The state of storytelling in 2016 – insights from the ATD2016 conference

Posted by  Mark Schenk —June 16, 2016
Filed in Business storytelling, News

In mid-May I was in Denver for the ATD 2016 conference. It was a huge affair and there were about 11,000 participants, many from overseas. Near the end of the conference, I recorded the following video clip giving an update on the state of storytelling from the conference.

There were 14 presentations on storytelling. This highlights just how ubiquitous the notion of storytelling is. But, there were many different takes on storytelling on display. Here are a few observations.

Storytelling? Really?

Numerous presentations had storytelling in the title but had very little to do with storytelling per se. These presentations covered topics like content creation, branding and instructional design. I love this 2-minute video clip from Stephan Stagmeister that nicely sums up my thoughts on presentations like this. Beware, it’s got some strong language.


Several presentations purported to convey important concepts about storytelling but had very few stories. Some had no stories at all…none. This is one of our pet hates – there is no point giving a presentation on storytelling if you don’t have clear and relevant examples (stories) to illustrate your messages. Anyone can read a few books on the subject and put together a slide deck and lots of bullet points. I had to force myself to remain seated and not walk out of these sessions.

Entertainment and performance

There were several presentations from excellent professional storytellers. The best were The Second City from Chicago and Doug Stevenson. These presentations approached storytelling from entertainment, arts and performance perspectives. These were great presentations with some great stories told. But a word of warning…these folks are professional entertainers. In business, if you focus on performing your stories it can be easy to appear inauthentic.

Stand-out examples

State of Storytelling

Then there were the absolute standout presentations from people who don’t portray themselves as storytellers. In particular the keynote speakers Brene Brown and Simon Sinek. These sessions weren’t about storytelling, but they both built their presentations around their own experiences and told story after story. Great presentations, high impact and very memorable.

These were excellent examples showing how all of us can be effective storytellers.

As I sit at my desk and reflect back on the conference (which finished 2 weeks ago) the only content I remember clearly are the stories told by Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Doug Stevenson and The Second City. Not all that surprising really.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


  1. Bonnie Leedy says:

    Amen to this! So much being produced now talks about storytelling, but then you read the article or see the presentation and it is actually about marketing yourself or your company with nary a story in sight. I took a class from Shawn a while back and what an eye opening experience that was. I get it now and try to apply this without climbing on the bandwagon of using the words “storytelling” as a buzz word. I’m not good at it yet, but at least I recognize its power and what story actually is. Thanks to Anecdote!

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