A couple of weeks ago I attended a small-business story slam at Dekalb Market in Downtown Brooklyn. “Lessons Learned the Hard Way” featured about a dozen Brooklyn small business owners and entrepreneurs briefly sharing funny (or tragically funny) experiences they’ve had along the way. The event was sponsored by Smallknot, one such business that helps locals invest in the small companies they love and want to support.
As each speaker took the stage — a small tented area complete with an accordion player who softly chided speakers offstage when their stories went past the five-minute mark — you could feel a swelling of support from the seventy or so people in the crowd. Listeners chuckled lightly (or heartily, sometimes) at comedian and host Max Silvestri and at stories of the gaffes made by the entrepreneurs as they established themselves as business owners.
Story slammers included Tom Myland, owner and butcher at The Meat Hook; Jean Brownhill Lauer, founder of theSweeten.com, a site for New Yorkers who are renovating their homes; and Jonathan Schnapp, the owner of Brooklyn’s the soon-to-open Royal Palms shuffleboard club — who shared his story of selling for Cutco his first summer of college, when he learned that adding “Fair enough?” to the end of slightly unreasonable requests would often get his customers to purchase knives.
Dekalb Market is a gathering of food carts and small boutique shops housed in repurposed shipping containers that spans a square block. I enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich with blueberry sriracha (delicious!) from the Mahem & Stout booth as I sat under twinkling strung lights on the humid New York evening. It was the perfect venue — casual and a little cobbled together, but also comfortable and authentic, the same feelings I got from the storytellers making their lives and livelihoods in the neighborhood.
Everyone loves a good story. Storytelling is one of the main ways we communicate and relate to one another. They’re especially powerful amongst a group of peers who share many of the same challenges — like these small business owners. And though not typically associated with traditional (read: professional) meetings and events, story slams can be a great way to share some of the lessons and insights we gain on our paths, and are easily incorporated into smaller sessions or less formal networking events.
When I think back on what I remember from conferences, it’s usually the stories. Facts and figures are important, but those are the things I have to take notes on. It’s been shown that our emotions at the time we are learning have an impact on what we remember, and storytelling certainly triggers emotion. I bet if you think about it, it’s often what makes the lessons from a great keynote or education session really stick.