Each year at the Automattic Grand Meetup, everyone gives a four-minute “flash talk” on any subject. Here’s the talk I gave this year.
I’m sure we’ve all had this experience: you’re sitting around with a group of people when suddenly there’s a lull in the conversation. Everyone ran out of things to say, and now you’re all just sitting there awkwardly.
When this happens to me, I break the lull by suggesting we share embarrassing moments. Everyone tells a story about something embarrassing that happened to them. It’s a great ice breaker, and it’s especially good when the people don’t know each other very well. You all admit to something stupid you did, and suddenly you’re the best of friends.
This is exactly what I did a few years back at a mobile meetup when a bunch of us were sitting at a table staring at our phones to avoid eye contact. To break the lull, I said we should each share an embarrassing story, and I volunteered to go first.
The story I told was from age 16. Despite being an atheist, I was a member of a Presbyterian church youth group. Because there were girls there.
There was one girl in particular I had my eyes on, and one night at the youth group I was able to sit on the floor next to her while the pastor talked about something. I really wanted to impress her, so I leaned over to cooly whisper something in her ear.
And suddenly let out an enormous, completely unexpected fart.
I was shocked – I had no idea that was in there!
I hoped that nobody knew it was me, but that plan was foiled by the pastor. Right before my outburst the pastor said something like, “And Jesus said…,” and then when he heard my outburst he pointed at me and said, “But not like that!”
So everyone knew I was the guilty party.
From that point on, the girl I wanted to impress started calling me “Nicky Poot.” Twenty-five years later, I ran into her on Facebook. One of the first things she said was, “Hey, do you remember Nicky Poot?”
Who knew a single fart would have such a long shelf life.
So, there you have an example of an embarrassing story. If you’re with a group of people and there’s an awkward lull, just ask everyone to share something like that, and suddenly everyone is having a good time.
But take my advice: when you tell your story, don’t lean over. You never know what might come out.