A universal truth is that people like a good story. A good story resonates. A good story transcends usual boundaries of society and can act to bind us together and find common cause with complete strangers. What we [hope to] do as trial lawyers is tell our client’s story in a compelling and effective way that gets others to understand and empathize with their cause.
I am not a great storyteller. I have to really work at it. I have eagerly watched, listened and read anything I can get my hands on to help me get better. One of my favorite podcasts is The Memory Palace hosted by Nate Dimeo. Nate is an excellent storyteller. If you’ve never heard of him, use your Coronavirus lock-down time to give his podcast a listen. He takes historical accounts of events and tells the story in a completely immersive and engaging way. Many of his podcasts are 10 to 20 minutes long. He can convey a lot of important factual information in a short amount of time. They are perfect for today’s audience and their notoriously short attention spans.
Listening to Nate has reinforced that effective storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology in order to truly move an audience. And while everyone can tell a story, there is a big difference between good storytelling and great storytelling.
I recently stumbled across Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling — here are the top six we should learn from.
Great storytelling is about taking a piece of the human condition (things like growth, emotionality, aspiration, tragedy and conflict) and conveying them in an interesting way.
Acclaimed Pixar director Pete Docter puts it perfectly:
“What you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to write about an event in your life that made you feel some particular way. And what you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to get the audience to have that same feeling.”
As trial lawyers we are often telling the same story over and over. Our challenge is to make it resonate each time. What we face are negative bias and expectations from our audience [jurors] that we need to avoid. “I’ve heard this one before” could be a common refrain in the jury room.
Find the uniqueness in your client’s story and break down the elements that make them unique and worthy of your advocacy. I’ve heard experienced trial lawyers tell me - go to your client’s home. Find out about the person. The reason this helps is it necessarily evokes those real feelings you have to recognize in order to tell your client’s story yourself.
You and your client are part of the human condition and people will relate to that.
2. Great stories have a clear structure and purpose
Part A (Structure)
One way to develop a compelling story is to use “The Story Spine” formula created by professional playwright and improviser Kenn Adams.