How casual conversations lead to great stories

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Jason McLennan talks about living buildings at Design Connections in Austin, Texas, 2018

I’ve been at Design Connections – the interior designer conference of interiors + sources – in Austin in October 2018. It was an interesting conference and of course there are stories all around us at conferences.

Read next: Maybe my funnest conference story? The vest of the story.

Jason McLennan kicked us off and discussed living buildings. You can watch his session in this webinar and even earn continuing education credit.

I personally find it hard to even pick and chose what stories to share and what stories to disregard. Some stories are obvious – the good sessions, for example. Others happen in the hallway, by mistake. Or over dinner. Stories can happen anywhere.

The best stories can come out of casual conversations. One fun one happened just like that. So I was sitting at dinner talking with people, when at one point Nancy Bounds, of NB Interiors, hollered at me: “Christoph, this is Jan and we went to design school 40-some years ago. We hadn’t seen each other since!”

Jan is Jan Hawkins of Hawkins Pirkle Design Group, and of course that’s a great story so we chatted about it. And then decided to record a quick interview for a story over on the interiors + sources site.

Read the story here.

Basically, we recorded it, while sitting on a comfy couch at a Hyatt near Austin, Texas. I shipped the audio back to a senior writer, who then turned the story quickly while I went back to conference activities. Passing stories like that was unheard of when I grew up in print journalism, but we also didn’t produce content at this neck-breaking speed as of today back then.


I love this story, because it’s cool, but also because it came out of casual conversation. That reminded me of an article I first wrote in 2016 and that you can find below as a reminder that it’s important for us storytellers to find stories quickly and anywhere.


And what plan does this kind of storytelling follow?

It follows the plan of finding the best stories anywhere. And then getting them published in the least amount of time.

I’s a fact that some of the best stories – whether it’s in journalism or content marketing journalism come out of casual conversations with subject matter experts.

Recommended reading: The role of content marketing journalist

One of the best ways to get stories worth sharing out of people who lived those stories is by having a relationship with them. And once we have a relationship we can have a conversation that isn’t hindered by politics, fear of mispeaking or trying to sound market-y that can prevent authentic story sharing.

That means:

  • The interviewee likes you.
  • Trusts you.
  • Wants to talk to you. It doesn’t even feel like an interview.
  • Enjoys the conversation.
  • (Subconciously) thinks their story adds value to your experience of life. And it does.

Sharing is caring. OK, that’s enough cliches. But it is.

Seriously, good stories can come out of formal processes but even better ones come out of informal processes. For us storytelling teams the trick is to make the process (because there’s one) seem as informal to the interviee as possible. Processes that are too apparent can distract the interviee. Keep in mind that some interviees like processes, though – usually that comes out when it’s time to approve written content. At that stage, the process might help to be front and center and explained.

Recommended reading: Storyteller over content creator

Great journalists and content marketing journalists can create this relationship experience authentically in seconds and build relationships for the longterm. It helps them get those stories that people care about and it makes those telling the stories feel valued.

It’s okay to have a process, just don’t burden our interviees with true behind-the-scenes stuff. They mostly just need to know that you will tell their stories accurately.

Recommended reading: Having a ghostwriter does not hurt authenticity