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Storyboarding: plan an event with Hollywood sparkle

Event planning might not sound much like a Disney movie – but prepare to be enchanted by storyboarding.

Storyboarding was invented by Disney back in the 1930s, to help animators create scenes in the right order. They still use it today – not just in movies like Moana, but for everything from theme park rides to CX at resorts. And they’re not alone. 75% of our brain’s sensory neurons are dedicated to visual processing. You instantly comprehend visuals every day without even noticing, from traffic lights to the envelope icon you know means ‘mail’. When you need to design a concept, or communicate your ideas, why not use the visual language we all speak – and in the process harness the emotional engagement only a great story can stimulate?

Check out our 5 step plan to give your event planning some movie magic.

Destroy the Death Star, defeat the Wicked Witch, and satisfy your customer

Goal-setting is an essential part of planning an event – and of prepping a storyboard. What’s going to make your event a success?

You won’t be blowing up any planets or defeating any supervillains at your event (unless you are, in which case good luck). But you need to know your genre: will this event be a serious intellectual indie movie or a bubbly romance? Think before, during and after. You want to be able to measure the impact of your event, just as at the end of the movie we need to know what it looks like when the good guys win. That means defining a clear goal.
Rocket launching into space
Stories are how we remember; we tend to forget lists and bullet points.

Bronwyn Fryer, Storytelling that Moves People

Penny PA, 40s, watches Strictly

Those participants can be created by the traditional approach: marketing personas. But an Empathy Map will take a broad-brush persona and bring it to vivid life, like an actor bringing an emotional reality to a written script. Empathy Mapping is sensory and experiential: what your persona thinks and feels, and how they’ll experience your event in 3D.
Woman drinking a coffee


‘Meanwhile’ is a technique used by storytellers from movie directors to children’s authors. A narrative takes a linear path: starting point, overcoming obstacles, reaching the goal. But an exciting movie script will follow Sexy Action Hero running from the bad guys to the edge of a cliff; meanwhile Techie McNerdface is at their computer screen and has just discovered the secret formula is being used to create evil bionic monkeys; meanwhile at the base of the cliff some evil bionic monkeys are released and begin to climb up, trapping Sexy Action Hero from below; meanwhile Wacky Inventor Kid pilots their flying machine towards the cliff to save the day…

Your event might not have a Sexy Action Hero. Sorry about that. But it will have many stories happening at once, and multiple characters all taking different paths towards the goal – whether they’re your customers or your own team working behind the scenes. Keep that in kind for the next stage.
Pins in a map of Australia

Into the woods, into the woods…

Once your goals are defined and your empathy maps are in place, it’s time to tell the story of your event – visually. You’ll want plenty of paper, pens and post-its, up to three hours, and plenty of heads; 5-10 is a good number.

Drawing the journey your customer will take allows you to start with broad strokes, building the general feeling and tone before adding the finer details. Perhaps start with a ‘day in the life’ of a prospective attendee, or try picking out one aspect of the empathy map and consider how you’ll work with it. Or begin at the end result you hope to achieve, and work backwards. Using Visual Frameworks like decision trees or timelines will allow you to take charge of the process, so there’s never a dip in the excitement for your guests.

There’s no wrong way! Drawing your storyboard isn’t about being good at art; it’s about giving you freedom to create, collaborate, and share your ideas in a way that really includes everyone. It doesn’t need to look a certain way, or be on a set number of pages. It’s your story.
Person holding a chart infront of their face

Take a step back

No director shoots the first draft of a movie script. Now’s the time to refine your storyboard, in terms of ROI. What were the values and promises you needed this plan to represent, and have you succeeded? Are you risking a negative impact with any aspect of your plan?

Directors have the luxury of screen testing, and often reshoot scenes of movies to fix the elements audiences found disappointing. You can’t do that with your event. Get this stage right, and that won’t matter.
Person about to step on a banana skin

Tell me more

Event Storyboard was founded in 2015 by Tim Coporaal and Martijn Timmermans to help create memorable event experiences. Their canvas (a simple layout of the process) and a handbook giving more detail are available online, completely free – although they also offer workshops, facilitation and training.

At University of Birmingham | Conferences and events, the events team are always striving to make every event innovative, exciting and unique – using techniques like this. Whether you’re planning a lavish dinner for hundreds in our prestigious Great Hall, a hi-tech product launch in the Bramall or an intimate private party, you can count on us to be at the cutting edge.

Need professional, experienced events planners for your forthcoming event in Birmingham? Get in touch today.

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