The Science Behind Storytelling at Events

Crafting a compelling, genuine story as a central theme is one of the best things you can do for the success of your event. This statement might be bold, but it’s based on more than just anecdotal evidence; we’ve got science to back us up! Read on to learn why storytelling at events is one of the most effective communication tools you can use to reach your most valuable audiences – even in virtual or hybrid formats.

Every brand has a story to tell

Emotion is attention, in that connecting with your audience on an emotional level will significantly increase attention span and recall. So how do you make those connections? The answer lies in storytelling. Every brand has a story to tell, and live events are the perfect venue to tell them—a group of mostly like-minded individuals, waiting with bated breath to hear what you have to say during the keynote? It’s the salesperson’s dream.

To be clear, story ≠ sales pitch

This is the most common misstep we see made during presentations, as the two are easily confused. However, whereas salespitches are often laden with facts and statistics, maybe with a customer testimony thrown into the mix, stories are focused on painting a robust picture with context and examples. If a sales pitch is a 2D animation, a story is a virtual reality simulation. Both are valuable, both have their place. But where sales pitches appeal to our logical brains (often combined with a healthy dose of skepticism), stories appeal to our emotions—and are incredibly memorable, persuasive and captivating as a result.

The miracle of mirror neurons

Many factors contribute to why storytelling is so effective at grabbing and retaining attention, but at the heart of it is some unique biology called mirror neurons. These special brain cells fire not only when we perform an action, but when we observe someone else perform that same action as well. That is, our brains light up in the same places and release the exact same chemicals when we watch someone do something, as if we were doing it ourselves.

On a base level, this is part of what accounts for human empathy. We all know the feeling of witnessing someone wipe out, wincing vicariously through their pain. We’ve all watched delicious food being prepared and eaten on TV, our mouths watering as if we were there in the kitchen with the chefs. On a more applicable level for events, we can learn to leverage this naturally occurring, miraculous phenomenon when communicating our most valuable information to key audiences.

Storytelling is effective because mirror neurons don’t just rely on visual cues—they respond incredibly well to spoken word as well. When our mirror neurons fire while listening to a compelling (read: emotional) story, our brains release a mix of dopamine, oxytocin and cortisol; the hormones linked to memory & information processing, social bonding, and our bodies’ alert systems, respectively. Basically, we’re hooked. Psychologists call this experience “narrative transportation”—the feeling where the world falls away and we’re completely engrossed in the story we are witnessing. How’s that for audience retention?

Make it memorable

The narrative model has been proven to aid in recall, and humans have been using stories as memory devices since the beginning of time. Think back to grade school and your favorite mnemonic device. It’s much easier to remember My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas, than say, the precise order of planets in our solar system. After images and scenes, the next thing our brains remember is emotion, and after that, dialogue and facts. So if emotion is attention, and narrative is memory, then an emotional narrative makes for one whammy of a presentation!

In conclusion

With powerful storytelling at your event, you can begin to turn curiosity into brand loyalty, and brand loyalty into the coveted brand advocacy. Bottom line: stories humanize your event. They give it a personality and speak to your audience on a deeper level than traditional corporate rhetoric. Want your audience to remember something? Hit them in the feels. You have the power to persuade, increase engagement, inspire action, and influence behavioral changes in your audience–all through storytelling.

P.S. Need help with crafting your story? We can help. Contact us directly today.