I design strategic stories that make change easier.

Leading change has never been harder. Today’s workers are too busy, distracted, exhausted and apathetic to read five-year plans and watch hour-long slideshows. And that’s a problem – because you can’t get them to support your work if they don’t understand what you’re doing, why it matters or how they fit in.

Stories make change easier. In fact, the latest neuroscience confirms that we are hard-wired to respond to stories. That’s why I’ve been using stories for 35 years as an award-winning filmmaker and strategist, to help 100+ leaders change the world.

Now, I’ve found an even better way to create strategic stories that align, activate and attract people to your work. My approach, called story design, combines design thinking and storytelling to clarify and bring your preferred future to life. It produces strategic stories that help people experience change in a safe and fun way that empowers and engages them in your quest.

You need a better way to lead change. I can help.

To learn more, explore my services and impact stories, and sign up for my newsletter.

My job is to help you turn stories into power.

I can design strategic stories with you – or teach you to do it yourself.

Story Design. I work with you and your team to define your story goals, identify your audiences, develop your story, test it for impact and launch it across your networks. If you choose, I can also set up systems to collect and evaluate impact stories, to help you measure success.

Story Training. I offer group workshops and 1:1 coaching to teach strategic story design to audiences across North America. Get in touch for more information on the courses below.

Story Design Courses

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.

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.

Carol Broomhall, Senior Manager Communications & Resource Development, Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion

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.

Tim Joyce, Vice-President, SoundVenture Productions

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.

Melissa Pitts, Director, UBC Press

I personally have been tremendously impressed with Denise’s abilities. She has a real knack for telling stories.

Colette Watson, VP Television & Broadcast Operations, Rogers Television

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.

Moura Quayle, Director, Public Policy School, UBC

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.

Cheeying Ho, Executive Director, Whistler Centre for Sustainability

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.

Gord Tulloch, Director of Innovation, posAbilities