Episode 233: Mark Stepanian talks about experience engineering, non-linear storytelling, and giving guests agency

Leadership, Podcast, Themed Design

Mark Stepanian is the President and CXO at CAVU Designworks, a company founded by and led by engineers. CAVU engineers stories, solutions, attractions, ROI, and creativity. CAVU is determined to bring new blood to an industry rooted in innovations, while maintaining the legacy of those innovators that came before. At the end of the day, the most important thing engineered is an experience. In this conversation, Mark walks us through the concepts of Experience Engineering, non-linear storytelling, and giving guests agency.

Experience Engineering

“My job, as the president, is to be the chief listener.”

The concept of experience engineering refers to attractions and entertainment venues as much as it applies to employees. Mark refers to himself as the “chief listener” because it’s critical that he keep his finger on the pulse of what the employees are thinking and feeling so they work collaboratively and effectively.

Mark takes the concept of listening to another level when he talks about listening to CAVU’s clients and the industry as a whole. Of course, after you’ve listened, you have to do something with that information. Mark explains that after all of that data is gathered through conversation, a course has to be charted to help an employee reach their goals, build an incredible attraction or engage with the industry at large.

Non-linear Storytelling

“We build full-scale modules of some of our attractions, simply because people haven’t experienced this type of storytelling before and there is no historical data about its popularity.”

Getting people to understand how a brand new type of attraction will feel or how fun it will be has been a struggle for the team at CAVU. They found that building full-scale modules of their attractions is the best way to demonstrate, rather than tell, a prospective client what to expect from their approach to experiences.

On many attractions, the story is neatly laid out in front of the audience and they are positioned to see exactly what the storyteller wants them to see. With CAVU’s approach to non-linear storytelling, they take into account the various aspects and directions that need to be considered if the story goes in a certain direction. This makes the development more complicated, but increases the opportunity for guests to want to repeat the attraction and have a different experience.

Giving Guests Agency

“A positive guest experience, right now, is the belief that everybody has to win. I think that’s going to change.”

Mark equates giving guests agency to participate and guide their own story to the maxim of, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”  This means that losing, or not always winning, could be okay, because the journey is the transformative experience, not the outcome.

Taking that a step further, Mark says he feels people are going to start being okay with losing because that means they really taxed and challenged themselves.  And if they really want to win, they’ll have to ride again.

This does not mean that there aren’t critical show and story points along the way.  There are. Mark explains that the balance of giving guests agency is that they have to still perform within the context of the overall story, especially if there are others experiencing a parallel story at the same time.

To learn more about CAVU, visit https://cavudw.com. Mark can be reached directly at: mark@cavudw.com or on LinkedIn.

This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the incredible work of our amazing team:

  • Audio and video editing by Abigail Giganan
  • Scheduling and correspondence by Kristen Karaliunas
  • Branding and design by Fabiana Fonseca

To connect with AttractionPros: attractionpros@gmail.com

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