December 16, 2010 by Jeff Hurt
Stories have important psychological advantages that help keep people engaged.
Good conferences provide many opportunities to hear and share stories thus increasing engagement.
Your conference can be full of factual information presented logically and sequentially. But facts alone fall short. They usually don’t persuade someone to change.
Information is static. Stories are dynamic. Stories expose the humanness. Stories can link one to another.
It’s not facts that convince someone. It’s not the information in itself that is important. It’s the emotional affect of that information. It’s how those facts connect emotionally. The fact coupled with an emotional response can move someone to do something differently.
Some stories have been passed from generation to generation.
Many of us remember sitting at the table with grandparents, aunts and uncles as they shared stories from their past. Or we may remember sitting around the campfire as a child listening to stories. Today, campfires are replaced with LCD projectors, PPT and conference venues.
We love stories because we are hardwired to learn lessons from observing change in others. Life is messy and challenging. We empathize with others that face similar real-world adversity.
Good conferences create an overarching story for its attendees. It places them within a larger narrative for their industry, profession or personal lives. It helps attendees see themselves as characters within that story. The audience is the hero and the presenters are the mentors. (Hat tips to Nancy Duarte for that thought!) The organizers see the conference as an experience and design the participants’ journey. The attendees then see how their actions can have ripple effects and impact their future.
Good conferences use stories as presentations to contrast what is with what could be. They help people transition from why it won’t happen to what it will take to make this happen. They provide relevant tactics and tips that can help participants improve their futures and reach their goals.
Good conference experiences are like unfinished stories where the participants complete the narrative by living it. They adopt some of the messages and content into their own lives.
Our psychological response to stories is primal. The uncertainty and unknown elements of all stories (How will we resolve this? How will this situation play out?) creates excitement and tension. That emotional response helps attendees focus on finding a resolution.
By focusing conference content on attendees’ problems, the organizer helps create stories that need resolution. The problems are real. The emotional response natural.
The natural human response to stories is critical to engagement. People tend to search for a way to solve a problem and reduce the heightened emotions. The feeling of accomplishment found in an ending comes from the level of engagement.
Information is easier to remember when it is presented in story form than when it is stacked fact upon fact.
Psychologists divide memory into semantic versus episodic. Semantic memory accesses information based on meaning. Episodic memory is often easier to use. It stores and accesses information based on the story of events.
When a conference experience unfolds as a story, attendees can identify where they are within that story. Then they can then make wise choices about the outcomes of their story. And they remember it.
Most owners started their businesses to solve a problem. The owner’s stories are usually well-known by employees. Those stories serve as guidelines as why the company exists.
Conferences can help attendees see themselves as the heroes of today’s complex problems. Their collective story can help guide their actions. This will allow attendees to see how they fit into the larger story.
Imagine conferences that offer intriguing stories and see their attendees as its characters. What would happen?
What are the possibilities of creating conference experiences that have overarching stories? What would we do differently if we designed conference experiences with a narrative in mind?
Filed Under: Conference Education
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Thanks for affirming what I have been living in all facets of my career…as a journalist, publicist, talk show host & psychotherapist, not to mention daily living as a human being;)
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