Which would you rather attend: A ninety-minute speech or a ninety-minute movie?
You’ve got to be kidding, right? The majority of us would rather go to a movie than a speech.
Now, let’s put this into a conference context. Given a choice, would you rather go to a two-day film festival or a two-day conference?
Again, many of us would choose the film festival over the conference. Unless you just hate films.
Why Movies Over A Speech?
Why would many of us choose attending a movie over a speech?
Movies typically contain something most speeches don’t. Story. Conflict. Action. Resolution. Emotions. Drama. Action. Rich visuals. Moving images. A plot. A beginning, middle and end. Interesting characters. An adventure. A hero and a villain.
In short, good movies create an evocative and emotional experience. We feel like we are part of the story.
Most speakers are guilty of omitting the ingredients that make movies attractive. They forget about adding story elements, conflict, action, resolution and rich visuals.
There is an unwritten belief that telling a story or adding emotions to a presentation isn’t appropriate, business-like or scholarly. Adding a dilemma that needs to be solved to a speech is considered heresy. Presenters avoid conflict and don’t want an uncomfortable audience. That means there is no need for action and resolution, the very items that attract people to movies.
Comparing Conferences And Movies
Most conferences are nothing more than a series of speeches. So let’s compare conferences and movies.
Conferences are about:
- Data – sharing information, facts, figures and the state of the industry
- Words – monologues and panel dialogues
- Obstacles – the barriers and pains we avoid
- Goals – summaries of where we are and where we should be
Movies are about:
- Drama – viewers identify with the story, plot, action and characters
- Action – the characters’ activity is tied to a greater purpose of solving a conflict
- Conflict – there is a real challenge for the characters that the viewers understand
- Resolution – the characters overcome seemingly impossible conditions
So which of these two lists describes your annual meeting? Which of these two columns do you prefer to participate? If you chose the movie list, you’re like most people.
Cognitive scientist Mark Turner says, “Narrative imagining–story–is the fundamental instrument of thought. [Our] rational capacities depend on it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining…Most of our experience, our knowledge and our thinking is organized in stories.”
Today, people relish imagination and story more than facts and figures. They want their lives to be a story worth telling. They want a great soundtrack to go along with it.
They also want a conference experience that is imaginative, full of adventure that creates an evocative and emotional experience. They want a conference experience that resolves a conflict, especially our own personal challenges.
Conferences need to move from boring transmission of data through yawn-stirring, eye-drooping, sleep-educing presentations to sessions that have compelling stories that resolve attendees’ conflicts.
More conferences need to embrace the power of story to connect with its customers. They need to invite participants on the journey of conflict and resolution.
What steps can you take to make your conferences more like film festivals and movies? What story elements can conferences add that make attendees feel like the main characters?