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Persuasion Through Storytelling

by Nancy Hudgins

From the blog of Nancy Hudgins

Nancy  Hudgins
Check out the little boy's face. Remember when you were a little kid listening to stories? They can be mesmerizing. Even for adults, as there is a child in each of us. Somewhere.

Lawyers who try cases know that telling stories in opening statements and closing arguments is a compelling and persuasive way to influence juries. As Annette Simmons in The Story Factor puts it, when you are trying to influence a group, giving them more facts is just piling on more facts. Jurors probably have more facts than they can process well. She suggests:

“They don’t need more facts. They need help finding their wisdom….A story will help them figure out what all the facts mean.”

And as the best trial lawyers know, when you let jurors access their own wisdom to reach their own conclusions, they are more likely to own that opinion than when you tell them what their opinion should be.

Why not use this same process during mediation? At times, mediations digress into a tug-of-war between the egos of opposing parties and/or opposing counsel. Storytelling has the ability of making a point without setting off an ego war. Ease them out of their point of view.

Again, from Simmons:

“You don’t have to convince people they are wrong to influence them….Let your listener’s ego sleep. Concentrate instead on providing a visceral experience of a new story where new choices make more sense. Don’t back someone into a corner….Lead their conscious and subconscious minds on a tour of a different point of view….Intrigue and activate their imagination.”

And, finally, she asks:

“Which is more important to you—being right or influencing others?”

If you are interested in the power of storytelling, run, don’t walk, to your nearest independent bookstore or go to and purchase The Story Factor by Annette Simmons. The book’s subtitle is “Inspiration, Influence and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling.”

My thanks to Stephanie Allen West at her blog, Idealawg, for the tip on Simmons’ book.


Nancy Hudgins, a San Francisco mediator and lawyer, began specializing in civil litigation in the 1970's. She has represented both plaintiffs and defendants, chiefly in personal injury, medical malpractice, elder abuse and product liability lawsuits, but also in a wide variety of complex litigation, including civil rights, fraud and class actions. She has settled and mediated thousands of cases. In addition to civil litigation mediation, she also co-mediates divorces with John Duda, a marriage and family therapist.

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