September 27, 2017|Lawyers, Marketing, Selling|
selling legal services with storytelling

I recently ran some workshops for lawyers on selling legal services with storytelling. It was to help them to appreciate the value of a more personal and emotional narrative in conversations with clients – whether in the written or spoken word. It is uncomfortable pushing information out to people – much better to pull in their interest with stories. Here are some of the key points covered: 

Storytelling is powerful

When social media burst onto our screens, there was a resurrection of interest in the power of storytelling with much talk of campfires and communities. Storytelling is one of the oldest ways in which we humans communicate – predating written words and the oral tradition still dominates in some societies.

There’s a wealth of information from the realms of neuroscience showing that stories are more memorable than facts alone:

  • Stanford University found that stories were 22 times more memorable than facts
  • OneSpot found that 92% of consumers want to internalise words in the form of a story
  • The human brain does not distinguish between reading or hearing a story and experiencing it in real life – the same neurological regions are activated
  • Another experiment found that 5% of people remembered a statistic yet 64% remembered a story
  • The brain releases dopamine when it experiences an emotionally charged event, making it easier to remember and with greater accuracy
  • When processing facts, two areas of the brain are activated. A well-told story can engage many additional areas
  • A story activates parts in the brain that allows the listener to turn the story into their ideas and experience as a result of a process known as neural coupling

Use empathy and adjust to the audience

Whatever your story, you need to understand the level of knowledge and interest in the person to whom you are speaking or writing. This requires the use of empathy (see and Then you can then adjust the story so that it connects with the listener or reader.

There may be many different people listening to or reading your story – they may all have different personalities and styles and they may have different roles in the buying process (see material on the Decision Making Unit – DMU – here The story must adapt and appeal to them all.

When writing a story you need to adjust to the channel or medium of communication that you are using – whether it is a blog or a client case study or a pitch or a formal presentation.

Connect with emotion

When we think about the most memorable and inspiring speakers we have ever heard we often recollect their emotion and passion. Making an emotional connection is what storytelling is all about.

Your story needs to make an emotional connection with the listener or reader – so inject some of your personality, memories or feelings into the story so that they can connect on an emotional level.

Keep it simple

Our short term memory works in chunks of two to seven pieces of information. People find it easiest to retain three key pieces of information. Use the rule of three to include three key messages that you want the audience to retain.

When you have to convey complexity, tell your story as if to a child. That way you automatically adjust for their level of knowledge and tailor the content to be more meaningful to them. Even the most complex TED lectures start from a simple idea and build up layers of complexity.

Einstein said “Any fool can make things more complex – It takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction”.

Story essentials

There are seven basic story plots:

  1. Overcoming the monster
  2. The quest
  3. Journey and return
  4. Comedy
  5. Tragedy
  6. Rebirth
  7. Rags to riches

There are seven basic story elements:

  1. A hero
  2. The hero’s character flaw
  3. Enabling circumstances
  4. The hero’s ally
  5. An opponent
  6. The life-changing event
  7. Jeopardy

There is more information about this in this book:

Dramatic curve

Good stories follow the dramatic curve. They build tension to a conclusion and climax. Storybooks are often organised so that each chapter or section follows its own dramatic curve – so you are drawn onto the next part of the story.

The heroic story is a frequently used template including the dramatic curve:

  1. Call to adventure
    1. The ordinary world
    2. The call to adventure
    3. Refusal
  2. The ordeal
    1. Mentor helper
    2. Crossing the threshold
    3. Test, allies and enemies
  3. Unification and transformation
    1. Approach
    2. Ordeal
    3. Reward
  4. Road back and hero’s return
    1. Road back
    2. Atonement
    3. Return

Content and delivery

Think about both the content of the story and its delivery.

Use the journalist’s inverted pyramid to think about the content as a one sentence story. Be clear about the aims of your story – how you want people to feel and what you want them to feel and think and do as a result.

Think carefully about the words that you use. Use words that paint strong mental images. Use powerful words that evoke emotion. Adapt to the language of the people you are talking to.

Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) – particularly your voice – will have a big impact on the way you deliver your story. So use it to good effect and allow your emotion to show in your face, your voice and your gestures. You will appear sincere and authentic if your non-verbal communication is congruent with your story.

Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

Hooks and bridges

A hook grabs people’s attention. A bridge acts as a connection between something that the listener already knows and what you are trying to explain. The Celtic cross is a good example of a bridge. The people of Ireland were originally sun worshippers – they regarded the sun as an all-powerful force. The early Christians linked their story to that of the sun which is why the Celtic cross combines the circle shape of the sun and the crucifixion.

We also use analogies and metaphors to connect new information to ideas that people already know and understand. We connect to their existing frameworks of knowledge in their mental map of the world.

“The greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling” Cecil B. DeMille

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell” Seth Godin

“The most powerful person in the world is the story teller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come” Steve Jobs