Want to Host Better Virtual Events? Tell Better Stories.
February 10, 2021
Harness the power of storytelling to host better webinars and online events, following these tips.
At BigMarker, our mission is to create software that brings virtual events to life. But we know that even the best tech isn’t enough to drive your virtual event’s success.
Your event strategy and software could be dialed to an 11, but you’ll still lose your audience in minutes if you can’t get them excited. If they’re sitting through the same cliches they hear at every conference, or if they can’t relate to you or your message in a meaningful way. The best way to overcome the cliches and say something that actually inspires action (beyond logging out)?
Virtual events, more than any other platform, are optimized for storytelling. Take full advantage and use it to build trust with your attendees. More than ever, people are choosing genuine connection and vulnerability over marketing-speak, so that authenticity will humanize you and, in turn, your company.
And when your customers see you as human, and not another name in their inbox trying to up-sell them, they're more likely to keep listening—and buying.
But to resonate and result in action, your story needs to provide tangible value while also building trust with your audience.
Unless you’re Don Draper, this is much easier said than done, especially for stretched marketing teams without the time or energy necessary for top-notch creative efforts. Here are some of our tips for creating the content your audience needs.
Tell The Story Your Audience Needs to Hear
Even an Oscar-winning screenwriter can't sell gloves to Eskimos. And even if it's emotionally salient and beautiful, your story won't inspire action or sales if your customers don't need or care about what you're selling.
So before you start brainstorming, make sure you’re telling the story that will address your audience needs—and something can’t find anywhere else. Your content needs to provide fresh insights that address specific pain points that your company is uniquely well-positioned to solve.
That requires a deep understanding of your target audience’s lived experience, which is often different from expectations. To learn what kinds of content will be most effective for your audience, start with social media comments, email and blog performance and sales numbers, but don’t stop there.
Search Your Topic on Other Channels: Monitor activity about your topic on Reddit, Quora and Youtube related to your topic to see what education and resources your audience needs. If you find a lot of questions or how-to tutorials on one process, include a demo about it in your next virtual event.
Read Negative Comments: Similarly, learn from your—and your competitors’—mistakes to learn what education and resources your audience still needs from you. In any (rational, constructive) customer complaint, the person is indirectly communicating their expectations and their understanding of the product or service they’re reviewing. If your content can directly address those remaining pain points and present an alternative, you’ll provide new value to your audience while also establishing leadership on the topic in relation to your competitors.
Pay Attention to Influencers: If your company already works with influencers, listen both to what they’re saying and how their audience is responding to their content. A regular person is more likely to interact with an influencer—one everyday person posting about their daily lives—than with a monitored company page, so their profiles are likely to feature a higher volume and quality of feedback than yours. What kinds of tone, content and visual imagery resonates with their followers?
Actually Talk to your Audience: The point of these previous tactics is to listen to your audience to inform the content you want to provide. So...listen to your audience. Ask your colleagues and professional network, family and friends about your topic and what they’d like to know more about. Obviously the degree to which you can do this depends on your industry, but through these open dialogues, you’ll learn what your audience needs and be able to follow up on any interesting threads.
Once you’ve determined the kinds of content that’ll inspire action among your viewers, consider its format. Some stories are best suited for a live webinar format, such as interviews and speeches on timely subjects. However, others need to be told repeatedly over the lifecycle of your company, such as a mission statement or a welcome video for onboarding new employees. Fortunately, you can use a variety of webinar and virtual event formats—on-demand webinars, evergreen webinars, and series/summits, to present your story as well as possible.
Finally, account for your audience’s position in your marketing funnel. New audiences will need a broad overview of the problem you’re solving, but bottom-funnel buyers with basic familiarity of your company will need a more in-depth product demo.
Create an Emotional Connection Through Storytelling
Besides being more relatable and entertaining, stories also help us remember information and apply it toward future action, according to decades of neuroscience and studies by the Harvard Business Review.
An example: Say I want to tell you about the importance of preparing to speak at a virtual event. I could just tell you to prepare, but you’ll most likely say, ”OK, sure, that makes sense, which is why I’ve heard this 500 times before,” before checking Twitter again.
Or I could tell you about that time I tried to dial in from Yellowstone, my guests couldn’t hear anything over the sound of Old Faithful bubbling in the background, and I lost a major client.
Which of those stories will stick out to you? Next time you’re tempted to skimp on your pre-event prep, which of those warnings would make you practice anyway?
Put simply, you wouldn't post about politics on Linkedin (or, you shouldn’t), so don't get on “stage” in front of 500 guests to drone about facts. Instead, give them something they can’t find anywhere else: yourself, your story and how that story has prepared you to help them.
But it’s not just us. To learn more about storytelling’s role in sales and marketing, as well as actionable ways to apply it to your events, check out our favorite resources:
How to Apply Storytelling Principles to Your Webinar or Virtual Event
From Super Bowl ads to investigative journalism, every great story includes these elements:
A Compelling Problem and Clear Solution: Every memorable story has a compelling problem that requires action, which in turn drives the story. The superhero faces a villain, the protagonist falls in love, and your company exists to meet some gap in the marketplace that nobody else can fill.
Every product/service exists to solve a problem and your story needs to articulate it clearly: There’s a problem in your marketplace, your audience should care about solving this problem and your company is uniquely positioned to solve this problem. If your audience doesn’t understand your problem and mission, they won’t know what to do with you.
Stating the problem is the first step. Making people care about solving it is step two.
Empathy: The best marketers present that problem, then encourage us to care by appealing to our basic emotions: our need for love, feelings of stress, ideas about fairness and equality, shared memories, etc.
Say I work for a software company that sets up integrations between different marketing softwares. I could say that my company was started in my basement in 1999 and now integrates more than 100 different apps.
That’s great, but nobody actually needs to connect 100 apps, and that’s not the overworked marketing associates in my target audience need to hear anyway. If they’re spending hours per week uploading event attendance spreadsheets to Salesforce, sales contacts to MailChimp, etc., they really need to hear a) I understand how stressful that busywork is and b) that my company’s solution will save them 10 hours per week and immeasurable stress.
That second story is more effective because it presents a problem (busywork), acknowledges the emotions caused by that problem (stress!) and provides a tangible solution (a software that saves them 10 extra hours per week and minimizes stress).
Individualize It: Josef Stalin once said that,“A million deaths is a statistic, but one death is a tragedy.” The idea is that people have a hard time relating to abstract concepts like stats, but they have a much easier time placing themselves in a single person’s shoes, especially when their problems and solutions are described in an emotionally salient, ultra specific way.
So whenever you’re making a point, frame it in terms of the effects it’ll have on an individual person (“This integration will save you, in particular, 10 hours per week, which you can use to spend time with your family,” versus “It saves all of our customers 10,000 hours per year.”).
Use Visuals and Videos: Most people consider themselves visual learners, so supplementing your story with impactful visuals and videos can help enhance your audience’s comprehension and connection with your ideas. Their demonstrated impact on comprehension and even conversion is both enormous and prolific, as 97% of marketers claim that videos help customers understand their products, and 90% of consumers claim that videos have helped them make purchasing decisions. This is especially important if you’re addressing a complex technical topic in a 45 minute session, or you’re hosting a high-stakes event.
Numbers aside, visuals also give your stories a fresh, unexpected spin, helping your viewers remember your message long after they log out. For instance, TrueColors.official, an Instagram account run by two advertising executives, tackled the often-discussed topic of corporate diversity with a new question, “What if company logos were as white as their leadership?” They then whitewashed the logos of the world’s most prominent brands by the percentage of white employees in that company’s senior leadership. Since Disney’s leadership is 75% white, the white overlay on its logo was set at 75%.
This collection of visuals has generated traffic and conversation because it tells a commonly told story in a new, immediately digestible and memorable way. Bottom line: I can’t remember the last thinkpiece I read about the latest corporate diversity research, but I’ve mentioned this project and its underlying point in multiple conversations. That’s the kind of staying power you should aspire to as a storyteller, virtual events and beyond.
Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are harnessing webinars and virtual events to advance their marketing goals? BigMarker's Account Executives are here to help! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
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