Here at Spaeth, the power and relevance of storytelling proves a consistent message. While storytelling is a pivotal tool in any field, good attorneys know good storytelling can win a case.
Recently ABC aired Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers, a new documentary reexamining the 1993 murder trial of Lyle and Erik Menendez. In the documentary, ABC reporter Terry Moran captivatingly asserts: “Trials are storytelling competitions . . .so whoever tells the better story in the trial that is anchored in the facts. . .that’s who’s going to persuade the jury.” Moran later notes that to win such a “competition,” simply outlining the events of a crime is insufficient. An attorney must instead explain experience and motive.
Essentially, what Moran describes is a distinction commonly made in literature—a distinction between story and plot. While story is a narrative of events organized in chronological order, it is the mastery of plot that any persuasive storyteller must achieve.
In the Menendez trial, the bare bones story was the same for each attorney: Lyle and Erik (admittedly) murdered their parents in their Beverly Hills home on August 20, 1989. Thus, the challenge for each attorney was to abstract from this story a compelling plot by exposing motive and more complex tensions underlying the story itself. For example, when the defense attorney effectively claimed Lyle and Erik murdered their parents in 1989 as an act of self-defense against the sexual abuse inflicted upon them by their father, the basic tale instantly transformed.
Though in the documentary Moran specifically refers to the role of storytelling in trials, his message is applicable also to speeches, business presentations, interviews, and countless additional situations. Compelling storytelling engages listeners and illuminates the purpose of any case or presentation by imbuing facts with detail and emotion. Storytelling is an invaluable strategic communications tool in the courtroom and beyond.
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