What is Event Storytelling?

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Every event has a purpose, a reason for being planned...and within that purpose there is a unique and compelling story to tell.  As an Event Storyteller, I dig deep, to go beyond the surface or the obvious to find the true story at the heart of the event and then I use that as my launching pad for the design.  

A favourite example of this is an event I designed a few years ago for a national retailer.  About every two years this well known company hosts a large event celebrating their employee's years of service.  About 1500 employees from across the organization are invited to celebrate their time with the company.  This particular year they really wanted to make sure everyone felt that they were key contributors to the organization whether they were buyers, administrative staff, forklift operators, shipper/receivers or front-line staff in the stores.  At first we thought about hi-lighting the various roles, but with multiple divisions and thousands of employees there were just too many to capture.   

As I began to look deeper at what made the employees key contributors and what they were contributing to; the true event story began to show itself.  This particular retailer has been part of the Canadian fabric for decades.  Its offerings have evolved over the years and it has become synonymous with shopping for items aimed at an active lifestyle.  I began to connect it to some of my own best memories and realized that this retailer has played a role in many important moments in the lives of Canadians. That was the story at the heart of it all...that these employees, from across the organization, had all played a part in creating memorable moments.

Building on the concept of "Moments" we began to connect life experiences to departments in the retail store; sporting goods connected with camping with the family and scoring that first goal, housewares connected to baking cookies with grandma, automotive connected with working on the engine of your first used car and so on.  These "Moments" suddenly became tangible and easily translated to decorative vignettes, menu design and interactive activities.  Once we had identified the core purpose and message, the story began to write itself because it was real and authentic.

That is what Event Storytelling is.  It's not a pretty party or big name entertainment, it is communicating an idea, an emotion, a truth...through creative event design. It's immersing your guests in an environment that leaves them with a deeper sense of understanding without having to spell it out in 1001 words.  It's experiential.

When thinking about your next event I encourage you to dig deeper and look under the shiny surface for the true beating heart.  That is the story you want to tell and your best opportunity to leave a lasting impression on your audience.

Kimberly Beaune, CMP, CSEP 
Kimberly is an Event Storyteller. A veteran of the Live Events Industry, she has spent years leading teams in creating award winning events through the power of story.  She owns and operates Creative Twist Inc. a successful event production and design firm.  Kimberly is also President-Elect for the International Live Events Association Toronto Chapter.

Improvisation - an Essential Life Skill

As meeting and event professionals we are by nature planners.  We live by our lists, schedules and critical paths.  We couldn’t imagine walking out on stage or allowing one of our clients to without a script, a show flow…a plan.  Improvisation is the antithesis of planning.  There is no script, no detailed critical path in place.  There’s just a stage and an audience and dead air that needs to be filled.  Now it might surprise you to know that there is structure at the core of improv.  Yes the essence of improv is “making it up on the spot”, but before you can successfully step out on that stage and let your instincts, creativity and imagination flow you must have a foundation to build on.

Now, I’ll admit that the first thing that drew me to improv was the spontaneity of it.   As an event planner and designer, I had many things in my life that were all about the details, schedules and list.  The idea of challenging myself to jump out of my comfort zone and be completely spontaneous was exhilarating.  I had found comfort in my systems and plans but on another level, in my everyday life, I craved a release.  I wanted the freedom of play without the pressure of learning a script or blocking.  So I took the leap and went to an improv class.

Almost immediately I was hooked.  The utter lack of judgement was like a weight being lifted from me.  I could throw out any idea or offer and the answer was always YES and it was generally followed by AND.  Two very powerful and surprisingly liberating words.  “Yes! And…” so simple yet so profound.  This was the beginning of that structure I spoke of earlier.  Accept an offer that is made.  Every time.  YES!  Acknowledge that you heard it with AND.  Then accelerate the offer by building on it and adding your own complimenting offer.   “Yes! And…” the possibilities are endless.

I took more classes and learned more and more about the values at the core of improv:

  •         Yes! And…
  •          accept, acknowledge, accelerate
  •          get out of your head and be in-the-moment
  •          listen… really listen
  •          be willing to build on someone else’s idea
  •          be willing to let go of your idea
  •          be fearless in making an offer
  •          jump in when the ship is sinking and not only when it’s smooth sailing

and so on… 

Improv was becoming part of my life and so naturally it began creeping into my work in the most exciting ways.  I was more open and willing to put my ideas forward, I was more supportive of my colleagues’ ideas and I said yes rather than no when collaborating with my team.  I was less of a wall flower in networking situations and stepped into conversations with openness and courage.  I feared failure less and I succeeded more.

Not only did these skills help me with how I interacted with my colleagues but it helped me with my clients as well.  I listened better to what their goals and needs were and I was not so precious about making adjustments to the way I wanted things.  I was more in-the-moment and engaged and my relationship with my clients was richer for it.

Not surprisingly I was also much more confident when dealing with unexpected challenges or situations.  We’ve all been there; the band is late, there are ten unexpected guests at the door, the AV Tech can’t get the speaker’s PowerPoint to work properly, the bride is melting down because the blush roses are too blush.  It is in these moments that the improvisers’ instinct kicks in; you accept that the challenge is happening, acknowledge the impact it is having on the plan and accelerate the resolution by being in the moment, evaluating your resources, and saying “Yes! And…”   We all have common sense and know how to deal with unexpected challenges – we’re planners after all.  Improv just allows us quicker access to the knowledge we already have.  It is the set of tools we use to get us out of our heads and into the moment.

It’s funny that once you recognize how improv has influenced the way you operate in life and at work, you begin to see the value of its application everywhere.  It’s not surprising that improv is a recognized leadership and communication technique taught all over the world.  It has applications in sales, team dynamics, creativity, innovation, crisis management and in a myriad of other situations.  According to links found on The Applied Improvisation Network (www.appliedimprov.com), improv training is widely used in business, education, healthcare, prisons, rehabilitation, veteran services, and so much more.

Improv is truly an essential life skill and if you think about it, we all use improv to some degree every day.  The magic happens when you go back to the core values of improv and work from that structure or foundation. Try saying “Yes! And…” more often and see what that does.  Allow yourself and the people around you the freedom to play, to take risks and to maybe even fail a little.  You’ll be the richer for it!

Kimberly is co-founder of a corporate training organization called Working Improv. www.workingimprov.com  

Following the Thread


An event usually starts with an idea, one tiny thread that starts the ball rolling and then magically starts to collect other bits and pieces as the event begins to take shape.  Sometimes the ball is rolling so fast that you loose handle on that first, all important thread.  It gets jumbled up, tied in knots and buried in the snow ball.  The problem is that the thread is usually deeply connected to the reason the event is happening in the first place, be it branding or a message or simply a core purpose. That reason can easily get lost in the jumble if you don't carefully FOLLOW THE THREAD.  The event might be fabulous and successful in many ways, but if the thread is lost it likely didn't live up to it's full potential.

When planning an event; identify the thread...the purpose or message...then write it down, build your elements around it and regularly refer back. Is the thread still clear?  Can you follow it through all the layers and details?  It doesn't have to be a neon light woven through your event design but ask yourself if what you are building is going to allow your attendees to be aware of the thread?  (However subtle and seamless you want it to be.)  

If the answers are no, then it's time to take stock, clear away some of the elements and get a firmer grasp.  The thread should inform all the choices you make and in the end your event will be more cohesive, your messaging will be clearer and your guest's experience will be richer.