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Guest blogger Ray Sipsa on the persuasive power of storytelling

Oct 12, 2010 Guest blogger Ray Sipsa on the persuasive power of storytelling

One of my favorite people wrote an excellent piece recently on the persuasive power of storytelling. This friend permitted me to re-print his piece, with the condition that he be the anonymous Ray Sipsa, who first and last appeared in Underdog here. Thanks, Ray, for giving the okay to re-print your piece.

Shortly after I attended TLC I tried to discuss issues like frivolous lawsuits and tort reform with the jurors.  The defense would object and more often than not the judge would sustain the objection, which frankly was something I couldn’t understand.  

When judges would permit me to go into those issues, I found that some jurors felt quite strongly about them and that I wasn’t going to change any minds.  To the contrary, even discussing these things caused a wall to go up between myself and those jurors.  I then began to think it was unfair to discuss abstract issues like this when they knew almost nothing about the case.  

And so I simply quit doing it.  In any event, I have found that most jurors who believe strongly in tort reform like to be vocal about it.  And so it isn’t like you have to find them. At least that has been my experience.  

In the end, what really motivated me was a passage in a book called Story by Robert McKee.  McKee writes that it is easy for governments (and other authoritative organizations) to control abstract ideas so long as no emotion or feeling is involved.  But government (and authoritative organizations) fear storytellers because storytellers deal with issues in an indirect way that stir emotions but rarely deal with cold logic.  More important, an emotion will defeat logic every time.  

I then started to read every book that I could get my hand on that dealt with screenwriting or story structure and have tried to incorporate those principals into my opening statements.  For the past ten years or so my opening statements have been unfinished stories that compel an ending that only the jury can write.  About 60% or more of my trial preparation deals with the opening statement.  I believe that if I have a good story to tell, the jurors will forget about their abstract beliefs and jump onto my train.

I’ve also found out over the years that jurors like me.  Maybe that’s because I’ve turned into a grandfather type.  Unfortunately I’ve never learned to be polished.  To the contrary, I’m a nervous wreck in court.  But usually everything comes out all right in the end.  Maybe the jurors are worried that I’m going to kill myself if I lose.

– Ray Sipsa

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