Make Your Message
Stick with Stories


© by Doug Stevenson

You can give a presentation that’s a dazzling display of information and your vast intellectual knowledge, but when all is said and done, people remember the stories.

Why do people remember stories but no other information?

Studies about how adults learn show that memory is formed when a person’s attention is engaged over a sustained period of time, and it is enhanced when auditory, visual and kinesthetic senses are stimulated.

In his book, The Owners Manual for the Brain, Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D.,explains how memory is formed. The immediate memory is like a buffer area that can hold thousands of pieces of data for two seconds or less. The short-term memory is a like a broker that selects chunks of data to remember, but it takes about eight seconds of attention to add one new chunk of short-term memory. A new chunk of short-term memory becomes long-term memory when your attention is engaged over a sustained period of time.

When you listen to a great storyteller, you hear the story with your head, heart and soul. You’re not a passive listener - you’re an active participant. You’re experiencing the story as if it was yours. You feel what the storyteller feels, and see what the storyteller sees.  You memorize and retain the chunks of information contained in the story because you see the images, hear the sounds, and feel the emotions.  The story engages your attention on many levels, for a sustained period of time, so when the storyteller makes the point, the learning sticks.  Storytelling transcends an intellectual experience.

When you cram a ton of information into a training session or presentation to a group or a meeting with one or a few senior clients, you’re doing a data dump on your audience!  The problem is, they can’t process your data as fast as you can dump it. Their brain gets stuck in immediate and short-term memory mode. You dump the data on them and they dump the data into their mental trash bin. Nothing sticks. Yet, have you ever sat in an all-day training and had a hard time remembering anything the speaker said, but still you were able to go back to the office and re-tell their stories? This is because stories stick.

In my Story Theater Retreats and Workshops, I perform stories as tutorials. In one story, I act out my experience when I went streaking in the summer of 1974 in Westwood, California and got arrested, naked, by the LAPD cops. When I’m finished performing the story, I ask my students to describe what they experienced. Some say they watched me streak past them as if they were standing in the movie theater line on the sidewalk. Some describe my 1962 Volkswagen bus with a psychedelic paint job or the sound of the cop’s sirens and the flashing lights. Some describe anxiety or embarrassment, and some even say they felt the hot and humid summer night air as they ran right along with me.  

For a story to come alive and captivate an audience, the content, structure and performance must be crafted strategically. The story itself is only a beginning. Storytelling is an art and the storyteller, the artist. And, all artists need tools. The actor needs a stage, props and costumes. The musician needs her instrument. The artist needs his brushes and paint. And the storyteller needs form, content and presentation skills and techniques. The great storytellers distinguish themselves not just by their talent, but also by their dedication to their craft. They think about their stories constantly. They structure the sequence and flow of the story, and experiment to find the right words that are genuinely theirs. They work on a gesture or movement until it is just right. Then they rehearse it over and over until it becomes second nature – the line and the gesture effortlessly married together. They incorporate acting skills and turn their stories into little theatrical events.

In order to have an end result that is amazing, you will have to spend many hours working on your story. Your story must be worked and re-worked, formed and re-formed.  You’ll want to find the drama and comedy of your stories and let them shine. You’ll create a combination of “show and tell” to fully engage the audience – narrating some parts of the story, and “stepping into” the present moment of other parts to act them out.  You’ll want to make your content come alive with Story Theater!

As a speaker, trainer or teacher, if you want your points to stick, then stories are your super glue. Use stories to make a point, teach a lesson and move people to action.  Make your stories truly memorable by making them come alive with Story Theater.  People remember the stories.

Doug Stevenson – president of Story Theater International and author of Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method and The How to Write and Deliver a Dynamite Speech System – can be reached at 1-800-573-6196 or 1-719-573-6195 or

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