Ask any marketer and they will tell you all about the importance of storytelling for brands. Who are you and why should people care? The same can be said for event planning and execution. It’s important to incorporate storytelling at events rather than just focusing on selling tickets, signing up vendors and hoping everything goes off flawlessly. This might not seem intuitive or obvious upon first glance. Think of the story of your attendee’s day. They wake up, they eat breakfast, they get ready, they attend your event, they go home, they go to sleep. You have a lot more power than you think to change their story from “they attend your event” to “they have an unforgettable day full of learning, fun, experiences, amazing food, shopping and excitement.” That’s what storytelling at events is all about.
Let’s break down a story
The act of storytelling has been going on for as long as we can remember. Tribes would share stories around a fire to younger members of their group, your parents may have read you a bedtime story, and your teachers used stories as an explanatory tool to help you understand certain concepts.
A story typically has a beginning, a middle and an end. Let’s think of that in terms of your brand.
Storytelling: The Beginning
Your beginning is your history, why you are a business, what needs you meet for your customer’s, and what you offer. That should, in theory, all be communicated to your audience clearly and concisely through brand awareness. Why do they buy your products or services? Because they like you, and they like your story – your brand.
Storytelling: The Middle
What are you doing right now, as a business? Why are you having an event? To educate? To entertain? Do you have any philanthropic ties into other organizations? Is there something special about your employee culture or your business policies worth talking about? Why will people go to your event, as opposed to just buying your product or service? What is the added value? Why do they want to immerse themselves into your story? You’ll likely strategically align yourselves with vendors and sponsors that add to your story and add to your guest’s experiences.
Storytelling: The End
Well, you aren’t out of business yet – hopefully. This part of storytelling at events is where you generate and communicate some ideas to your attendees about where you want to see the story (or the brand) go in the future. Maybe you’d like to branch out your services to offer X. Or you’d like to add product Y to your roster. Ensuring that your event communicates all three of these aspects to your attendees is a great way to make sure they understand the whole story and can relate to it better – and come back next year to see it in action.
Facts about visual storytelling
- Stories create FOMO (fear of missing out) – and this is a powerful tool for making potential attendees buy tickets to the second day of a multi-day event. It also increases your digital marketing reach and engagement which benefits your overall marketing objectives.
- Stories capture moments/memories. Why is this important? Because moments and memories elicit emotions and your current and potential customers having an emotional attachment to your brand or event is the difference between an occasional purchase-r and a loyal brand advocate.
- Social media stories make people feel like they are there (as the event organizer/brand you can not only reward people who may be fans but were unable to make it, but you can also create a two-screen (real life + mobile) experience for attendees that are at the event).
Types of social media stories
Temporary stories like Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and Facebook stories only last for 24 hours before they disappear forever (unless you save them). This makes them seem more exclusive, strengthening the existing brand relationship and creating a sense of urgency with the expiration – watch now or miss out forever!
These can be in the form of photos or videos.
Permanent stories like YouTube Reels (recently name changed to YouTube Stories) don’t expire and are generally not as heavily edited. Think Snapchat or Instagram stories but the non-disappearing variety. Uploading to YouTube (a product of Google) makes it even better for our friends the Google bots to pick up for SEO/SEM. These stories appear more authentic than some of the professionally edited after-the-event content, and they appear on a separate page of your YouTube feed.
“creators make new Reels by shooting a few quick mobile videos of up to 30 seconds each, then adding filters, music, text and more, including new “YouTube-y” stickers.” 
Now, this is the point where there is a fork in the road.
You can be sharing stories on any of your social media channels because people feel more connected when there is a story to relate to.
You can share anything and everything to make your event seem absolutely life-changing.
BUT the real value comes from the UGC (user-generated content) that your event attendees are sharing on their own personal channels.
Why User Generated Content (UGC) is the best form of Storytelling
It’s vital to give your attendees an unforgettable experience and make it shareable (branded #hashtags, digital components, quotable speakers, etc.). Your attendee engagement is automatically more authentic and more believable to the digital audience – and their words will always be more powerful than yours.
Think of the value of people writing testimonials. They are sharing their experiences and their opinions and their stories about your brand, whether it’s good or bad. Making yourself a positive force in your audience’s lives is a great way to integrate yourself into their story and increase your own brand awareness and positive associations.
At the end of the day, brands need to make money and there is always a certain amount of non-truth that gets communicated to your audience, and UGC helps overcome that.
How can you encourage UGC at your event?
Make it Instagrammable – have photobooths, media wall branded backdrops, incredible food, interactive demonstrations, games, contests, speakers, bright colours, meet and greets with influencers, swag bags and incorporate as much as possible that promotes digital engagement.
Need more ideas: Check out our list of 8 things your guests will love to engage with.
Why you should care about sharing stories at events
You might think that your pet show, or health show or technology expo has enough value on its own that the storytelling should come secondary. This might be true, and you very well might sell tickets to your event without it, but the storytelling component can be the difference between:
- Your attendees staying for 1 hour or staying for 4
- Them telling all their friends what an incredible time they had vs. mentioning their attendance as an afterthought
- Them not feeling a strong enough drive to engage with your brand online and them taking one, single, meaningful photograph for their Facebook page and sharing a few of yours.
When you narrow it all down, it comes down to this:
- People are already sharing
- Stories are current
Depending on the type of audience your event is hoping to attract, people are already sharing their experiences online; they talk about their recent trips to a specific restaurant, their customer service at their car dealership and their recent Amazon purchase. Don’t you want to make enough of an impact to garner a valuable mention?
Stories are current. They are happening right now. People are desperate to be a part of current events and they want to join the conversations. Think of how popular Twitter is with up-to-the-minute news – think of the success of the Oreo Lights Out spot that went live during the power outage at the SuperBowl.
Leave them wanting more
You can’t force people to post things online, in the same way that you can’t dictate what they are sharing (good or bad). This might seem hopeless to a marketer or event planner, but what you CAN do is provide lots of amazing experiences and specifically catered opportunities so you can begin to shape your own story via their posting on social media.
If your story is engaging, then they will engage with you. Just be sure someone is there to engage back with them.
Ashley Saunders, Matriarch, Strategist, Live Social Coordinator