What makes an event successful?

Phoebe Perelman

Written by

Phoebe Perelman

The event experience you create is the difference between a standing ovation and a sea of glazed-over eyes. So, it’s critical to get it right, especially if you’re looking to:

  • Launch a product;
  • Host an industry conference like Dreamforce;
  • Or simply connect with customers.

The event experience you create is the difference between a marketing feat and a marketing flop. As marketers look for ways to optimize the impact of their event strategy, they can look no further than storytelling to ensure a successful event.

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How to plan a successful event?

There are two kinds of corporate events:

  • The ones that leave you wanting more;
  • And the ones that you can’t wait to leave.

Ouch! Every event planner and marketer knows how much goes into pulling off a show-stopping, successful event. Event planning isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort because successful events have the potential to achieve a lot for your business. Events not only provide an opportunity for companies to showcase their products and promote marketing efforts, but to connect with prospects and customers in a way that sets their brand apart.

However, event success depends on more than happy hours or shiny swag. It depends on a brand’s ability to effectively communicate with their attendees. These days, audiences expect powerful content and meaningful connections. So let’s get into it! 

The 4 “I’s” that make a successful event

Over the past 30 years, Duarte has worked on event production and event strategy for some of the world’s biggest brands. And we’ve found that although trends are ever-changing, some things never go out of style. You can ensure a successful event experience by focusing on the four I’s: inclusivity, immersion, inspiration, and intimacy. If including all four event components sounds daunting, don’t worry. You can achieve each of these elements by using stories (more on that in a minute). First, let’s explore what each element entails.


1. Inclusive

Cultivate an environment where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. No matter where they come from, how much experience they have, regardless of their role or industry, every attendee deserves to have a meaningful experience. Your event should be a safe space for open dialogue, where every attendee can experience something relatable.

What does this look like? It can be as granular as providing accommodations, like those that meet accessibility guidelines or ensuring your venue is wheelchair accessible. And it can be as big-picture as ensuring your advertising and promotion of the event is addressing multiple backgrounds and industries – depending on the event.

Ultimately, it’s your job to determine what “inclusivity” means for your specific event, but this is a launching point to get you started in the right direction!

2. Immersive

Transport attendees to a new and exciting world where they can interact with your brand in a creative way. Don’t worry — you don’t need virtual reality or AI to accomplish this. There are lots of unique and authentic ways for audience members to engage with speakers and their stories during and after the event like:

  • Audience Q&A;
  • A live online poll;
  • Or a speed-networking session.

You can also achieve a sense of immersion through live product demonstrations. In fact, according to research from the 2023 Freeman Trends Report, 73% of event attendees receive educational material via demos and hands-on activities as opposed to videos, classroom sessions, or printed material.

So come prepared to deliver immersive and thoughtful experiences to your attendees. And make sure your sales team, if they’re attending, has nailed their sales pitch well in advance.

3. Inspirational

If you want to motivate people to act, you need to inspire them. And nothing spurs inspiration like emotion. Incorporate emotional appeal into keynotes and presentations to make your audience feel empowered. Encourage them to think, act, and behave differently by the time the event is over.

The most successful events take attendees on a journey of change, like in our Illuminate™ training.

4. Intimate

Build opportunities for conversation and connections. At large scale events, it’s easy for attendees to feel like small fish in a big pond. But it’s possible to create shared experiences that make attendees feel like they’re a part of something grand and personal (like a breakout session of prompted speed stories, for example). This type of intentional interaction allows guests to:

  • Learn from industry experts;
  • Build relationships with peers;
  • And gain valuable insights from each other’s experiences.

So how does one pull off the 4 I’s? Our secret: story. Story is the skeleton key that can unlock inclusivity, immersion, inspiration, and intimacy at your next event. Let’s breakdown how.

The science behind stories for business

Believe it or not, the use of stories comes down to science: they impact our brain chemistry. Neuroscience research provides insight into why stories can:

  • Capture attention
  • Enhance understanding
  • Evoke emotion
  • Motivate listeners to act

These insights also make clear how storytelling techniques can foster inclusion, immersion, inspiration, and intimacy at your next event.

Stories capture attention.

Have you ever sat through a presentation where the speaker immediately started throwing facts, figures, and corporate lingo in your face? If so, were you engaged, or did you tune right out? Did something else soon steal your attention — like dinner plans or a project you’d rather be working on?

But think about a time you heard a presenter begin by saying something like … “Let me tell you a story.” Did your ears perk up?

If it was a good story, it probably made you forget all about what you needed to grab for dinner. That’s the power of stories. They draw us in because they transport us to a different world, and engage our senses by activating our imaginations. In science-speak, that’s called narrative transportation. By using components found in the structure of a story, like relatable characters, vivid imagery, and contrast, you can create an immersive experience for audience members as they await the characters’ fate.

Not to mention that when speakers share personal stories (as opposed to jumping into business mode) it often creates a more intimate connection with the audience.

Stories make us feel something (which enhances recall).

Stories activate the brain’s reward system by releasing chemicals like endorphins and dopamine. This then creates feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Now stories are able to make us feel something that information alone just … doesn’t.

And when content elicits an emotional response, listeners will have an easier time remembering it than they would facts and figures. So not only can storytelling provide an inspirational experience — it provides a memorable one.

Stories foster inclusion, motivation, and persuasion.

Studies have shown that stories have greater impact on our attitudes and behaviors than repetitive learning does. Stories also stimulate parts of the brain associated with empathy. One study even found that as listeners hear a story unfold, their brain waves start to synchronize with those of the storyteller.

So, if a speaker details the positive impact that their idea had on a real, relatable person, the audience is more likely to see themselves in that scenario and therefore adopt the idea. That is the beauty of empathy (and inclusivity).

Now, do event speakers need to incorporate a novel into their presentations to apply the power of story? Of course not! It could be as simple as sharing a personal anecdote or a customer use case to give the audience something tangible they can relate to.

Successful events need storytelling

You can take our word for it or see for yourself! Try incorporating some form of story in your next presentation, like what we teach in our Resonate® trainings. After all, Duarte has been in the presentation design business for more than 30 years. We’ve helped some of the most prominent Fortune 500 brands craft compelling keynote presentations and show-stopping moments for their highest-stakes events. But we’re more than a presentation company — we are strategic, visual storytelling experts.

We can help your team craft magical event moments, too, by teaching you the basics of storytelling from the stage or by having our team of writers, designers, and speaker coaches do the heavy lifting for you.

Ultimately, we’re dedicated to making your event one to remember by crafting unique, insightful, audience-centric content that delivers on the four I’s. In other words, content that results in a standing ovation from your audience and your boss.

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