Connect with Storytelling

And build the resilient creative life that makes it all possible.

Talks & workshops to help serious creatives build their work, life, & career

Past Clients & Events

Go Deep to Shift Perspectives


I've had grown men cry as a result of deeply personal, emotional realizations in the course of a short, large-group workshop.

I've had participants change gear completely as a result of finally making the link between their actions and results.

As a cartoonist and author with a highly-developed visual storytelling ability, I have been speaking and giving interactive, hands-on workshops to groups of 4 to 400, as well as teaching visual art and storytelling at the university level for 25 years.

Taking action immediately is the key to locking in and integrating learning, so I think of my audience as participants, not passive observers, challenging them to engage actively. My presentations are dynamic, interactive and heavily illustrated, leveraging the power of word-image juxtaposition to land complex ideas and make them memorable.

Part of my ethos is that each creative person needs to tailor their toolkit for building focus and creative productivity to their specific working style and life circumstances... so naturally I love to tailor my talks and workshops to your needs and your audience!

  • Customized lengths to suit your needs.
  • Worksheets, PDFs, ca be provided, or presented in a way that needs no materials at all.
  • Can arrange for book signings or giveaways for Growing Gills and Out On the Wire.

Jessica Abel Has Presented For:

Wizards of the Coast · Duolingo · Creative Mornings · Podcast Movement · Rain Taxi · Americans for the Arts · Peabody Essex Museum · University of Michigan Ross School of Business · Power of Narrative Conference · Atlantic Center for the Arts · Stockholm International Comics Festival · JCCSF Arts & Ideas series · University of Bordeaux · University of Missouri School of Journalism · University of Minnesota

We are all storytellers from Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel

Glue Your Audience With Transformative Storytelling

Stories are how you change minds, build brand loyalty, and truly help your customers, clients, colleagues, and larger audience.

These workshops are designed to help individuals and organizations of all kinds learn to use story effectively to connect with their audience and communicate their meaning clearly.

Storytelling allows the audience to walk in the shoes of someone else, seeing how the pieces fit together, feeling what they feel…This is even true for the “story” of an idea, told through evidence and example.

This process is how we can help an audience process and learn to care about new ideas, information, and people.

Stories are how we learn to care about global warming, or refugees, or monetary policy, or whatever your story is about.

Master three story frameworks that can help you sort good ideas from bad, and get you on track to an amazing story, fast.

You have a story that needs telling. Make sure your audience can hear it.

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Find Your Creative Focus and Finish the Work That Matters

Build Focus in a Distracted World, and Get Your Game-Changing Projects Finished

The key to success in life and career is tackling the large, ambitious, creative projects that are the real game-changers. Creative work is where we can produce our highest value, and, not incidentally, it's what gives life meaning.

"The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive."
― Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

What stands in the way of these demanding projects? Procrastination, perfectionism, overwhelm, and distraction.

Obstacles are inevitable. Fighting back is both essential and within the power of every person.

My Creative Focus methodology will get your attendees vaulting obstacles and taking action on creative projects, so that they not only become more productive, but they produce better work, with more personal satisfaction.

Storytelling Workshops & Talks


The Story Matrix Workshop

Your brand, podcast, blog post (or entire editorial strategy), client case studies, exhibition, nonfiction book, annual report, academic research, white paper… all these types of communication are "stories" that need to draw in a specific audience, create emotional connections, and communicate information and value.

We'll find the focus and the key differentiating factors that set your content, product, and marketing apart from all the others. The tools and techniques you'll learn in the Story Matrix Workshop will be endlessly useful for everything from that feature film screenplay you're working on to your next email that needs to get results.

The complete workshop is a three-part process that incorporates elements of the narrative arc, escalation, the story hook, and the underlying framing of the story, that will make it resonate with its intended audience.

Participants will take a story idea (fiction or nonfiction), product, or brand and forge it into an inspiring and highly functional narrative structure.

You'll leave the Matrix Intensive with…

  • A clear roadmap and tons of awesome ideas for story structure.
  • New directions for content development, and how to position your work for maximum visibility.
  • Key differentiating factors that set your story, product, or marketing apart from all the others.
  • Tools and techniques that are endlessly useful for everything from that feature film screenplay you're working on to your next email that needs to get results.

Three storytelling frameworks

The Story Matrix is layered framework that builds on two simpler frameworks, the XY Story Formula, and the Focus Sentence. It incorporating elements of the narrative arc, escalation, the story hook, and the underlying framing of the story, that will make it resonate with its intended audience. It can also be structured as a non-character-centric non-fiction argument, with parallel segments.


The format alternates short presentations, work time, discussion time, and hotseat group discussions.

The complete Story Matrix workshop (including all three frameworks) can be offered for a full day of two 3-hour sessions, or over two days: 5 hours on day one, and 4 hours on day 2. If the two-day format is the pick, it's best to schedule these days a week or two apart.

In the full-length, 2-day complete Story Matrix Workshop format, depending on the size of the group, there may be group discussion of each participant's story.

Shorter versions of the Matrix workshop, covering 1-2 of the frameworks, can last 1-4 hours. See description below, under "What's Your Angle?" 

Number of Participants

The complete Story Matrix workshop is well adapted to groups of 4-30 people.

Shorter formats can be offered to much larger groups, with the understanding that there's less individual contact in that scenario.

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  • How to find the real topic of your story.
  • How to figure out the angle that will glue your audience. 
  • How to find the motivation in a character that will support the full weight of your story
  • How to pinpoint the story obstacles that will propel the story and produce an audience dying to know what happens next! 


What’s Your Angle? The XY Story Formula

60-90 mins. 90 minutes preferred.

Or, add a second story framework for a slightly longer event. 

XY Story Formula + the Focus Sentence

3+ hours

This (short form) Story Matrix Workshop will cover two essential frameworks for storytelling that can support and improve everything from long-form fiction to a tweet.

In the second half of the workshop, we'll cover the Focus Sentence. This is an ultra-condensed narrative arc that helps you get get your story straight in a single sentence that clarifies the protagonist and motivation that drives the story and boil the protagonist's journey through the story down to its essence. With it, you can diagnose and clarify what your story has in place, what elements are missing, and quickly find solutions for flabby and confusing stories.

Number of Participants

The XY Story Formula, with or without the Focus Sentence can be offered as a presentation to large groups, even with a workshop element, assuming that participants will have somewhere to write. This assumes much less individual feedback. If hotseats and individual feedback are desired, longer formats and smaller groups will be necessary. 

Followup individual critiques are also available. 

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What’s Your Angle? The XY Story Formula

The XY Story Formula workshop will hand you a powerful tool for shaping your stories up, and making them sing. 

You can use it on virtually everything, from a multi-volume work of fiction to the next important email you write your boss! Flexible and adaptable, it’s easily applied to stories with no central character at all. It highlights the audience for the story, what will speak to them and get them engaged.

Whether you're working with a traditional character-based story or with something more abstract and idea-based, the XY Story Formula will help you clear the cobwebs and write clearly and powerfully so that your ideas arrive intact in the minds of your audience.

Creative Focus Workshops & Talks


Butt in Chair: 4 Steps to Beat Overwhelm and Procrastination

The unexpected way you can become a finisher (even if you feel like you suck at this!)

Do you struggle to make time for your creative work, even though you tell yourself that your creative projects are your number-one priority?

As a creative, you're deeply invested in your work: you care about making the best work you can, and your ability to do that rests on the tools you have available to break down and plan projects, choose your focus wisely, and face down resistance so that you can finish work on demand.

In this workshop you'll get a grip on your chaotic schedule and figure out how exactly to make sure that your comics come first, and you make progress on your dream project every week (or even every day!)

  • End distraction and procrastination find deep focus
  • Design your days with clarity and purpose, so the things that get done are what you care about most.
  • Create an action plan for your week built around your current reality, so that you’re not just guessing what might work, but planning exactly how and when you will make time for that big project you keep intending to dig into.
  • Create a system to make smart, conscious decisions about what you want to devote your attention to so that at the end of the day you feel a sense of accomplishment instead of failure.
  • Decide to value your own projects and priorities as much as the things you’re doing for others—and reflect that decision in the way you spend your time every day.


Interactive presentation with or without a workshop and worksheets.

Length can range from 35-90 minutes, with an optional hands-on second session. 

Number of Participants

Flexible. As a presentation, audience size is open. As a workshop, 5-40 people. 

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  • Do an end-run around your brain's (biological!) short-circuit when it comes to long-term planning so that you can do continue marching towards your goals.
  • Find out exactly why dreaming about the great things you want to achieve is a huge drag on your focus and productivity, and what to do instead.
  • Master the 4 criteria for identifying the One Goal that's right for you, right now so you can say YES with full confidence.


Presentation with or without workshop elements and a worksheet. 

Length can range from 20-90 minutes.

Number of Participants


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The Magic of No: The Secret to Finding Focus and Getting Your Work Done

Being a creative person means you've probably got loads of ideas, and plenty of other projects in various stages of completion. And being an adult human on Earth means you juggle way too many demands on your attention. Obviously.

When you try to carve out time to focus on your most important creative project and get it out into the world, all those other things you need (and want) to do crowd in, competing for your time.

That's why you need to master the art of saying no…so you can make room in your life for the big, important YES.

Ready to inspire and energize your attendees with an unforgettable event?

Let Jessica design a keynote or workshop that will change the way your people think about their creative work, forever!