"Not another boring training session!"

Right now, someone in your organization just received an invitation to attend an in-person or online training. And, chances are good that the employee's immediate reaction is not joyous exuberance. People have had to sit through so many dull training classes that most of us anticipate the next session with dread, not delight.

But what if you could create a completely different experience--one that encourages everyone to participate, creates energy and is more memorable than any presentation ever could be?

Luckily, you can --by using an inventive storytelling game called "Campfire."

"Campfire" is described in the very useful book Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. I often refer to this book when I need to design an interactive meeting or planning session. So when my colleague Eric Goodman mentioned Campfire at a recent staff meeting about storytelling, I looked it up.

Gamestorming authors recommend Campfire as a technique to use in onboarding new employees. "Campfire leverages our natural storytelling techniques by giving players a format and a space in which to share work stories--of trial and error, failure and success, competition, diplomacy and teamwork," write Gray, Brown and Macanufo.

But Campfire can also be used to design any session in which you want to encourage employees to share stories so that their co-workers can learn about an important issue. For example, you may need to help employees learn techniques to improve customer service. Or comply with exacting regulations. Or work together on a complicated change initiative.

Storytelling is a powerful learning technique for these and other situations because, as Gamestorming's authors explain, "The reality is that the bulk of employee knowledge is gained through storytelling. Employees train each other by sharing their personal and professional experiences."

Part of what makes stories so powerful is that they're so familiar. As Shawn Callahan, author of Putting Stories to Work, explains these "small stories" are the anecdotes concerning real-life experiences that people tell every day in conversations. In fact, when people talk informally, 65 percent of the time they are telling stories, according to research by evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar.

Convinced of the power of stories? Here, then, is how you organize a Campfire session:

  1. Invite between eight and 20 people to attend.
  2. Before you start the session, brainstorm 10 or more words or phrases you can use as triggers to start the storytelling exercise. Choose positive or neutral terms that relate to the topic you'll explore like "teamwork," "gaining buy-in" or "innovation." Write each word or phrase on a large sticky note.
  3. Post the completed sticky notes on a wall in the meeting room where participants can clearly see them. Give each person his/her own supply of sticky notes and a marker.
  4. Then explain how the exercise works: This is a workplace "campfire" in which you're inviting participants to share stories back and forth as an informal learning experience. Show participants the wall of ideas and ask them to look them over and think about a story associated with one of them. To help everyone warm up, start the session by removing one of the words, posting it in a space nearby and telling your own story about the concept.
  5. Ask for a volunteer to continue by peeling another word from the wall. Before that participant tells his/her story, ask him/her to read aloud the word and post it near yours. As the storyteller shares his/her story, ask other participants to listen carefully and jot down a word or phrase that reminds them of another story he/she can tell.
  6. If nothing about the story resonates, participants are invited to pull a sticky note from your original wall of words and tell a story. Each time, add to the thread that's building from the sticky notes you're adding to on the wall.
  7. Repeat this process until participants have created a snake-like story thread which acts as an archive of the campfire conversation. Continue for about 30 minutes or until you feel energy is beginning to flag. Before you "put out" the fire, ask participants if there are any lessons learned or final thoughts to add.

"The point of Campfire is simple but powerful," write Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. "It encourages sharing (and) shows the many things employees have in common. Humans want to tell stories, you'll likely find that the players linger to share experiences even after the meeting ends."

Published on: Mar 27, 2018
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