Applying Elements of Storytelling to Experience Design

By: Erica Lalk
couple having fun in candy ball pit
The art of storytelling is essential to the human experience. Stories bond us, sustaining across generations as a source of hope. They help us make sense of our lives and foster empathy for others.
Marketers have seized upon this truth to build loyalty and drive revenue through compelling campaigns that signal shared values and alignment with their audience’s identity. More recently, event professionals have begun to tap into this trend and consider the impact of storytelling on immersive event design. 
Immersive experiences transcend the event theme and weave elements of the brand’s mission and vision into a cohesive story that runs through the live event. Draw from storytelling patterns to encourage involvement—the more participatory activations for attendees, the more your brand’s event becomes a part of their personal story. Make your brand’s story one attendees want to share again and again.

5 Elements of Storytelling

Your attendees’ journey is the perfect opportunity to apply the classic elements of a narrative arc. Consider a theme that calls on the natural elements of earth, water, fire and air to tell a client’s story of strength through diversity.
1. Story Element: Exposition
Background information on who, where and when provides the introduction to the story. It primes the audience for the action ahead.
Event Design Element: The stunning destination of Puglia, Italy, provides a spectacular setting to showcase the powerful convergence of all elements and reflect each through its own color: blue, green, red and yellow. Personalizing the pre-event experience before winners set off on their journeys is key. Use a pre-event survey to determine which element winners most identify with, segmenting them so pre-travel gift packages reflect their selections. Items like Italian art glass and Carrara marble candles say “grazie” and infuse a sense of gratitude from the start.
Related: Tap into the unique attributes of today’s top travel destinations to make your incentive trips about more than just a change of scenery.
2. Story Element: Rising Action
A moment that sparks drama and puts the plot in motion. This is when the audience begins to understand what the story is really about.
Event Design Element: Winners arrive at the hotel lobby transformed by lighting that changes daily to reflect the blue, green, red and yellow hues of the day’s chosen element. It’s more than a color palette. From the moment they unpack their bags, they are warmly welcomed into an environment that aligns sensory experiences with meaningful messaging. A menu inspired by molecular gastronomy. Cocktails that unfurl smoke. Give-back activities that plant a seed. (In this case, literally!)
3. Story Element: Climax
The highest point in your story arc is when all the pieces you’ve introduced meaningfully unite.
Event Design Element: A wow-worthy culminating event puts an exclamation point on the experience. The peak should surprise and delight participants with opportunities they could never re-create on their own. Like a pop-up waterfront disco featuring glow paint, flashing lights and mixes by the hottest DJ. Or a “carnival” village with spinning aerialists who appear in the blink of an eye. Whisk winners off on a chartered helicopter flight that hugs the coastline and provides a jaw-dropping view of the destination. Or set the final dinner in a world-famous grotto, where waves crash beneath their feet.
4. Story Element: Falling Action
Now, the excitement gives way to resolution. Loose ends are tied up.
Event Design Element: You want a wind-down, not an abrupt ending to the action. Event gifting can carry the storyline and leave participants with something to hold on to. What better than a room drop of olive oil, cheese and baguette for a farewell picnic to cap off their dream trip? Package this with a Versace-inspired, made-in-Italy picnic blanket and Italian leather wine tote so they re-create the experience at home and replay the amazing trip time and time again. 
5. Story Element: Resolution
How your story ends isn’t just a final plot point. It shows how the events of the story have changed the characters—and the world around them.
Event Design Element: The story continues even after winners arrive home. Send a recap video showcasing the top memories made during the trip. The video inspires them to reminisce a few weeks after the event, re-engaging achievers all over again. You can also mail a custom-made book including snapshots of those top moments from the trip.

Create a Classic

Some stories stick with us. Think of the books you’ve held on to through the years. We all have favorite stories we keep copies of because they resonate so deeply. By creating a compelling narrative and infusing thoughtful details into your incentive events, you’re helping winners capture a memory they’ll treasure forever.
Download our ebook to learn how storytelling and other key psychological elements build brand loyalty by infusing emotion in immersive experience design.
Erica White
Erica Lalk

Erica’s passion for events and incentive travel can be felt immediately upon speaking with her. With 15+ years' experience planning and operating global travel and incentive experiences, she’s been well prepared for her role as Event Design Leader. From day one of working with clients, Erica prioritizes building strong, trustworthy relationships while offering original ideas that elevate the attendee experience. When she’s off the clock, you can find her laughing with her family or chatting with her Husky, Naya. And if you have a Peloton, send her your username, so you can become best friends.