May 31, 2019

What’s Your Story Strategy? Business Storytelling for Leaders, Sales and Marketing

By Doug Stevenson, CSP

©2019 All Rights Reserved

When you go shopping at a shopping center or mall, there are a couple of large brand name stores that are called Anchors. These stores are strategically positioned at prime locations in the mall or shopping center. Positioned between these anchors are the smaller stores and restaurants. The anchor stores spend the most on advertising and attract the crowds.

From early on in my speaking career, I designed my speeches around two very popular anchor stories. One was my Streaking Story about going streaking as part of a acting class / theater exercise and getting arrested naked. The other was my Airport Story about deciding to travel to an after-dinner keynote speech on the same day as the speech, and almost being late to deliver my keynote. These were the anchor stories of my speeches.

Story Strategy One: Using Anchor Stories

The process of designing a presentation around one or two anchor stories is a story strategy.  Rather than starting by building PowerPoint slides with bullet lists, charts and graphs – you start by choosing the stories that create context for your content.

In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek suggests that we “start with why and follow with what and how.” Stories answer the WHY question better than most any other form of communication, and they create context. Without context, content is often hard to process.

After you choose your anchor stories, fill in the rest of your presentation with ideas and information customized to the event where you’re speaking. That may include other stories, processes, quotes, ideas, activities and lessons. My approach to every program I’ve delivered in the last 24 years has been to start by choosing my anchor stories. I do it because it works. It works to keep my audience engaged and it works because they remember the stories.

To use the story strategy of anchor stories, you must first acknowledge what the research into adult learning has been revealing for over 20 years: facts fade, data gets dumped, but stories stick. People not only process new information more easily when it is presented in story form, but also their retention and comprehension is enhanced. They recall more information and with greater accuracy that when information is presented only in a logical, fact-based manner.

In other words, start with a story, follow with facts and data.

Story Strategy Two: Start with the End in Mind

How do you find the stories that best say what you want to say?  Although not all the key points of your presentation have to be conveyed by a story, it is essential to include at least one or two stories to keep your presentation engaging and stimulate the imagination of your listeners.  Stories captivate attention and create imagery and emotion.

To find the right stories for the right points, answer the following questions when designing your presentation:

  • What is the one idea or concept I want people to remember?
  • What is the lesson or point I want them to understand?
  • When and where did I learn that lesson or point?
  • Should I use a personal story as a metaphor to teach that lesson?
  • Should I use a business story to illustrate that lesson?
  • How do I want them to feel at the end of my presentation?

In order to design a presentation that achieves your goals, you have to know what the end result looks and feels like. Don’t just throw everything and the kitchen sink into your presentation. The more information you include, the less they remember. Most people include two or three times more content into a presentation than is realistic to cover in the allotted time they have been given. Too much content means you rush through it, which is counterproductive and boring. Not to mention way more content than their listeners can digest and remember!

If your intention is to make your message stick – tell a story. If you need to be memorable and make a positive impression – tell a story. If it’s critical that you inspire people to think in a different way or to change their behavior – tell a story.


Doug Stevenson, CSP, is a storytelling-in-business keynote speaker, trainer and speaking coach. He collaborates with salespeople, leaders, professional speakers, trainers and fundraisers to help them make a point, teach a lesson or sell a product or service. He has delivered storytelling keynotes and training in 18 countries and has coached thousands of business professionals who need to improve their storytelling skills to advance to the next level.

Doug is the author of Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method, and the How to Write and Deliver a Dynamite Speech System.  Some of his clients include Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Cisco, Deloitte, SAP, Aetna, Amgen, Bristol Myers-Squibb, Genentech, Pfizer, Novartis, Wells Fargo, US Bank, Medstar Hospitals, NBC, Verizon, Red Bull, Lockheed Martin, Coca Cola, Caterpillar, The American Medical Association and hundreds more.

Contact Doug at [email protected]

or call 1-719-310-8586.

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