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Storytelling Mastery: Why Lawyers Need It

This article was originally published in Canadian Lawyer.

Throughout history, people of influence have recognized stories as a highly effective means of creating connection, loyalty and trust among people, making ideas memorable and persuading and inspiring people into some kind of action.

We regularly see stories being used in advertising, politics, advocacy and anywhere else that people seek to influence the thoughts or actions of others.

It has only been more recently, though, that neuroscience and research into how the brain works have started to make it more clear why that is the case — what is it about stories that makes them such an effective tool for wielding influence?

Recent research has identified a number of things that contribute to the efficacy of storytelling as a means of conveying messaging and wielding influence. Here are a few that I found interesting:

Stories synchronize brain function

When someone hears (or sees) a story, their neurons fire in the same patterns as those of the speaker telling the story. This is called neural coupling.

More of the brain activates in response to a story

When someone hears factual information, only two regions of the brain activate. FMRI studies have shown that many more regions in the listener’s brain activate when they are listening to a story. In fact, the brain responds to story events in the same way it would if the events described were actually happening to the listener.

Storytelling enhances memorability

Even anecdotally, we all know that it is easier to remember facts when they’re told in a story but research has borne it out: Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone.

Stories make brains focus

The human will experience up to 2,000 daydreams a day and spends up to half of its waking time wandering. Engaging in a story causes the brain to focus in a way that almost eliminates this mental wandering.

Inspiring, engaging stories can change brain chemistry

When engaged in a good story, the brain will produce more chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine, which give people a sense of attachment and well-being and increased senses of trust and compassion.

Stories affect behaviour

Numerous case studies and experiments support the idea that stories are more effective than facts at influencing people to take action. In one example, testers were able to sell $129 worth of items on eBay for more than $3,000 (more than 25 times their value) by crafting personal stories for each object. And this is not an isolated example. There are many, many examples of stories having a significant impact on the behaviour of the people who heard them.

For lawyers, mastering the art of storytelling, and cultivating the influence that comes with that mastery, can have an enormous positive impact on their ability to build the influence and relationships that they will need to create strong, sustainable, independent practices.


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