I help leaders use story to create better futures.
With the world in crisis, today’s change-makers are under pressure to create impact. They need to get people to support their ideas, work together, overcome fear and try new things. They need a universal language we can all understand – a way to share insights from the past and hope for the future.
They need story. As the most powerful change tool in the world, story connects, inspires, empowers and delights us. I know. I’ve been using it to make change for 35 years, as an award-winning filmmaker and strategist.
My practice combines storytelling and design thinking into a kick-ass change framework called story design that’s enabled 100+ clients to grow their revenue, following, influence and capacity. If you’re ready to change your story for a better future, I can help.
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I’ve worked as a change strategist & storyteller for 35 years.
I launched my story career making white-water films in the mid-80s. After getting my feet thoroughly wet, I landed my first television gig, then spent the next twenty years writing and directing science documentaries for Discovery Channel. Ninety stories, eight awards and five continents later, the blight of reality TV wiped out the doc market, inspiring a career pivot.
I left the media and returned to school to study engagement design, earning a Master of Science and a Certificate in Adult Education. In 2010, I joined the b-school at the University of British Columbia, where I co-founded Canada’s first studio for strategic design. As the global demand for design services grew, I discovered new ways to use story to design change and returned to private practice to develop my own tools and techniques.
Since then, I’ve started three innovation labs, and led dozens of design sprints for b-schools, b-corps and governments. Today, my work focuses on finding new ways to combine strategic and story design to help change-makers maximize impact. I’ve taught at universities across Canada, contributed to journals like SSIR and published the book on story design. Most recently, I helped one of the world’s leading ocean conservation agencies go from start-up to superpower, doubling its size, reach and impact in less than a year.
For fun, I race outrigger canoes, hike with my dogs and start campfires in the rain.
You can hire me as a coach, consultant or creative.
Why work with me? I help you do more than just tell stories. I help you use story design to shape the future.
Why do I focus on story design instead of story telling? Because design is a problem-solving process. And great stories must be designed explicitly to solve specific problems – like how to get people to give you money, eat more vegetables, or vote. If you want to use story for change, you need to learn to design your stories with purpose.
Plus, design processes across industries are all pretty similar. Once you get the hang of story design, you can use that same process to design other things you might need – like strategies, campaigns, services or events. As a bonus, when you do that, you also create a story about the work you’re doing that you can easily share with partners or funders.
Story design combines the emotional power of storytelling with the innovative might of design thinking to create a valuable framework for change. Think of it as the evolution of storytelling.
Whether you’re brand new to story design or a Hollywood veteran, I can help you find new ways to use story to move people, on purpose™. Check out my services below or download my brochure.
Work with me through 1:1 coaching and workshops to learn the story design process that will help you research, create and share compelling stories. Choose from half and full days coaching sprints and workshops, or 3, 6 and 12 month storyteller-in-residence coaching engagements.
Hire me to develop a story strategy to guide story activities across your organization – from marketing to HR. Outcomes include a story audit, strategy map and training plan.
Or discover the power of story design to solve problems, make change and start something new. Through consulting projects, I can help you use story to research customers, find opportunities, define goals, prototype ideas and measure impact.
Engage me as a writer, director or producer to create original stories in all formats for use online, in presentations, and in person. Examples include impact, strategy, customer, leadership, origin, future and training stories.
I can also work with you or your team as an “Editor-in-Chief” to maximize your storytelling impact across your marketing, social media and communications platforms.
My clients are amazing change-makers.
It has been a wonderful journey, and you’ve been amazing to work with. I look forward to continuing our narrative navigations in 2015.
I’ve hired Denise as a writer on numerous projects and have ended up with many happy clients as a result of her attention to detail and keen sense of her craft.
Thank you so much for all of your ideas, support, and vision for UBC Press over the past number of months. You are not only truly excellent at what you do, but also a wonderful person with whom to work. Such smarts and humour! I shall miss our one-to-one meetings, as will my colleagues miss the larger gatherings.
I personally have been tremendously impressed with Denise’s abilities. She has a real knack for telling stories.
Denise is incredibly creative. She has so many ways to approach a challenge – she can always find a way to move forward.
Denise Withers is a one-of-a-kind strategic thinker and story-teller. Whenever I have the pleasure of working with Denise, I am in awe of her ability to ask just the right kind of question at just the right time. Denise is flexible, adaptable and a great listener. Plus she gets the job done.
Denise was fantastic to work with. She quickly grasped what we were trying to achieve – then designed and facilitated a fun, effective process to get people excited and collaborating. Everyone left the workshop feeling inspired – ready for action.
Denise has an amazing ability to help one really “think outside the box”, and be strategic in innovative ways. She is a great listener, who knows how to apply a variety of tools to make the work interesting, relevant and enjoyable. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with her!
I loved Denise’s model and working on it. Hands down one of the best tools for thinking through impact. I was very engaged. She is amazing.
It is always a pleasure working with Denise. She is insightful, knowledgeable, creative and engaging. She is guaranteed to surface important new learning whenever she applies her narrative research methodology to an issue.