Conference Story Arcs

Narratives, story arcs, framing. There’s a lot for us to learn about artfully using stories as the central focus of our conference program design.

Effectively framed narratives are crafted to activate participants’ brains and inspire others to come together to accomplish something that none of them could fully accomplish on their own. Your story arc should be a call to action to improve the profession or champion a worthwhile cause. The narrative should be introduced in the opening general session and threaded throughout the conference program and attendee experiences.

IAEE’s 2018 Expo Expo and PCMA’s 2019 Convening Leaders took two different, but effective approaches, with their conference narrative.

For IAEE, the narrative was about improving the profession to ensure that exhibitions and events are trusted marketplaces of the future. The CEIR Lunch, Opening General Session and Executive Breakfast programs each provided different viewpoints of how the tradeshow business model may need to evolve to be a highly valued and trusted marketplace five-plus years from now.

For PCMA, the story arc demonstrated the association’s new vision statement: Driving global economic and social transformation through business events. A number of social activists, including Billie Jean King and Geena Davis, helped deliver the social justice narrative from the main stage. The story arc was further reinforced in the lobby areas where attendees could volunteer their time to make kits and care packages for those in need or participate in Empathy Sessions, which were immersive VR experiences.

What will your conference narrative or story arc be in 2019?
January 2019
PPT: VCC's visuals can help you design a conference that tells a story

A Conference Story Arc Can S trengthen Neural Connections
We are helpless story junkies. Your brain on story acts very differently than when your brain is receiving data, facts and information. Conference organizers who grasp our brains' need for stories can use them to help participants develop and grow.
You can use a story arc an extended, continuous storyline to carefully craft the message and issues you want your conference participants to explore, experience and learn. All stories have a beginning, middle and end. And all stories have a challenge that must be resolved. Applying a story arc to your conference can activate participants' brains.

People increasingly recognize that tackling societal challenges requires a systems approach. Story has many different qualities that make it useful for the work of systems change. It's a direct route to our emotions, and therefore important to decision-making. It creates meaning out of patterns. When it comes to changing the values, mindsets, rules and goals of a system, story is foundational.

In Seth Godin's book, All Marketers Are Liars , Godin claims that marketers lie to consumers because consumers demand it. He says customers buy their products because of the way it makes them feel. No, Godin doesn't really believe all marketers are liars. He used the word to get your attention. What he really means is storytellers.