The Art of Storytelling: The shoe game is complicated. First you talk about your shoes. And … that’s it. You just talk about your shoes.
I do my share of networking, and I’ve got to admit that I’m a little Zoomed out these days. Lots of “my name is Carolyn, and here’s my pitch, and, oh, I live in Denver, Colorado, and yadda yadda.” The other day at one of my networking functions, I suggested we do something different. Maybe a get-to-know-ya that incorporates the art of storytelling.
I suggested we play the name game. Or the “here’s what happened to me this morning” game. Or the “here’s what makes me feel hopeful” game. Or the “let me tell you about the shirt (or dress) I’m wearing” game.
Nope. Nothing doing.
I thought back to other networking events I attended in the before days, you know, pre-COVID. At one, the moderator suggested that everyone at each 7-person table introduce themselves. Instead of talking about the marketing services I provide, I suggested we talk about our shoes.
When I lead in-person workshops, I often play the shoe game with attendees. It’s sort of complicated. First you talk about your shoes. Then you … No. That’s it. You just talk about your shoes.
But because it’s really about the art of storytelling (and the art of what it is to be a human being and a human listening), it’s about the shoes and it’s about anything and everything but the shoes.
Always the schoolmarm, I modeled the exercise. “I’m wearing 4″ brown leather heels with a platform sole and a side zip,” I said. “They are awesome. Not only are they fashion forward, but they’re also made with Nike technology. I could outrun y’all in these things like in that scene from Flashdance where Jennifer Beals tears up 20 flights of stairs past Michael Nouri, who’s having a heart attack on the landing below. ‘Yo boss man, seems you can’t keep up with the welder class,’ Jennifer Beals yells down to Michael Nouri before hurling a strappy pump at him in a failed attempt to restart his heart.”
At least that’s the way I remember the scene. It’s possible some or all of that didn’t happen. I have a lot of trouble recalling film plots.
Now, one by one, the six other people at the table at the networking event talked about their shoes. They had stories about wifely purchases and bargain buys and a desire to return to the velcro of childhood. One guy was wearing the shoes he’d worn at his wedding in his wife’s hometown just outside Nashville, Tennessee. One woman bought her shoes while on vacation in Italy and only wore them on carpeted floors (she changed into gym shoes anytime she hit the pavement). One guy said he’d owned the shoes he was wearing for years. He’d purchased them on sight and though they turned out to be a little too big he’d never returned them. “I hadn’t really thought about it before,” he said, “but I hate these shoes. On the way home tonight, I’m going to buy a new pair.”
Guy #7 seemed perplexed by the exercise. He shrugged and said, “I’m wearing shoes. They’re just shoes. There’s nothing more to say.” He then launched into a marketing pitch about the wealth management services his company provides.
When he was done, the woman to my left turned to me and said, “Let’s play another round. Maybe this time we can talk about something we’re carrying in our wallet or purse?” “I’m in,” one guy said, and three other guys followed up with “sure thing” and “me too.”
But the art of storytelling be damned, the moderator returned everyone’s attention front and center and launched right into a slideshow presentation.
“Thank God,” guy #7 said.