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9 Ways to Storify Your Next Event or Conference

Based on Q&A with Eventinterface Podcast host, Al Wynant

1. Start with the outcome your client wants

To design an authentic story with your client, start with the outcome your client wants. The story drives that outcome. The outcome could be lead generation. It could business development. It could be improved reputation. To get into story design mode, ask the following question: what story does your client want attendees to remember, repeat, and act upon?

To orient your client’s thinking, remind your client that when it comes to messaging, people don’t hear what you say, they hear what’s in it for them.

2. Focus on your attendees’ story.

To design an authentic story from the standpoint of attendees, start with what they care about, what keeps them up at night, what are their pain points. Their story is really the one you want to tell.

For your client, it should be about what the story does. For attendees it’s about what the story is. And the story is about them.

3. Think like storytellers and act like event producers.

You know how they say, think globally, act locally? Think like storytellers and act like event producers.

4. Consider what activates the brain.

Facts and figures activate 2 regions of the brain. Storytelling activates up to 8 regions of the brain, including all five senses. The more of the brain you’re able to activate, the less room there is for distraction and the greater the chance people will pay attention and take the action your client wants.

Communication channels, platforms, and tools will continue to change with technology and trends. What remains the same and what remains universal is storytelling. What makes storytelling so universal is the impact storytelling has on our brains.

5. Address common concerns of attendees and exchange solutions.

What will make your event stand out is being keenly aware of whose story you’re telling. Make sure you’re telling your audience’s story, not your client’s. Focusing on the common concerns of attendees transcends demographics.

Events are really an organized way of (1) addressing concerns that are common across an industry, a profession, or a discipline and then (2) sharing solutions that address those concerns. Some people are more visually-driven. Some people are more numbers-driven. Some people are more tech-driven. But we’re all story-driven.

6. Storyboard your event using the Once Upon A Time structure.

You’re ready to discover and write the story of your event with the ultimate goal of producing a meaningful, memorable experience around it. So, how do you do it? Here’s a version of the storyboard technique that Pixar and others have made famous. It’s the most hassle-free, fool-proof, time-tested structure for storytelling. It’s a technique that will help you brainstorm sessions, keynote ideas, speaker possibilities, and more. It begins with four simple words: Once Upon A Time.

Once Upon A Time – that‘s the current state of things…the way things are. And every day – this is the recurring problem. Until one day – this is the intervening solution. Because of that – this is pay-off #1. Because of that – this is pay-off #2. Until finally – this is the new and better state.

Here’s an example of how to use the Once Upon A Time fairy tale structure for an event.

Once upon a time there was a group of people in the widget industry. And every day they would worry about their industry being disrupted. Until one day, they decided to hold an event, not to talk about how others might disrupt them but to talk about how they might disrupt themselves. They called their conference…Disruption Eruption. Because of that conference, they were able to hear from experts about the weaker elements of their industry…where were they most vulnerable and why. Because of that conference, they were able to have outside facilitators help them whiteboard solutions to these vulnerabilities and come up with a plan for disruption. Until finally they realized that their concerns were justified all along…they were in danger of being disrupted…they just didn’t realize they had the vision and the capabilities to be the ones to do it.

7. Be in the business of solving problems affecting your attendees.

The most important thing storytelling does is keep audiences/customers/or attendees at the center of your thinking. When you focus on your audience, you focus on their pain points and their needs and from that understanding you develop products, services, experiences, and events that address those pain points. Your best strategy for reaching the audiences you care about from messaging to product development is to begin with the end user.

If you’re not in the business of solving problems, you’re not going to be in business.

8. I’m an attendee, walk me through the experience.

Share the story your client wants attendees to tell with everyone connected to your event, from those registering attendees to those responsible for things like lighting and sound, digital, catering, security, showcasing new products, and more. During preparation and set up days and weeks before the event, pose the following scenario to everyone on site: I’m an attendee, walk me through the experience.

9. Aspire to have your attendees leave your event changed in some way.

The American playwright Edward Albee used to say, “I don’t want people leaving the theater thinking about where they parked their car.” You want people to leave your event changed in some way…to think of their industry in a new way…to conduct some aspect of business in a better way…to be prepared for an uncertain future in a more equipped way…you don’t want them leaving thinking about their connecting flight. If you make your event matter in a way that moves people to take the action your client wants, you’re not only set up for success…you’re set up for great storytelling.

The American playwright Edward Albee used to say, “I don’t want people leaving the theater thinking about where they parked their car.”

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