As co-founder of Assemble, Reagan Pugh, a facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat, delivers workshops and keynote speeches on personal effectiveness and leadership development around the country. Prior to the launch of Assemble, Pugh was Chief Storyteller for the innovation consulting firm, Kalypso, and guided initiatives on storytelling, culture and leadership development at companies like Nike, Pepsico and Kimberly Clark. He has designed leadership courses for Texas State University, Trinity University and Angelo State University.

Pugh is making a return appearance as a facilitator for the next Ignite Retreat, which takes place March 27-29 in Wake Forest, N.C. The weekend-long changemaking event features workshops, speakers and activities for college students with a strong interest in creating positive social impact and solving problems through social entrepreneurship. The deadline to register for the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat is March 11. Click here to sign up or learn more about the Ignite Retreat.

a headshot of Ignite Retreat facilitator Reagan Pugh

Reagan Pugh

In his responses to our emailed questions, Pugh proved why he’s renowned as a master storyteller, communicator and motivator. So we decided to let him tell his story in his own words in the following Q&A: 

Q: Reagan, can you explain Assemble’s mission and how you accomplish it?

Reagan Pugh: Assemble designs workshops to help teams collaborate better together. This could look like strategy meetings, yearly reviews, weekend retreats or brainstorming sessions. We operate under the belief that the answers to an organization’s greatest challenges are locked inside their people. We help them work together differently so those answers can bubble to the surface.

Q: I know you’ve said in the past that more intensity isn’t necessarily what we need to accomplish our goals. We need more clarity. What do you mean by that?

Pugh: When facing challenges or working toward our goals, it’s easy to believe we’ll make the most progress by upping the intensity (working longer, working faster and adding more to our plate). The reality is, intensity is for amateurs. Clarity is what allows us to understand what matters most, take consequential actions, and make the meaningful contribution we were meant to make.

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This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put in long hours and give 100%. It means when we do our work, we don’t believe the outcome of our work will determine our worth or happiness.

When we default to intensity, it’s normally because we’re afraid of what happens when we slow down and listen to what we’re really meant to do. It’s countercultural to instead pursue clarity in order to move slowly and with intention, but those who do are more equipped to deliver a gift through their venture or idea.

In an age of endless choices, it’s fun to try and keep up, but it’s those who can put on the blinders and identify the most important things in front of them who actually ship things into the world without getting burned out.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your work as a storytelling consultant? And what kind of storytelling do you do?

Pugh: When an individual or organization asks for help telling their story, what we’re really talking about is understanding their audience. Every marketer these days will tell you about the importance of stories, but most completely miss the mark.

Simply having a story that you tell during a speech, a pitch or on your website doesn’t translate to more engagement or sales. The best leaders and organizations know stories aren’t about entertainment or even engagement—they are about connection. And in order for us to connect, we come back again to the necessity of clarity.

Whether I’m coaching someone on a keynote speech they are giving or guiding an organization on how to tell their story, we always go back to the same place: their desired audience. When we do the work of understanding the desires and fears of the people we wish to serve, we can then use stories as a powerful tool to catch their attention, assure them they’re not alone and invite them on a journey with us toward their desired future.

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Q: Why is storytelling so important in the nonprofit and/or entrepreneurial cultures today?

Pugh: Storytelling is about connection. Robert McKee has a good line about the power of story: “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”

They are the currency of human contact. Stories are how we trade value and express needs. Stories are how we reveal what matters to us and what we want.

Consumers want to feel like organizations and brands are speaking directly to them. The entrepreneur who takes the time to deeply understand a specific audience and create stories for them will be able to build a venture that serves them and hopefully makes some cash.

photo of Reagan Pugh at the Three Circle Summit

Reagan Pugh, co-founder of Assemble, has guided initiatives on storytelling, culture and leadership development at companies like Nike, Pepsico and Kimberly Clark.

Q: So tell us about the role you’ll be playing in the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat?

Pugh: I’ll be leading the Problem Track series of workshops designed for those who know they want to build something but need a bit more clarity around the “what” behind their entrepreneurial pursuit.

The first session is “Unlocking Creativity,” where we’ll take a look at the problem students want to solve and help them ideate ways they might solve it. Could it be a hair salon or a drone business or a YouTube show? Who knows? Sometimes it’s hard to see things differently if you’ve been thinking about a problem the same way for a while. The “Unlocking Creativity” session will help students better articulate the problem they want to solve and generate innovative ideas on how they might solve it.

The second session is “Grow Your Team,” and it’s about enlisting people in your cause. The problem we want to solve will only turn into a viable venture if we create something others can say “yes” to. We’ll explore who is currently part of the students’ network, who should be, what roles they need to fill, and help them craft messaging to excite others about taking part in bringing their vision to life.

Q: In the end, what are you hoping our Ignite attendees will learn from you?

Pugh: They have what it takes to live a life of meaning and to make a valuable contribution to this world.

Learn more about Reagan Pugh and his work at

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