It’s no secret that event planners are experiencing more pressure than ever to apply the hottest marketing trends to their own industry. Taking a page from experiential marketing, event planners are expected to deliver an unforgettable experience.
What’s the magic ingredient? What makes you want to keep watching a movie or continue playing an immersive game?
One of the biggest factors is a compelling narrative. Couching your marketing and messaging within a story that helps them connect with your value propositions and company culture will drive home why your audience should choose you.
The problem is that this event narrative must resonate with as wide an audience as possible. If we want to create a narrative with universal appeal, we need to think about the key elements that make a story engaging.
To ensure that your message hits home, you want to reflect their personal narrative by speaking to their struggles. It is here — in this overlap between messaging, value, and relatability — where you have the greatest power to influence. Your narrative needs to deliver valuable takeaways that the audience can see themselves using to inspire action.
In this post, we’re going to dive into the psychological appeal of effective storytelling and help you craft an event narrative sure to captivate your attendees.
Narratives as a Call to Action: Move Your Attendees
People have probably been telling stories for as long as we’ve been able to communicate. Even prehistoric cave paintings were a way to narrate successful hunts. While storytelling was once a way to pass down communal knowledge and shared beliefs from generation to generation, it has evolved into a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry. Even when the story itself is not up for sale, it is often used to move products (merchandise).
And that’s just it: people are drawn to narratives because they want to be moved – to laugh, to cry. Moved to act. How do you craft a narrative that will be sure to move your audience?
Most good stories pivot on three key features:
- They deliver value.
- They relate to lived experience.
- They generate a sense of identification between the audience and the story’s hero.
Let’s take a look at these strategies in depth.
Make Your Narrative Deliver Value that Shows Your Brand’s Worth
Key Idea: Make sure your narrative helps to explain the purpose behind the services or products you deliver. What need do they fill? Your story should illustrate this value.
Stories fundamentally revolve around the notion of significance; to be effective, they need to have meaning and value.
If a friend starts to tell you about a recent trip to the grocery store, where do you expect his anecdote to lead? You’ll be expecting a point to the story, a takeaway beyond knowing what he bought for dinner.
Illustrate Your Selling Points in Action: Show, Don’t Tell
Narratives aren’t just about delivering information. They function to highlight why that information is relevant, and they do so by showing instead of telling. Just like those prehistoric cave paintings, stories illustrate ideas. They teach us valuable lessons by showing the principle in action.
When someone is telling you about an idea that is meant to sound persuasive, it can come across as lecturing or making demands. Showing, on the other hand, is all about demonstrating the practical value of an idea in the most engaging way possible – and that’s exactly what you want your narrative to do.
Just like your high school English teacher told you, showing also implies adding descriptive details that make the story come to life. How does the hero of your story feel at each phase of the journey? Are there moments of frustration followed by triumphant relief? Pull your audience in by sharing the emotional experience with them.
Use the Moral of the Story to Drive Your Messaging
Normally when we talk about the lesson behind a story, we frame it as the ‘moral.’ It might help to think about your brand’s core messaging as the moral of your story. You want your story to illustrate a valuable lesson that your audience can apply in their daily lives.
Your event may be designed to attract new clients to a product, or it may be the product itself. In either case, your story should show that your product fulfills a need. What value does it deliver? What challenges does it help the audience overcome? Will it bring your hero to a ‘happily ever after’ ending?
Your story should convey a relatable scenario that shows how useful your services can be.
Connecting Your Narrative to Lived Experiences Keeps Your Messaging Engaging and Believable
Key Ideas: Your narrative should connect your message to people’s everyday lives, professional or otherwise. If you’re telling a story, either base it on a true event or connect it to a commonplace occurrence.
On the other hand, if you are literally immersing your attendees in the narrative, take care to construct interpersonal dynamics that relate to outside experiences.
If you want your audience to connect with your event’s narrative in a meaningful way, it should reflect real-life experiences. Your tactics will vary depending on whether you plan to use traditional storytelling techniques or fully immerse your audience in a custom-designed narrative.
Make It ‘True’ to Keep Their Attention
In general, people tend to listen more attentively to stories that are grounded in reality. What’s more likely to make your ears perk up: what happened to your friend in her dream last night, or what happened to her on the way to work today?
We all know the appeal of movies that begin with the caption, “Based on a true story.” By framing an anecdote in this way, it automatically places every detail in the realm of the possible. It will have your audience more invested in knowing what happened because it pertains to a world they are a part of.
4 Tactics to Make your Story Ring True
There are several strategies you can employ to push this principle to its fullest potential.
Use testimonials and other first-person stories.
Firsthand accounts have an edge over secondhand ones. Choose speakers who can speak to their personal experiences. They create greater believability and emotional immediacy.
Use an everyday scenario.
Highlight stories that take place in a commonplace context or reflect an everyday encounter. If your audience could see it happening to them, you have won half the battle.
Use everyday comparisons to make it relatable.
If you are explaining an unusual situation, draw comparisons with the everyday equivalent so that your audience can more readily connect it with their own lived experience. For example, you could compare the daily routine of a ten-year-old kid training to be an Olympic athlete with that of an average fifth grader. When do they wake up? How do they complete their school credits?
Use audio visual aids.
If telling a true story, visual and audio recordings make it more believable for your audience by showing actual documentation of the events. Further, by involving a full sensory experience, these recordings bring your audience closer to a vicarious experience of the story, which will help to create a more lasting impression.
The more ‘true’ your story feels, the more likely it will be to make an impression on your audience.
Give Your Audience Their Own True Story with an Immersive Experience
Of course, the ultimate extension of this principle involves creating a lived experience for your attendees. In this case, your event is the story that you want your attendees to be experiencing (and telling far into the future).
If you are taking this approach, you should still keep in mind the everyday experiences of your attendees when designing the narrative. It will automatically be tied to reality because your audience is literally experiencing it, but you still want them to feel some sense of familiarity when they jump into the narrative you’ve created.
Here are 5 strategies to keep in mind when designing your immersive narrative:
Use familiar workplace dynamics.
Try to base role-playing games on relatable dynamics. For example, think about basing roles on common job duties in the workforce: for example, leader, communicator, idea generator, and so on.
Borrow from real-world places and events.
Another approach is to invent a plausible scenario and place it in a real-life setting: for example, tell them the city is experiencing a record drought, and ask the team to develop a plan for managing their limited water supply.
Involve all the senses.
Provide contextual details and multisensory effects that help to bring the scene to life. For example, if you are describing a trek through the wilderness, recreate the sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling coming; isolate separate audio channels among different speakers spaced out around the venue to enhance a sense of 360° immersion.
Simulate real-life lines of communication.
Use narrative cues that mimic real-world announcements. Your emotionally-charged messaging will have a greater impact if it is delivered in a believable format. For example, if you want to declare an emergency, make it sound like it’s coming via a PSA intercom. (Be sure to explain in advance that this is just a role-playing scenario – you want your audience to be immersed, not deceived!)
Play within the genres of popular fiction.
If you are going to venture into the realm of fantasy, it’s a good idea to repurpose common tropes from the world of pop culture (e.g. top-secret spies, vampires, superheroes). It won’t feel real, but feeling familiar can have a similar effect.
Think about it this way: you want your attendees to be able to share stories about their immersive experience without having to spend 20 minutes explaining how it worked. If their listeners are likely to get the idea with a few key details, chances are pretty good that you’ve created a relatable narrative.
Your Narrative’s Hero Should Inspire a Call to Action that Sells Your Brand
Key Idea: You want your audience to identify with the narrative’s hero in a way that will feel relevant to their own lives. You want to show that your story represents a part of their journey – one in which they find an actionable solution to a problem they are facing.
Everyone is the hero of their own story. And if you get your event’s narrative right, your attendees should be able to see themselves in the hero’s role. The key element is to begin with a problem that your attendees can identify with, and then to illustrate a solution they can conceivably implement (ideally one they haven’t already thought of themselves).
Frame Your Brand as the Solution to Your Hero’s Struggle
Remember the moral of the story discussed above? Make sure you demonstrate how attendees can implement the key takeaways of your story in their daily lives.
Your audience should feel like they could step into the shoes of your hero. Use your hero’s journey to demonstrate a course of action. If you want them to do something, you need to show them how it’s done – and why.
Here are some strategies to keep in mind when charting your hero’s progress:
Deliver instructions in the form of a relatable scenario.
Illustrate actionable advice by showing your protagonist taking step-by-step actions to solve the problem. Explain the context around each stage and any obstacles encountered along the way.
Show how your brand helps the hero win.
Use your narrative to show the benefits of your solution by describing them in your story. How does your product or service allow the hero to overcome a relatable challenge or make their life better?
Use an immersive narrative to make the attendee your hero.
If you really want your audience to identify with the hero of your narrative, you should place them directly in the hero’s role via an immersive experience. This approach will allow your attendees to develop a very personal experience of your brand’s advantages, thus amplifying the emotional impact and planting the seeds of a call to action in their heads.
It is the process of identification that ultimately makes this form of marketing so powerful. Stories can be one of the most effective ways to drive conversions. They also have the power to transform ideas by opening people up to new perspectives.
Storytelling has been a major feature of advertising for many years, and its prominence is only growing. It’s time for event planners to pick up the torch by incorporating narrative techniques into their programs.
Here are the 3 key strategies to keep in mind when designing your narrative:
- Value/significance: if you are trying to influence your attendees, embed your brand’s core messaging into the moral of your event’s narrative.
- Lived experience: if you’d like your attendees to be fully engaged in your narrative, you need it to feel ‘real’ or ‘true’ in some way.
- Call to action: if you want to influence your attendees to embrace your brand’s messaging in their daily lives, you should use your narrative to illustrate the benefits of your products or services in a step-by-step journey from problem to solution.
There are few more powerful forms of communication than a memorable and relatable story. If you want to give your attendees a transformative experience, consider incorporating narrative techniques into the framework of your event.