Everyone loves a good story — we seek them out in novels, at the movies and live performances, and even around the dinner table. But are we doing a good enough job of making storytelling central to live events?
Storytelling is how we best engage attendees, says Kaihan Krippendorff, D.S., a business strategist, speaker, consultant, and author of the bestselling book Outthink the Competition: How a New Generation of Strategists See Options Others Ignore. “If you can introduce a new term, or a new narrative, or a new metaphor, it naturally gives people access to new ways of thinking,” he says. “But you also want to be aware of which narratives have worked for you because those become your cultural playbook.”
If you’ve never explicitly considered the uses of narrative at your live events, you’re not alone. Jess Stephens, PSAV’s vice president of creative services, has seen many associations struggle with telling their own stories at meetings, both on the macro (overall message) and micro (sessions and collateral) levels. “There isn’t a more important part of communicating at an event than storytelling. You create a story around your brand so you can give it meaning,” said Stephens. “An association might have a consistent brand, but they might not be doing anything to increase that brand. To not to have a strong enough message — or a reason for [attendees] to come back to an event — is almost pointless.”
Stephens and his team help hone their clients’ stories for hundreds of live events per year, and he calls their process TST, or “theme, story, theme.” Pre-con surveys assess attendees’ perceptions and beliefs, and then using various media, PSAV helps construct a narrative that tinkers with those beliefs to create memorable experiences that are in line with an organization’s goals.
Stephens also extolls the use of narrative devices such as triggers, analogy, and foretelling — tricks he picked up from his time at The Walt Disney Company — in telling the overall story of the event. “Information is boring, So how do you make it more compelling?” Stephens said. “If I tell you a story, or I put you in an experience that’s going to change your life, your beliefs are going to change. What follows beliefs are actions. If you change [attendees’] beliefs, now their actions are different, and they might actually follow a path that is hopefully part of the strategy, part of the goal.”
If it sounds like the stakes are high, well, they are. “If what we’re doing is key to helping a person develop and grow, we’re changing the world,” Stephens said. “If we find one person we’ve actually changed in the positive sense, and now that person really wants to grow, and we’ve given them that benefit, it becomes a floodgate of opportunity.”
Stories provide that opportunity, Krippendorff says. “If you can introduce a new story, it’s magical … and [attendees’] minds explore places that they otherwise wouldn’t have explored.”
Learn more, and earn CEUs, by watching the latest Intersection video, “Designing for Disruption,” the latest video for The Intersection: Where Technology Meets Inspiration, presented by PCMA and PSAV. at www.pcma.org/theintersection.
Tips from Kaihan Krippendorff, D.S.
1. Try to introduce new language that can give people access to new ways of thinking.
2. Use metaphors in your language to unlock a new series of thinking.
3. Look for the next battleground; go to where your customers or competitors are going, not where they are.
4. You’ll be more successful coordinating things you can’t control than trying to control them.
5. Understand and articulate the business value of corporate social responsibility.