GUEST BLOG: Why Storytelling is Essential to Events

Beth Note: I met Hillary a few years back and have been intrigued and impressed by her business’ mission and growth. Happy to have her on the blog this week!

My favorite events are the ones that don’t just hand you swag bags on the way out, they send you off with a story. In December of 2017 I took my annual holiday trip to NYC with my mom and I wanted desperately to go to the Glossier showroom. I was already a brand devotee, but I wanted the in-person experience that I had FOMO’d over on Instagram. Our day trip coincided with the launch of Glossier’s fragrance called You. In addition to the 3rd floor showroom, Glossier had set up a storefront space with red window coverings, a red carpet, and a woman with a long red puffer coat and sunglasses holding an iPad. Once you gave her your name, she allowed you to enter this mysterious space.

The room was red velvet, and there were glass display cases with flowers and perfume bottles and other deep red objects. Ambient music played. The women inside had gloves on, and slicked back hair and escorted you around. They tied pink ribbons on your wrist with no explanation. At the back of the space there were three doors. When given the permission to enter, you were alone with a mirror in a red velvet room. I thought to myself, “Ah this is the pinnacle moment! They want us to be alone with ourselves and look in the mirror and have gratitude and emanate self-love. I am supposed to say ‘I love you, Hillary’ out loud.” But just as the time alone turned uncomfortably long, a piece of the wall slid open and there was an arm with a long silk glove. This arm handed me a note and slid the door closed. I don’t remember the specifics of the note, but it was an inspirational message. I believe it also had my name on it -- circling back to our entrance into the space and the woman with the iPad. My mom had her own experience in the closet, with her own personalized note.  We left the storefront laughing, and still trying to process whether this was performance art or just a brilliant marketing ploy. When I returned home I shared my experience with others. I also still remember that room vividly, and the emotions I felt while being there. On a side note, my mom bought me a Glossier gift card for Christmas and I used it to buy You. Whether this was a direct side effect of the event or an ode to our shared experience, I’m not sure!

I’ve also left large conferences, speakers series’ and art openings with that Glossier You feeling, with a story to remember and a story to share. Sure, a lot of this has to do with who is speaking, who is attending, and my own personal goals for what I want out of the experience. But each time I am able to rehash an event with a story, it’s because of how I moved through it. There’s a beginning, middle, and end to the physical space, to what I accomplish along the way, and there’s always something to connect to at the end.

As the founder of a company that helps entrepreneurs and leaders find their voice and share their unique story, I crave narrative. I always have stories in my back pocket to share in those moments where I really want to connect with another person. You can only get so far when talking about the weather or your favorite reality TV show. When I go to an event, I want to have an experience that I can translate into one of these back pocket stories. I also want to hear other people’s stories -- whether it’s an “un-conferencing” networking prompt on a table, or a pre-taped package that brings on a keynote speaker.

Before planning your next event, think about it as a journey. If each attendee was the main character of the experience, what path do you want them to take? What emotional transformation will occur? Are there obstacles that come in their way? What story do you want them to share once the event is over? Additionally, how can you infuse storytelling throughout? Encourage your speakers and panelists to share their stories. Have a post-it wall for attendees to write stories of their own. Or create an activation that is so totally out there, something that’s never been done before that has people talking for days. Glossier You it.  

Sharing stories imprints the memory of the experience in the mind of the storyteller and the listener. I may not remember every single detail of that time in NYC with my mom, but I can still tell the story and bring it to life in a way that sustains the emotional truth and feels exhilarating to share.

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Hillary Rea is the Founder of Tell Me A Story - a company that trains entrepreneurs, start-up leaders, and those looking to leave a bigger footprint on the world, how to find their voice and share their unique story with honesty and passion. TMAS helps people connect with peers, clients, colleagues, and investors in a more human way. For more info on Hillary and her work visit http://tellmeastory.info