by Maisie Smith on October 22, 2015
It was a starry night, one of those miraculous evenings when you could actually see the Milky Way stretch it’s long legs across the sky. I scrunched down into my wobbly camping chair so that the backrest supported my neck and just stared up at the great expanse while everyone around me kept talking. How was it possible to feel both small and insanely significant at the same time?
Four of us were sitting around a campfire in the middle of a Central Oregon forest, talking, laughing and sharing stories deep into the night. Things got serious. Then silly. Then back to serious again. Stories were often punctuated with a collective, “Whoa! Really?” We each had our “poking” sticks, which we’d use to rustle up the fire and encourage more conversation.
At one point, I remember looking around at each glowing face, and then up at the star-encrusted sky, and then at the pulsing embers of our fire pit and thinking, “This is one of the best moments of my life.”
It was one of those experiences I wish I could have bottled up to uncork whenever I needed to feel like I mattered. That night of conversations and stories made me feel… important.
• • •
I think about this experience often when I write content and release it out into the world. How can I harness the magic of sharing stories around a campfire and make it real for others?
I imagine my People sitting around a crackling fire with a can of beer resting in their chair cupholders, a Mexican blanket wrapped around their legs and a quiet night sky eavesdropping on the conversation. What would they talk about? Real things? Ordinary things? Obscure things? Would they become hypnotized by the sparks of the fire and nod along as I told a story about my life? Would they be filled with that immense sense of belonging that comes from a shared, intimate experience?
Would they feel like they mattered?
These questions guide most of my writing because I believe “campfire conversation” moments are the stuff life is made of. And businesses these days? They need campfires more than ever.
How many times have you read a website or a blog or a social media post and thought, “I’d rather do anything… Thanksgiving dish duty, clean the hamster cage, pay my student loans… than read one more word of this?” It failed to connect with you on any sort of personal level. It was unrelatable. Boring. Self-indulgent.
And it didn’t make you feel important.
The thing about campfire conversations is that they involve sharing. And sharing involves dialogue. Listening. Appreciating. You tell your story from a place of sincerity. You move the glowing embers of it around with your poking stick, the new sparks giving you the courage to keep telling it. You bring the audience into your unique experience. And then you give them a chance to piggyback onto your story with one of their own.
That’s how it works. Your story inspires. It then evolves the conversation. You now have a long string of new stories all tied loosely together… an instant, intimate community.
This doesn’t mean that your business stories need to be gut-wrenchingly personal. Most people aren’t ready to hear about the time you callously threw away a live mouse stuck in a glue trap and just before the lid to the garbage can closed you made eye contact with the poor creature and its stare continues to haunt you nine years later.
There’s a difference between personal and personable.
Personable stories capture an audience by using casual, conversational language. They tackle the bits and pieces of everyday life we all relate to. Sometimes the stories are serious. Sometimes they are lighthearted. And yet they can always be told in a way that makes your audience pull their chairs in closer to the fire, completely mesmerized by what you have to say.
So now I’ve got to ask…
What kind of campfire are you building?