June 12, 2018

The Peanut Butter Principle

She was my first dog. A rescue. I got her when she was just six weeks old – a cute little black Labrador Retriever puppy.  I named her Jaya and we went everywhere together.

The year was 1981. I was trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood and it wasn’t going well. The only constant in my life was the unconditional love and companionship of my best buddy, Jaya.

One day, when she was about two years old, she didn’t want to eat her dinner. I knew something was wrong because she’d been lethargic all day. So, I took her to the vet to see what was wrong.

The vet examined her and told me that she had a little “doggy cold,” and handed me a bottle of pills. “Give her one of these pills at breakfast and one at dinner.” She gave me a short tutorial on giving a dog a pill and sent me on my way.

That night at dinner I called Jaya over and proceeded to give her the pill. I opened her mouth and shoved the pill way down in the back of her throat, like I had been instructed to do. Then I held her mouth closed and waited for her to swallow the pill.

She just sat there staring at me with those big brown eyes. I waited for some indication that she’d swallowed the pill, but I couldn’t tell. After about a minute, I assumed that she’d swallowed it and I let go of her mouth. To my surprise, she spit the pill out like it was some foul-tasting kale!

She started wagging her tail, apparently relieved that I’d let go of her mouth.  I, on the other hand, had dog saliva and a gooey pill in my hands. I made two more failed attempts to give her the pill, using the same process, and then decided I needed a new approach.

I called my friend John who had a dog. “John, Jaya is sick and I can’t get her to swallow her pill. I’ve tried sticking it in the back of her throat, but she keeps spitting it out. What should I do?”

“Get some peanut butter and hide the pill in the peanut butter.” He told me that Jaya would be so interested in the peanut butter, that she’d swallow the pill along with it. So that’s what I did. I spooned out some peanut butter into my hand, stuck the pill in the middle of the peanut butter, and called Jaya.

I knelt and held my hand out to her. And sure enough, she ate the peanut butter and the pill. Problem solved. Lesson learned. Hide the pill in the peanut butter.

Fast forward twenty years. I’d left Hollywood and was living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I’d made the transition from acting, to professional speaking and teaching storytelling to business professionals. I’d written a book on the subject and had become a go-to expert on how to use a story to make a point, engage an audience and sell a product or service. My clients ran the gamut from high-tech, healthcare and pharma to food, finance and telecommunications.

One day, I was on the phone with Marina, a a VP of sales from a large pharmaceutical company.

“Doug, we know we need to become better storytellers because we’re too dependent on the science and data that backs up our drug. We’re shoving our content down people’s throats and it’s just not working. We want to be more patient-centric with the doctors and nurses we talk to, but there is a certain amount of data we need to share, by law. Can you help us?”

Now get this – that very morning I’d given my third dog, a sweet black lab named Beulah, a pill. Of course, I hid the pill in the peanut butter, because I’d learned that that’s what worked.

When I heard this executive say that they were shoving their content down people’s throats, something clicked. I described to the executive how I’d learned to give my dog a pill by hiding it in the peanut butter, and that that’s what they needed to do. The “pill” is good medicine – good information – but it’s often hard to swallow if it’s presented with too much data, facts and science. The peanut butter is the story. It’s what makes the pill easy to swallow – and it sticks!

As we continued the conversation, I explained to Marina that there was a way to strategically embed the most important data inside a story, in a way that accomplished their objective. It wasn’t a question of data OR story, but rather data INSIDE story.

That was the moment The Peanut Butter Principle was born. The principle is simply this: Stories create context for content. They are the peanut butter that makes the pill easier to swallow.

Over the years, I’ve had the same conversation with many of my clients. They want to connect with their customers, stakeholders, and employees.  I helped them move from talking only about facts, data, features and benefits, to telling stories.  People relate to stories about other people who share their problems and concerns. With the right story, crafted strategically to achieve a business objective, everybody wins.

Content-heavy presentations that rely on data, facts, and pie-charts, delivered with an endless barrage of bullet points, fail to connect with most listeners. They tend to put people into a content coma. It’s not that the content isn’t important or valuable, it just hard to process when presented that way. If your presentations are all pill, and no peanut butter, your presentations will fail. But if you tell a strategically chosen and crafted story that gives meaning and context to the data, you’ll connect emotionally with the listeners and open the door to a more in-depth conversation.

Learn to implement The Peanut Butter Principle in your business presentations, and you will be more persuasive, influential, and profitable. 


Doug Stevenson, CSP, has been teaching people how to tell their stories more effectively for over 20 years. His clients include Microsoft, Google, Oracle, SAP, Caterpillar, Genentech, Mead Johnson, Sanofi-Aventis, Wells Fargo, US Bank, State Farm, USAA, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Verizon, Coca Cola, Nurses At Home, Lockheed Martin, and many more. Whether Doug is presenting an entertaining and informative keynote or conducting a one-day storytelling seminar, his presentations are high-energy, highly-interactive, and fun-filled experiences.

Follow Doug on Twitter @DougStoryCoach; Facebook: Storytelling Mastery Fanpage; You Tube: Doug Stevenson; LinkedIn Group: Storytelling for Business

Partial list of Doug’s Corporate and Association Bookings:

  • Amgen Biotech – storytelling training for marketing
  • Microsoft – general session keynote on storytelling
  • US Bank – branch manager leadership training
  • Allergan Facial Aesthetics – Sell it with a Story
  • YPO–Manhattan – luncheon keynote for young executives
  • Caterpillar – opening keynote – global human resources conference
  • Con Agra Foods – storytelling for managers and directors
  • USAA Insurance – storytelling for leaders
  • Deloitte – Storytelling for Impactful Results workshops
  • Coca-Cola Latin America – storytelling for managers and leaders
  • Genentech Pharmaceuticals – future leader workshop
  • HCA-NY, Home Health Care Association – annual conference keynote
  • Wells Fargo Bank – storytelling training for media managers

Hire Doug for a keynote or training for your organization. Contact Deborah Merriman at       719-310-8586, or email her at deborah@DougStevenson.com

To learn more about Doug’s keynotes, corporate training, webinars, video eLearning and executive coaching, email: deborah@DougStevenson.com or visit our website at: www.storytelling-in-business.com.

To study this method with Doug, consider booking private coaching with Doug. For more information, contact Deborah@DougStevenson.com or call 719-310-8586.

All Rights Reserved. Printed in the United States of America. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

One thought on “The Peanut Butter Principle

    TypeError thrown

    call_user_func(): Argument #1 ($callback) must be a valid callback, function "twentyeleven_comment" not found or invalid function name