There were three men and three women at the Story Theater Retreat in Colorado Springs last weekend – a nice balance of energies. Each of the six participants came to develop their stories for presentation to a business audience. Interestingly enough, two of the female participants shared a ...There were three men and three women at the Story Theater Retreat in Colorado Springs last weekend – a nice balance of energies. Each of the six participants came to develop their stories for presentation to a business audience. Interestingly enough, two of the female participants shared a common malady.

Having worked with and coached hundreds of women, I am only now beginning to grasp the scope of the problem. Although it is more pervasive in women - it is not purely a women’s issue – many men deal with it in a different way. So listen up men – this applies to you too!

Regardless of their culture, body type or ethnicity, this pattern of behavior rears its ugly head time and again. Many women are afraid to spread their wings. It’s as if their elbows are stitched to their sides and any large gesture involving powerful arms and shoulders immediately labels them as unprofessional. These two women, like hundreds of businesswomen that I’ve witnessed before them - were afraid of their physical power.

This issue first came to light during Charlotte’s story. Her issue, ingrained in her since childhood, was the need to be “proper.” It manifested itself with a contained and ladylike posture, graceful movement and elbows that never moved away from her body. The only problem was, her story was about going on a river-rafting trip and falling overboard. She wanted to portray flailing around in the churning white water – hard to do with your elbows velcro’d to your ribs!

Diane’s story was about her experience taking a Taekwondo class. It required her to demonstrate some of the choreographed martial arts movements she learned. In the story, Diane’s obstacle was fear and self-doubt. In order to overcame her fear she was challenged to break as board with her foot. The only problem was, she was re-enacting the movement without the power required to convince an audience that she actually broke the board. She too was holding herself back – even though her story called for a decisive and powerful kick.

From what I understand, it seems that women are programmed from a very early age to be ladylike and contained with their movement. There are spoken and unspoken taboos about being too physical or powerful. Even in our modern culture where for the first time, there are female athletes, female speakers seem tentative about exhibiting powerful movement, even when their story calls for it.

In Story Theater, the storyteller is required to re-create the reality of the moment that is being portrayed. The actor/actress/storyteller cannot let their fears and inhibitions detract from the power of the moment. To do so saps the power of the story. If the moment calls for the actress to break a board with her foot – it must be done with the same force in performance as it was done in the original moment.

If the storyteller is portraying nearly drowning in churning white water – the thrashing and gasping must be believable regardless of the actress inhibitions. In both cases, and in numerous cases before, these storytellers knew instinctively what was needed, but their unfamiliarity with their own physical power held them back.

In the end, Charlotte broke free of her “proper” mental shackles and portrayed flailing around in the white water with such conviction that she left us breathless. With her arms waving over her head and her body twirling around, she re-created the danger inherent in the story. Charlotte spread her magnificent wings and unleashed the power that was there all along.

Diane summoned the power that earned her a brown belt in Teakwondo - to break the imaginary board as powerfully in her story as she broke the real board. As she got out of her own way, Diane began to move her entire body with more conviction during the narrative as well as the acting moments of her story. In the end, she spoke like someone with a Brown Belt in Taekwondo rather than an appropriately demure professional speaker.

Far too many women come to me with clipped wings – but it’s not just a women’s issue. I see it way too often in both men and women. It is about being powerful, both physically and emotionally, in service of a message that can transform an audience. When it is used freely and without apology, your power will cause you to raise your voice, to use a full range of motion with your hands and arms and to move through space like a tiger rather than as lamb.

Power is large and it is small, loud and quiet, compassionate and angry. There is no need to contain your power – when it is used appropriately in the context of a moment in a story. The best speakers and trainers don’t hold back – they let their audience have it. They claim their power and share it with others.

Spread your wings. Open your arms wide and feel the power in your shoulders. Use a full range of motion. Expand your reach. Body is language. What language are you speaking?

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Author's Bio: 

Doug Stevenson, president of Story Theater International, is a storytelling in business expert. He is the creator of The Story Theater Method and the author of the book, Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method.

His keynote, training and executive coaching clients include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, Bristol Myers Squibb, Wells Fargo, Amgen, Volkswagen, Century 21, The Department of Defense, The National Education Association and many more.

His 10 CD - How to Write and Deliver a Dynamite Speech audio learning system is a workshop in a box. It contains an 80-page follow along workbook. Learn more at:

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Doug can be reached at 1-800-573-6196 or 1-719-573-6195. Learn more about the Story Theater Method, purchase the book, eBook or Story Theater audio six pack, and sign-up for the free Story Theater newsletter at: