When you think about meetings and events, logistics often come to mind first. Certainly those must be outstanding, but something often forgotten about is the story. Stories are not just in books and movies; they are what we experience every day, drawing us in or tuning us out of everyday life. The story of your event is one of the most important elements to meeting your objectives.
A well-formed story is often why we remember some things vividly while forgetting about others. If a book was just a list of the things that happened in the character’s day, we’d forget it in a second. But if we’re drawn into their life with exposition, a climax, and a conclusion, we become invested the tale. So don’t simply approach your event in terms of what needs to happen, think of it in terms of parts of a story. This is where we believe your brand and the strategic purpose of your event can come together to create a signature experience. Look at the difference between these two event flows from the point of view of the attendee:
1: I went to an event. There were decorations. I had food. There was a speaker. I went home.
2: An invitation arrives in the mail for a brand summit. My interest is immediately piqued – what is a brand summit? I get to the event and notice the convention center is transformed. In the evening, food from each of the countries our company is based in come out. We eat family-style and enjoy the conversation. Suddenly, the lights dim. The CEO comes out for an interactive presentation, and I follow along on the app on my phone. We discuss the challenges we face and how we as a united family will each do our parts to conquer these mountains. I hear how other people, just like me in our company come up with amazing ways to defeat some big hairy goals each day. I go up to my room for the night and I am surprised to find a gift in my room – a company-branded leather notebook along with a glass of champagne. When I leave the next day, I excitedly read over my notes planning how to present to my team and help them share in the future vision when I get back.
Which of these compelled you more to read? Which one would be more interesting and engaging for you to attend? Was it the one where things just happened, one after another, until the event was done? Or was it the one that began with something unexpected and put the attendee in a space they had never been in before?
When storying your event, there are a few key things to keep top of mind if you want it to be truly memorable.
Beginning, middle, end.
Boil down any story in the world, and you’ll be able to break it into three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end. You should aim to do the same with your events. Draw the attendee in with a solid beginning – get their attention. Is there a kick-off party or a welcome dinner? Then, determine what you want the attendees to take away from the event and devise creative ways set up that information from the start and carry it through. What are the goals? What do you want them to feel? Start with those questions and create solutions from there. Finally, create something memorable for the end where attendees can wind down and re-group from the event, leaving them with a positive impression.
“Make me care.”
Andrew Stanton, a writer and director at Pixar, says “The greatest story commandment is: Make me care.” Nothing could be more true when it comes to events. You could set up an extravaganza with all the bells and whistles, the best food, and the most astounding entertainment and it will fall completely flat if it has nothing to do with the story you’re trying to tell. People won’t just show up because something is cool, they’ll show up if something means something to them. If you’re telling the story of a brand of automotive, for instance, forgo the limos and town cars for transportation and instead employ vintage models of the automotive brand – tell the brand’s story.
Use all your platforms.
Stories today are not just told around a campfire – they’re in books, on screens, in phones, and countless other media. In your event, don’t confine yourself to the venue or the hotel. Your story lives in the collateral and printed material your attendees receive, it lives in the app you developed for the event, it lives in the customer service of the people answering the registration hotline. Every aspect of the event needs to tie back to the story you want to tell.
Storytelling isn’t another industry buzzword to keep abreast of – it’s a reminder that every event needs to make the attendee feel something – because when you feel something, you remember it.