Marketing & Communications

Storytelling Over Statistics

By Sarah Sain, CAE • August 23, 2016

Modern Association Storytelling 620 x 330


Stories have a power that facts don’t.


Scott Steen, CAE, FASAE
Scott Steen, CAE, FASAE

That was the lesson at “Becoming Your Association’s Storyteller in Chief,” a riveting Learning Lab by American Forests President & CEO Scott Steen, CAE, FASAE at the 2016 ASAE Annual Meeting. Steen opened by telling a tale about his childhood, and he interspersed his own stories and experiences throughout his session in order to drive home the power of storytelling.


As a former association executive and now head of a national conservation organization, Steen often speaks to crowds, but how he approaches audiences has evolved throughout the years. Today, instead of looking to inform his audience solely with facts and figures, his goal is to inspire. He said by connecting on an emotional level, his audience is more engaged.


The lesson for association leaders is that by making your audience care, it moves them to action – whether that’s renewing a membership, volunteering or donating to your foundation or PAC.

Here are Steen’s five essential principles to great storytelling:

  1. Parachute in. Steen said you have seconds to capture an audience, so don’t start with small talk about the weather or by thanking sponsors. Instead, thank your sponsors by delivering a great speech that engages your audience.
  2. Your first and last words matter the most – make them count. Your first words in your story invite people in, and your last words drive home your point.
  3. Remember the Goldilocks Principle. Details are vitally important to your story. But too few and you don’t capture your audience’s attention, and too many and you risk overwhelming or boring them. Find just the right amount of detail to drive your narrative forward.
  4. Use poetic language. Storytelling gives you permission to use language in a way that you wouldn’t in a traditional speech or everyday conversation. Choose words that will have an impact.
  5. Silence – don’t fear it. Silence has the power to make your audience stop, think and feel something. It can be a scary but extremely effective tool in connecting with your audience.

Steen said storytelling is a skill that everyone can learn. All it takes is guts and the courage to open up about personal experiences and connect on a deeper level.


Sarah Sain is a senior content strategy & development manager at Naylor Association Solutions.