelyn, came walking up. "My sister told me that Evelyn had recently become pen pals with our cousin's daughter," says Marko. "I thought that was so cool."
Amanda's sister then reminded her that Amanda had also exchanged correspondence with numerous pen pals throughout their childhood. "The funny thing was, she was right," says Marko. "But I had totally forgotten about it. I had pen pals from all over the world that I picked up from different places or trips."
Today, Marko is a strategic communications executive and the founder of Connected Strategy Group, a consulting firm which trains high-level executives on how to use the power of connections and stories in business.
After the experience with her niece, Amanda realized "I've always been someone who finds connections and stays in touch. It really is true I've always been a person who likes meeting people."
Connection Stories Reveal the True You
There's a reason why Marko tells this story -- which she calls her "connection story" -- when she meets someone new. "Your connection story gives somebody a true glimpse into you," says Marko. "You don't just say 'Hi, I'm very trustworthy, hardworking and diligent.' But you can tell a story that gives the person you are talking to the impression that Amanda Marko is trustworthy, hardworking and diligent. "
In fact, stories are a great tool for making yourself memorable when you meet someone new. The problem with meeting someone new is the process is so routine -- we've all done it so frequently -- that it is very easy to fall in a rut.
Almost every time you meet someone new, it is very easy to get in a habit of explaining who you are and what you do in the same way, over and over again, without thinking.
You get bored with your own answers, so you don't put energy and effort into thinking your answers through, even though how you respond may cement the first impression people have of you. In other words, rather than using a connection story, you tell people: Hi, I'm Joe, I'm trustworthy, hardworking and diligent.
In this post, however, I'm going to share the 4-step process for creating your own personal "connection story" which will enable you to be much more memorable when you meet new people.
Why How You Explain Who You Are and What You Do Matters
You may be wondering why it matters how you explain who you are and what you do.
Anytime you meet someone, it is an opportunity. It's an opportunity for you to make a good first impression. It's an opportunity to create a solid foundation for a new relationship.
If you sleepwalk through your answers, you've just missed an opportunity. Either you miss an opportunity to make a good first impression, you miss an opportunity to be memorable, or you risk being seen as boring or disinterested.
4 Steps to Creating Your Connection Story
A good connection story is short -- preferably less than 90 seconds long -- and illustrates who you are as a person. It also explains what you do and perhaps even why you do it in a way that is distinctive and memorable. There are four elements to a good connection story:
1) Create Story Markers
The first step is to create "story markers" that indicate where and when the story happened. In Amanda Marko's story that opened this article, the story happened in Cincinnati during Christmastime. These markers orient the listener in place and time.
2) Create a Progression of Actions, or Story Arc
"The story should be in the form of '1, 2, 3' or there should be a cause and effect," says Marko. Without a progression of actions - or a series of events that lead from one to another - you don't have a story. You have the phone book - just a recitation of facts.
3) Identify the People in your Story
Identify the characters and their relationship to one another, use dialogue, and use people's names. Amanda Marko says she was coached to say her niece's name because you are more likely to form a picture in your mind of that person. (Do you remember her niece's name? It was Evelyn.)
4.) Explain the Point of the Story.
At the end of your connection story, you need to give a short summary of what it all means. Do not expect your listener to do all the work for themselves.
How often has someone told you a story they found to be funny or profound and you're left confused, not sure of the point? As Amanda said, "It really is true I've always been a person who likes meeting people." She summed up the point of the story so you don't have to connect the dots on your own.
Find Your Own Personal Connection Story
If you don't believe you have a good connection story, don't sweat it. Ask a close family member or a friend if they can think of any stories involving you that illustrate who you are as a person. They may find one for you.
Also, there may actually be stories that you naturally tell when you meet someone new, but you're not attuned to it. For the next few weeks, pay attention to what stories you tell when you meet someone new. If your story hits all four of the above points, you may have a good connection story.
Do you have a connection story you share when you meet someone new? Leave it in the comments below.
John Corcoran is an attorney and a former Clinton White House Writer. He writes about business networking and social skills. He has a free, 52+ page guide which you can download, called How to Increase Your Income Today by Building Relationships with Influencers, Even if you Hate Networking.
A version of this article appeared at SmartBusinessRevolution.com.