Storytelling is a popular topic that has increasingly become essential for marketing success, but how does it apply to the live event experience for attendees? To the exhibitor and their visitors? The conference and their delegates?
You may have heard that storytelling is a great way to bring your event marketing and experience-making to the next level, but knowing what that means for your brand and how to apply it is a different story.
Storytelling is, above all, about conveying information by crafting a human experience. It’s all about the audience, and an engaged audience means a successful experience.
This blog post will take a deep dive into the power of storytelling as a content marketing asset, a learning tool for attendees, and a way to channel the attendee experience.
WHAT ARE STORIES AND WHY DO THEY WORK?
The story is your content, and a story-based event is an experience. It starts with an idea and ends with an audience. A story-based experience is immersive and persuasive; it’s a filter that helps us to think, make sense, and connect with what’s happening around us. It’s an invitation to join in, and when we do, it feels good. So why stories? What about them makes such a great vehicle for information and learning?
»» Stories are universal: we are used to them, we grew up with them, we understand them and we explain our daily lives to others with them.
»» Stories are everywhere in every human language, from myths and lore to movies and books, to Facebook and Instagram.
»» Stories package something complex in a simple, relatable, and engaging way.
The Story Blueprint
Stories have familiar blueprints, which you can follow as you apply them to your event and marketing needs. These narrative elements are common to most stories, and so the elements help us connect with the story more intuitively:
»» Plot – The content. The programme. The performance. These should constitute a purpose and a path for the attendee, becoming
the attendee journey. It is an event, so your audience needs a planned structure and an agenda, but plan it as a path through your event or exhibit and curate what attendees see. Control the content delivery experience along their journey to reinforce your narrative.
»» Characters – You. Your audience. Your event speakers. Your exhibitors. We are all characters in the story. Position your customer as the hero of the story. How does your audience relate to them? How do they interact, and what does that interaction need to be memorable?
»» Familiarity and relatability – Build some familiarity into your event to break the ice and empower the audience with confidence. Use familiar story structures to guide your audience through the typical journey: a beginning, a climax, and an end. Unexpected changes of direction can provide opportunities for serendipitous connections with other attendees. But, while a twist can be a great way to hook an audience, keep it simple in the professional environment. When people engage in familiar moments, they bond over their shared experiences.
»» Voice – The tone and style are an extension of the event personality.
The language used for both the content and the environment should be a good fit for the audience and, in turn, set the tone for the whole event narrative. Use this understanding of your audience and your content delivery to pick the right venue – one that matches that voice and is a suitable space to deliver your story. Your story blueprint can inform your event structure and choices: the right conference or exhibition space, the right technology, the right style of furniture – even catering. All elements speaking one language, delivering one story.
Try to account for all of these basic components when you’re figuring out how to tell your own branded story. How do these elements translate to live experiences?
Stories and the Human Mind
Telling stories is human nature. Even when the body goes to sleep, our minds stay up all night telling stories. And everyone has a story to tell.
There is a scientific explanation for our devotion to stories. Our brains are hardwired to be receptive to them: large volumes of information become more digestible in a recognizable, relatable narrative.
A Princeton University neuroscientific research facility tested a well-delivered seminar and found that the same areas of the brain simultaneously lit up on an MRI of both the speaker and listener. In fact, when we experience something like a story that resonates positively, our brains release a feel-good hormone called oxytocin. In turn, the increased level of oxytocin boosts our feelings like trust, compassion and empathy.
This is what makes storytelling so well suited to marketing and education delivery. Embracing it makes for better audience experiences.
Whether you are an organiser, a planner, or an exhibitor, your goal is to find out how to build empathy and construct powerful stories that connect to your attendees on a deeper level.
WHY DOES STORYTELLING MATTER?
Storytelling is content marketing applied to your attendee experience.
An event story provides context for the sensory experience happening around your audience, which, in turn, means a higher level of engagement. Creating a story for your event objectives can give your event deeper human engagement.
In ”The Story Factor”, Annette Simmons discusses how, when we listen to stories, we often arrive at the same conclusion as the narrator. This process makes us wonder how the story will end, or what will happen next. It makes us feel like we’re part of the process. Being part of the process – being cocreators – has been consistently linked to better satisfaction. Storytelling is the secret weapon to having more engaged attendees and eventually more successful experiences and activations.
The reward for telling your brand story consistently across all entry points to your event is an incredibly personal visual poem. Through any interaction, audience members receive the same message, the same experience, and the same vibe, and it will be relatable and recognisable in the blink of an eye. As characters in the story, attendees will intuitively understand where they are, why they are there, and what they should do next.
HOW TO TELL A GOOD STORY
Good stories take something complex and render it simple and comfortable to digest.
Plotting the key takeaways you want people to absorb within an engaging narrative is a great way to lead them from one point to the next without letting their attention drop off. Plus, it adds context that will help them appreciate and remember the information, and how it applies to their problems.
Building your own stories
Simplifying to create educational stories, we’ve determined that your story framework should incorporate three elements:
»» Story – Develop a clear, meaningful narrative structure that will reveal the primary message about your product, service or event.
»» Visuals – Develop branded, attentiongrabbing visuals that reinforce your message. If you can create a compelling image that refers to additional unique selling propositions (USPs) within your products and services, all the better.
»» Voice – Develop a voice and tone for consistent message delivery, so that all your communications fit your overall brand story and
express the narrative around your products and services.
These three branding expressions allow the story to be experienced sequentially in a predefined order of events, or to be picked up in disparate communications and assembled by the audience. Whichever way they encounter your marketing, the story will always be the same.
We also encourge to consider the 5 human senses into your story telling. Sight. Sound. Touch. Taste. Smell. Although several such events can be performed with users to understand how different senses respond to different scenarios in applications. Like any other framework driven by individuals, even Jinsop Lee’s Five senses theory (related to design) has its limitations:
- It varies from person to person as everyone’s senses may not work the same way.
- All senses may not be applicable for all people. For some specially abled people, they may not even be able to hear or see.
- It is hard to implement on large sets of users.
- For some products, all senses may not be applicable. For example, how do you rate this article for taste using this theory?