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Dr James McCabe

The Story Doctor

Specialist Subjects
Dr James McCabe

The Story Doctor


The purpose of a story is to build a tribe. Not just a team of employees or a posse of customers but a tribe than spans workers, clients, partners and members of the public. In the old days that was done using rhetorical means – essentially by crafting messages and statements in various forms including marketing and communications. But in today’s scattered landscape with everyone working regularly from home and permanently connected to multiple smart screens, captive audiences no longer exist for rhetoric to work.


Instead, more and more companies are following the lead of brands like Apple and Disney – and leading with dramatic narrative, with storytelling. The language of the arts and culture, drama represents a parallel language to persuasion and connects at the deeper level of involvement. We’re not persuaded of our families, our football team or our favourite band – the connection is much deeper than mental persuasion. The best kinds of audience to generate are fans – fanatics passionately involved with your brand and your organization’s vision.


Dr James McCabe is a unique speaker and coach in this space, helping to pioneer the application of narrative design across business functions, sectors and geographies in the last twenty-five years. A published and award-wining creative writer with deep learning from the arts, James applies the timeless, trusted strategies of great storytellers to complex business challenges of all kinds – from leadership and reputation to strategy, brand and culture.


There are also five major life phases to modern organizations – from starting up and growing to taking over other entities, coming back from crisis and ultimately evolving into something totally different. Each of these phases also represents a narrative challenge – and a story opportunity for you to bond with your old audience and connect with wider ecosystems.


Originally from Dublin and with an Oxford literary doctorate, James has decades of international experience across industries and all the major communicative functions – from leading and selling to strategic development and people experience. His focus can be applied to any one sector, brand or business role – and his unique range and depth of knowledge, insights and recommendations will create a critical mass to move any-sized audience events.



Fable, the Art of Story

The word fable – like the words saga and epic – originally means ‘what is spoken’. Storytelling is associated with the media and with big events but is actually the basis of human conversation. In a new economy of experiences and ecosystems, storytelling is the natural language of customer-centric commerce. Storytellers always begin with their audience – not their message. This keynote talk reveals the essential differences between mere persuasion and actual involvement – and shares how all the great storytellers of the past have created not just their audiences but how they feel. The art of story replaces the authority, logic and proof of rhetoric with the empathy, suspense and surprise of drama – and it is today’s force multiplier for any corporate or organizational change initiative from strategy and business remodelling to individual new products and services. This talk also covers:


  • The classic design templates great storytellers have leveraged
  • Essential differentiation between rhetorical persuasion and dramatic involvement
  • Examples good and bad from across the business and corporate environment
  • Personalized recommendations for your own emerging narrative and corporate voice


The Evolution Story

In today’s highly dynamic and unpredictable environment, evolving is what most organizations must do – not simply grow in size and scope but adapt to external changes before they happen. Great evolution stories such as Apple reflect the driving role of narrative before all other corporate decisions in terms of value chain, business model, markets and products. The Greeks always designed their cities from scratch – and they always started with the theatre – the theatron or place of seeing. Why? Because drama creates tribal cohesion and once your tribe has been bonded anything is possible. What kind of corporate change are you undergoing? Is this more than a digital transformation or a sustainability drive? Are you on top of your narrative identity and future so you can choose who and what you want to be? From automotive producers to banks and retailers, the business world is alive with protagonists in massive metamorphosis. Many are experiencing structural changes that haven’t happened since the birth of their industry itself. Storytelling is a critical skillset – a body of knowledge and a way of thinking about change that will bring everyone else along.


  • The difference between a growth story and an evolution one
  • What to change and what to keep as you narrate a new future
  • The dramatic models that help you navigate change successfully
  • Evolving the nature of value in your business from cost to time and risk


The Narrative Experience

Experience has replaced products and services to become the signature brand impact nowadays. No longer a question of digital or analogue, experiences meld different dimensions seamlessly and offer the customer an individuated real-time event – each time. Experience is, in the common parlance, immersive. Storytelling is the immersive equivalent of communication and transmedia storytelling is what brand experiences need to succeed. In this cutting-edge keynote, Dr McCabe explores the relevance of transmedia narratives to modern organizations both within and beyond the walls of the institution. Narratives are at once tellable, eventful and – most of all – memorable. How does your brand earn its attention and how does it reward deeper engagement? As more and more companies ideate beyond manufacturing and technology into media and creativity, storytelling is uniquely equipped to dramatize those new ideas and transform them into unforgettable emotions. This keynote will appeal to any decision maker and organization looking to amplify their impact beyond things.


  • Why narratives are the new products
  • How attaching stories to products and services makes them experiential
  • The transmedia models used by famous studios and breakthrough creators
  • ‘Learning by inquiry’ as the basis for all great storytelling



Navigating Change, Narrating Value

Change is the great constant, but today’s changes are so exponential and interconnected as to present wholly new challenges in anticipation and adaptation. Story’s essential role within organization is to navigate emerging changes and narrate new forms of value. Stories help your audience not only understand the future but experience and ‘remember’ it before it happens. Dr McCabe considers how dramatic narrative can accelerate buy-in and simplify the process of business change so that the organization becomes a learning platform. Messages and statements can define and describe change – but only narrative and stories can dramatize and embed it. The word narrative shares its original meaning – knowing – with the word science. Science knows things by experiment, but stories share knowledge by experience. All great stories represent metamorphosis – the grand alchemy that is also at work within great brands and business cultures. Discover the secret code of your unique transformation – and share your story with a whole new world of customers, employees, investors and citizens.


  • Stories as vehicles of change that engage the human mind and heart
  • Finding the word hoard beyond jargon and cliché to capture new value
  • Enabling and empowering a new culture of critical decision-making
  • Crafting a story vision and strategy to drive continuous transformation


Commerce with the Muse

Once upon a time, work and play were two different things. We reserved rhetoric – the language of persuasion – for work and public life while drama – the language of involvement – became the idiom of culture, and the arts. But today, entertainment in its truest form (meaning holding human attention between two moments of time, between two people) has become the acme of commercial performance. It is no coincidence that the two commercial entities to be valued at over a trillion dollars each – Apple and Amazon – are also film studios. These companies understand that there is something even more significant than the power of digital technology – the power of human ideas and emotions. Modern organizations are learning from the arts and media how to earn the human attention they crave and – whether it’s in multi-media or even in the way they think and talk – learning to narrate and ‘storytell’ instead of explain and persuade. Rhetoric may persuade audiences – but cannot create those audiences to start with. Commerce with the Muse looks at how you too can adopt narrative strategies and techniques to grow your audience and build tribes around new ideas.


  • Why story and drama predate and precede rhetorical persuasion
  • How cultures of all kinds revolve around their essential narratives
  • Aspiring to the condition of art – how creative narration captivates attention
  • The ascendant role of storytelling with a world of attention economics
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