Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Power of Storytelling

13 November 2013



STORY is all. Story is narrative. Whoever controls the narrative, controls the room.

In a SKYPE session I had last week, coaching an attorney on an upcoming presentation, the subject of ‘why is a story important’ came up. I found myself pouring my heart out about story and storytelling. I know we have talked about this subject a lot in the past…but clearly…we can never talk about it enough.

As humans, story is hard wired in us. It is how we absorb, contextualize and learn new information. If that new information conforms to what we know and believe, our story, then we accept that new information. If the new information goes against what we know and believe, our story, then we tend to reject that new information. Reject it until we can reconfigure our story so that it includes, makes room for and therefore makes sense of that new information.

Our friend and colleague, Eric Oliver in his brilliant book, FACTS DON’T SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES, speaks about how people process and learn. Often, attorneys become concerned, annoyed or angry because they believe that they should only have to explain the facts and the deciders will judge accordingly. At a recent workshop we taught on the East Coast, one attorney said, “I don’t want to manipulate and spin the facts. People will be able to follow the evidence if I just lay it out.” Well, I continue to be sorry to say, that is NOT TRUE.

It’s not about manipulating or “spinning” the facts. It’s about context…it’s about STORY. How you sequence the information, the facts, how you present them makes all the difference. You know that. What we want to emphasize and reassure you of is…you must TELL A STORY.

Beginning, middle and end. The end must involve or instruct the trier of fact. Present tense. Simple, active, sensorial English (NOT legalese).  Find an emotional basis for your story. The emotional basis is AT LEAST that you care about your story, your client, your case. IT’S NOT ABOUT BECOMING EMOTIONAL. It’s about finding the underlying feeling of the facts and the story. Is that about “breaking a promise,” “betraying a colleague,” “changing the rules,” “breaking the rules,” ”stealing an idea.” You get the idea.

Humans make decisions with their guts, hearts AND minds. Your job is to involve the listener, the trier of fact, to use all three.


TIP: Are you finding the story among all the facts of your case? Have you found the best sequence? Are you telling a story or are you reciting information?