August 1, 2019

Standing Ovation Storytelling Skills for Storytelling in Business

The word storytelling is misleading. The best storytellers don’t simply “tell” stories. They make their story come alive with physical animation, vocal interpretation and real emotion. In other words, they move beyond story-telling to Story Theater.

Back in 1995, when I was first getting into the professional speaking business, I was doing presentations around town to various service clubs and networking groups. I talked about communication and presentation skills. Having been an actor for 25 years, I was comfortable at the front of the room. I was funny and spontaneous and had some good content. People told me I was a good speaker and that I told good stories. And then one night, I had a breakthrough.

The Breakthrough Moment

I was giving a presentation at the Pikes Peak Library in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was a freebie on a Tuesday night. Somewhere in the middle of my talk on presentation skills, I asked my audience if they wanted to hear a funny story from my Hollywood years. Of course, they said yes.

It was a story I had told many times before. I did say “told.” But this time, for some reason, I was unleashed. It was a funny story about going streaking and getting arrested naked. Without having planned it in advance, I acted out getting in the back of my VW bus with my acting class partner, George, and getting undressed. Next, I acted out jumping out of the bus and running down the street naked as we passed about 30 people waiting in line to see a movie.

As I was acting out running down the street naked, with George right behind me, I could hear the audience laughing hysterically. I acted out coming around the corner to head back to the safety of the bus, when a police car came screeching around the corner and a voice yelled over the speaker for us to “freeze.”

“Freeze! Put your hands up.”

I acted out freezing in mid-stride, and then remembering that I was naked and exposed. At this point, the audience was shrieking with laughter. Shrieking! They were laughing so hard tears were streaming down people’s faces.

I didn’t just TELL that story. I became the story. I re-enacted those key parts of the story. That was the day The Story Theater Method was born. That was the day I learned the difference between standing outside of the story and “telling” it, and “stepping in” to the story and re-living parts of it.

The Story Theater Method
When I analyzed what I’d done differently that night in the library, it was the acting moments. I’d spontaneously created a hybrid of narrative storytelling and acting. And it worked so well that I could never go back to narrative story-telling alone.

There’s nothing wrong with telling a good story. It’s worked for millions of years and will continue to work. But if you want to move your audience to laughter and tears, you need to take your storytelling to the next level, the Story Theater level.

Actions, Reactions, Decisions and Conversations

A play is a story, told on a stage with actors pretending to be in an imaginary time, place and circumstance. The actors bring each scene to life with actions, reactions and conversations. Sometimes an actor is alone on the stage reciting a monologue, as if they were talking to themselves out loud. The audience gets to hear their thoughts in the form of self-talk. Sometimes an actor is silent, but you can still “hear” their inner monologue through their expressions and body language. These acting techniques, and many more, can be applied to storytelling.

When you apply Story Theater techniques to your story, you first identify the scenes in your story that are most hilarious or dramatic. Then you act them out as if they were taking place in present time. These are called “IN Moments.” The majority of your story (70% – 80%) is still spoken in past-tense narrative “OUT” to the audience, but these acted-out IN moments make the story come alive.

Some of the techniques you can employ to make your stories come alive are:
• Recreating the actions in your story:
       Running, typing, packing, cooking, reading, lifting, streaking, driving…
• Acting out the reactions in your story:
       Surprise, shock, elation, anger, frustration, relief, sadness, despair, joy…
• Portraying the conversations in your story:
       Telephone, two-character, self-talk…
• Revealing your decision-making process:
       Which choice to make, what to do next, good vs bad options, who to call…

Take Them Inside the Story

At the end of my keynotes and workshops, people share with me that they felt like they were inside my story as I was telling it. For example, after telling my Streaking Story, one person told me, “I was sitting at a street-side table having dinner as you ran past us!” Another told me, “I was in the crowd at the end of the alley watching you get handcuffed and thrown into the police car.” Story Theater invites people inside your story.

Kinesthetic and Visceral Stimulation

I’ve now been teaching the Story Theater Method for over 25 years. What I’ve learned is that Story Theater stories are more engaging and compelling because they stimulate a physical and visceral response. People don’t just listen to these stories, they see, feel and experience them.

Why is this important? Most presentation put people into a content coma. They’re chock full of important information, but often devoid of emotional stimulation. Without some form of visceral and emotional stimulation, presentations fail to achieve their intended purpose. The presentation wastes people’s time, and the presenter is often blamed for being boring. Kinesthetic and visceral stimulation is needed to engage the listener and emotionally move them to really “get” and remember your message.

Standing Ovation Storytelling

Do you want a standing ovation? Do you want your stories to be remembered long after your presentation is over? Do you want your stories to inspire people to new thinking and action? Do you need to take your stories to the next level of authenticity, engagement and relevance? Put some Story Theater into your stories and you will be amazed at the difference it makes.

My streaking story was always a good story, but it was never hilarious until I acted it out. No one ever shrieked with laughter before. It’s as if the Story Theater Method transformed my story from black and white to technicolor.

The acting parts of your story are right there waiting for you to have some fun with them. And, you don’t have to be an actor to use these techniques in your story. All you have to do is look for the actions, reactions, decisions and conversations in your story, and SHOW them.

Standing ovation storytelling is within your reach. Let’s work on it together.


Doug Stevenson is the author of Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method and is an internationally recognized speaker and trainer on strategic storytelling for leadership, sales and marketing. For over 20 years has has taught the science of the art of storytelling in 18 countries. He had delivered over 1,000 keynotes and training courses for corporations, associations and government agencies.

His clients include Google, Verizon, Coca Cola, NBC, Deloitte, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Pfizer, Con Agra Foods, Caterpillar, Microsoft, SAP, Wells Fargo, US Bank, USAA, Aetna, Lockheed Martin, The American Education Assn, The National Association of Realtors, The American Medical Association, Rockwell Collins, Junior Achievement, Amgen, AAA, Oracle University, Red Bull, Deco Proteste, Asurion, Medstar Hospitals and hundreds of associations and non-profits.

Contact Doug at 1-719-310-8586 or email: [email protected]. Visit his website at:


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