Signature Stories 2

by Doug Stevenson 2004

This is the “Signature Stories” Issue – Part Two


“It is far better to cover three points that people remember and implement, than twenty- seven points that no one can remember. Speaking success is measured not by the volume of material disseminated, but rather by the velocity of change that results from the presentation.”
Doug Stevenson – Story Theater International Founder


Signature Stories: Part Two – What’s the Point?


Last article I asked you to pick three stories that had the potential to become signature stories – stories that you wanted to develop and use time and again. The criteria for choosing your stories are as follows:

* You learned a life lesson

* It was a memorable experience

* It was powerful and made a lasting impression on you

* It was a turning point for you

* There was a clear and present danger or obstacle

* You’ll enjoy telling the story for years to come

This month, I’ll guide you through the Nine Steps of Story Structure. These steps will provide you with the architecture of your story. Using these steps, you’ll learn how to write and craft the narrative of the story so that it has all of the elements of a good story, including one clear and concise point.

Before we go into the nine steps, I want you to ask a question in regards to each story you are about to craft. What’s the point? If you don’t know what the point of the story is before you begin, you will most likely waste a lot of time. If your time is as valuable as mine, you cannot afford to make this common mistake.

I help a lot of salespeople develop the stories they use in their sales presentations. Salespeople, because they have limited time to make their presentations, understand that their stories must be strategic. Their stories are sales tools used for a specific and dynamic purpose.

I also do quite a few “train the trainer” workshops for corporate trainers. They need my help to make their content come alive, to enliven dull and technical information and to bring some entertainment and emotion to their presentations. I believe that trainers often think of stories as diversions – confections – that change the mood and shift the energy in the room. They sometimes think of them as entertainment, rather than as vehicles to teach or make a point. This was brought home to me recently, in a train the trainer session, when a trainer asked, “Do all stories have to have a point? Can’t some of them just be for fun?”

Please understand, I am an entertainer. My background is theater, musical comedy and rock ‘n roll. I’m all for entertainment and fun…but in the business world, even the fun has to be strategic. Everything that I do in front of an audience is strategic. There is no fluff, no filler. I use my Streaking Story (an Imbroglio story) in the middle of a keynote or training to make a point about the liberating benefit of confronting fear and taking risks. Because it is a hilarious story, it also lifts the energy in the room and lightens the mood. I follow this hilarity and laughter with a powerful Minerva story that is much more somber and emotional. It makes the point that we often carry destructive burdens from the past into the present and that we must Put Them Down and move on.

These two stories are strategically chosen and sequenced to serve a purpose. The fact that one story entertains as it is making a point is a conscious choice. That it precedes a story that is much heavier is also strategic. They are part of the architecture of a keynote.

If you are speaking to a business audience, all of your stories must have one clear and concise point that serves the overall objective of the training session, sales presentation or keynote.

Therefore, as we move through the Nine Steps of Story Structure consider this…the point of the story is the destination. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll get lost along the way. Once you have chosen a story, jump immediately to Step Seven, Make the Point. Once you have defined the one point the story makes, you are ready to return to Step One and begin crafting your story.

Step One – Set the Scene

In step one; create the context for the story. Take your listener to a specific time and place. To do this, close your eyes and allow yourself to go back in time. Visualize the setting. What was the time of day or year? Use all five senses to recall specific details. Create a tapestry of images and sensations that your listener can relate to. What was going on emotionally, physically or spiritually? This step is the first step in weaving a magical spell that will compel your listener to leave their current reality and enter into your imaginary reality. Write down everything that comes to mind and then edit out that which is non-essential.

Step Two – Introduce the Characters

Help your listener see, feel and relate to the main characters in your story with visual descriptions. Think about height, weight, coloring, clothing and age. Mention pertinent details about your relationship. Consider their quirks, habits and behavior. You may wish to add a character voice when describing them or physically mimic their posture or physique. Do this with key characters only. Secondary characters do not require this level of attention. Introduce the characters when they appear in the story.

Step Three – Begin the Journey

What is the assignment, the goal, the journey? Where do you have to go? Who do you have to connect with? What is the challenge? Examples of journeys are: attending a business meeting in Austin, Texas; picking your daughter up after soccer practice; running in a 10K race for charity.

Step Four – Encounter the Obstacle

Without an obstacle, there is no story. The obstacle creates conflict, friction and drama. Some one or some thing must get in your way and make the journey interesting. The obstacle may be a person, a challenge to overcome or a self-limiting belief. It can be a flat tire on the way to an appointment or a supervisor that stands in the way of your success. If your story is an Imbroglio Story, exaggerate the obstacle to make it funny. If it is a Crucible Story, develop the drama and go deep to find real emotion.

Step Five – Overcome the Obstacle

How did you overcome the obstacle? What strength did you have to summon? Was there someone who helped you? Think the thoughts and feel the feeling of that moment in time. Be specific here. Break your solution down into logical steps in sequence. This is where the teaching and/or selling occurs. Go “in” and show how you overcame the obstacle. Re-live it. In Step Five you “seed” the story with the first mention of the point.

Step Six – Resolve the Story

Tie up any loose ends and make sure your audience knows how everything turned out. What happened to the other people, to your helper? Go back over your story for logic and hear it as the listener will hear it.

Step Seven – Make the Point

It is important that your story has one clear point. Too many points confuse the issue. One story, one point. Be concise. The fewer words you use to make the point, the better. The point must flow logically and effortlessly from the story. Write out the point and memorize it. Make it simple and easy to remember. This is where you insert your “Phrase That Pays.”

Step Eight – Ask the Question

Make your story their story by asking a question like: “How about you?” or “Has something like that ever happened to you?” Turn the point into a question. If the point was, “From that experience, I learned to take the initiative rather than waiting for permission,” you can ask the questions, “How about you? Do you take the initiative or wait for permission?” Follow that question with another that directly relates to the issue at hand. Push their buttons. This step makes your story pertinent to them and their issues. It adds power to your point.

Step Nine – Re-state the Point

Although I only recently named this step as the “ninth” step, I have been teaching it for years. In my book, Never Be Boring Again, I changed the Eight Steps of Story Structure to The Nine Steps, adding this step as the official ninth step. In Step Seven you make the point by stating what you learned from the experience. In Step Eight you bring your listener in by asking them if they, like you, have experienced similar challenges. As they are nodding their heads in affirmation, you conclude the story by re-stating your point. This time however, you state it as a call to action. It is more a command or forceful suggestion than a revelation. This is where you also re-introduce the Phrase That Pays.

Using The Nine Steps of Story Structure will make your story crafting easier and insure that you will develop a logically flowing story with a solid point.


Copyright 2005 by Doug Stevenson. Reprinted with permission. Doug Stevenson is the creator of the Story Theater Method. He is an author, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. Reach Doug at or 800.573.6196