Every Event Needs a Hero
Thursday, June 13, 2019
In his 1949 work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” Joseph Campbell described the basic narrative pattern, or monomyth, within stories. The pattern includes the departure, initiation and return — essentially a beginning, middle and end. But what does this have to do with live events? Live events professionals will tell you that every event should tell a story, so it makes sense that story should have a structure.
ILEA Live presenter Dr. Andrew Lacanienta, professor in the Experience Industry Management Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, discusses this structure and how to create engaging narrative-based events using the “hero’s journey” as a guide. Read his session description and register for ILEA Live, held 8-10 August 2019 in Minneapolis. We caught up with Andrew to dig a little deeper into his background and connection to the hero’s journey.
How did you get started in the industry?
I remember very distinctly learning about the “experience economy” and the progression from an economy based on commodities to an economy based on goods, services and then experiences. This was exemplified with coffee talking about coffee beans, packaged coffee, a coffee service at a gas station, then a coffee experience with Wi-Fi, personalization, etc. Services were about time well saved and experiences were about time well spent. In my 19-year-old mind it made so much sense, and I was instantly hooked on designing experiences. At the time, I didn’t have a clear career path only being in my second year of college, but I was teaching part time and really enjoyed teaching. So I decided to pursue a career in the academic side of experience design. I completed my undergraduate in experience industry management from Brigham Young University, then a master’s degree in the same department. After which I studied under Gary Ellis, a visionary in experience related research, at Texas A&M University. Throughout my time in grad school, I engaged heavily with a number of experience designers from all over the world. The College of Extraordinary experiences was a huge catalyst for this and taught me the skills and mindset necessary to be an intentional experience designer.
What kind of research have you done on live events/experiences?
I have conducted peer reviewed research articles and presentations that discuss a variety of facets of experience design and live events including the following topics: The importance of tangible and intangible themes, how to design relaxing and pleasurable experiences, the importance of engagement and stories, why service quality needs to come before experience, the role of immersive experience in learning, mindful reflection and absorption, the role of provocation in dark experiences and the power of co-creation.
Tell me a little about Joseph Campbell and how you came about thinking of his explanation of the hero’s journey in terms of live events.
I was first introduced to Joseph Campbell in 2016 at the inaugural College of Extraordinary Experiences. Paul Bulencea, one of the founders of the college, talked about the hero’s journey and how it played a huge role in designing and executing the experience at the college. As I saw just how pervasive the hero’s journey was in popular media and in experience design, I was quite intrigued. From that point, I set out to better understand the story arc, storytelling and tools for designers to create more cohesive, engaging narratives. So first I learned about it from a fellow experience designer, but then I started teaching it in my classes and applying it to my own designed experiences. I quickly realized that the reason this is so applicable to live events is because guests are tired of the same old passive entertainment and events. They want to be a part of the action! Not only do they want to be part of the action, they want to be the hero or heroine of the story! So if we can make them the center of attention, the hero in the story, and the conqueror of the event, then we can make an event for 100,000 feel intimately personalized for each individual as we make them their own hero and heroine.
What does the hero’s journey look like in live events terms? How do you include guests in the event narrative?
Including the guests in the event narrative starts with intention. You need to first realize and recognize that it is important to have them play a role, participate and engage in the story. They are not there for passive participation, but active, reactive co-creation. Then you think about how you can incorporate them during different touch points in the narrative. It might start by sending out a call to adventure or a call to action. This gives guests a reason to attend and engage in the experience or make it their own. Another important part of including guests in the story is by helping them “cross the threshold”; that is, make your event, or at least the entrance to your event, so incredible and different that when they step through the doors they feel they have entered into a new world — something different than where they came from. Include your guests in the story arc by giving them scaffolded challenges, trials and successes that slowly level up and get more difficult. This way they are “training” and getting ready for a big ordeal, battle or final victory. A reward is also crucially important. After finishing their training and their final ordeal, providing them with some sort of victory, reward or memorabilia to signify their accomplishment. This is not an exhaustive list, but a couple of things event designers can do. All of this, of course, needs to be within a set theme/story to make sure cohesion among the different elements is present.
Step me through what a beginning, middle and end might look like for a live event.
I kind of feel like this was answered above, but largely the arch of the event would include pre/during/post. Pre would include a call to adventure, meeting other “actors", and crossing into a new, magical place. During the event you would rely on guests heavily to play important roles in the event story. As they make friends, experience trials and jump for joy with success, this all needs to fit into the story. Throughout the event, aspects of the event should rely on guests’ skills to complete an accomplishment and receive recognition for that. Then post event, guests should be able to return home with what they learned or gained and dispense/use it in a meaningful way.
What do you think it is about being in an event narrative that makes it such an enjoyable experience?
Many of our most memorable experience revolve around a story. Whether it is a childhood book, our favorite movie, a deep conversation with a partner, watching an incredible sporting event, etc. All of these things incorporate a story. Stories and narratives are inherently engaging. The Theory of Structured Experience discusses narratives as being engaging when they are cohesive, provocative and self-relevant. These three elements often facilitate an enjoyable and memorable experience.
Watch the video below for a preview of Andrew's ILEA Live 2019 session:
As an experience design scholar and creative director, Andrew is disrupting the way we think about the word “experience.” In his current position, Andrew works as an assistant professor in the Department of Experience Industry Management at Cal Poly University where he teaches and researches the intricacies of designing memorable experiences. From events and brand activation to summer camps and youth development, Andrew is creating experiences that engage, wow and transform guests. Outside of the academic realm, Andrew also co-creates with brands like Apple to design and stage experiences that engage guests in meaningful ways, build intimate communities and facilitate behavior change.
Tags: ILEA Live