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The Best Influencer is a Good Story

This Friday, I have the pleasure of joining some fantastic legal industry colleagues on a panel at the Legal Marketing Association’s Northeast Regional Conference. We’ll be addressing the topic: “The Best Influencer is a Good Story” and you’d better believe it’s one of my favorites. I’m tickled to be speaking with one of my favorite people, Adrian Lurssen, Co-founder, VP Strategic Development, JD Supra, and joined by the brilliant Paula Zirinsky, Co-Founder & Chief Strategist, Structura Strategy Group LLP who is moderating the panel and Steve Cohen, Partner at Pollock Cohen LLP, who is delightful and will tell us all about how he ended up going to law school at 58.

As I was reviewing my notes for our session today, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my thoughts with you – of course, to get the full benefit of the panel, you’ll have to be there for the breakout on Friday! But I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that storytelling is very important to me as a businessperson. Often, people find that strange, because how can stories be relevant to business? To client development? Well, here are the highlights.

You may remember this post I shared following the Women’s Empowerment Event in June.  As Susan Freeman of Freeman Means Business so eloquently states,

Stories have a transformative power to allow us to see the world in a different way than we do if we just encounter it on our own. Stories are an entry point to understanding a different experience of the world. Storytelling, presenting a different perspective of the world, is important when it comes to connecting with each other. It gives us an opportunity to learn from another person’s experience and it can shape, strengthen, or challenge our opinions and values. When a story catches our attention and engages us, we are more likely to absorb the message and meaning within it than if the same message was presented simply in facts and figures. When someone tells their own personal story, we catch a glimpse of a view of the world that may be slightly or radically different from our own. When we see the world as they see it, or walk in their shoes, the experience can inspire empathy.”

What I want you to think about is this – consider your high school history class (or even elementary school). Wherever you are in the world, I suspect many of us had the same experience. We were given a LOT of dates to memorize, a lot of names, a lot of battles. It felt…boring. I think about World War II in particular and look at the dates of 1939 to 1945 and all of the generals and battles and dates.

And then I think about Anne Frank and reading her diary. And I think about reading Band of Brothers and watching the mini-series.

When we read the stories about the people that experienced those events firsthand, they are no longer just dates in a history book. Now we’re engaged; we have another perspective. Even though we may not have been through the same situation, we can identify similar emotions in our lives and it gives us empathy. Now we have an emotional connection to that story.

Scientists have studied why this matters. According to NPR,

On functional MRI scans, many different areas of the brain light up when someone is listening to a narrative, Neeley says — not only the networks involved in language processing, but other neural circuits, too. One study of listeners found that the brain networks that process emotions arising from sounds — along with areas involved in movement — were activated, especially during the emotional parts of the story.

As you hear a story unfold, your brain waves actually start to synchronize with those of the storyteller, says Uri Hasson, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University. When he and his research team recorded the brain activity in two people as one person told a story and the other listened, they found that the greater the listener’s comprehension, the more closely the brain wave patterns mirrored those of the storyteller.”

When you tell stories, there is a real and scientific impact.

And this reminds me of a story – a few years ago, I was at a conference and listening to a panel with an executive at Zappos. And someone in this room full of legal marketers pointed out that a customer of Zappos is much more likely to be delighted when a box from them shows up on their doorstep than when a lawyer does.

So I can imagine that right now you’re asking, “Sure, Lindsay, storytelling is great, but why does this matter for lawyers and law firms?”

And the answer is that it matters for all the same reasons that any story does.

First, the answer to the Zappos question – yes, there are times when clients aren’t going to be that excited to involve their lawyers. BUT, we all know that lawyers are, at least in the part of the industry that I’m in, a client’s business partner. They save them money, help them avoid expensive pitfalls, find opportunities, launch exciting new businesses or open branches in new cities. Lawyers can be superheroes and rescuers (even though sometimes you say “no” a lot).

Second, simply because we’re in a professional world doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Look at history – many of us slogged our way through those classes in school because we were taught that history was about memorizing battles, dates, and names. It turned out that it was about stories.

The law is too.

Yes, it is about knowing statutes and staying up to date with the latest changes and updates.

But it’s also about the time you helped a young entrepreneur start their first business. It’s about the time you did pro bono work for a refugee fleeing from a terrible situation and you helped him get resettled. It’s about the time a client called you with an emergency and you and your team worked through the weekend to secure a great result. It’s about the time the clause you insisted on including in the contract later came back to save your client. It’s about how the knowledge of the lawyer down the hall from you meant that you could quickly find your client the additional counsel that they needed right under the umbrella of your firm.

Sometimes, it feels like you’re just working, just punching the timesheet and putting out fires. But those are the stories of your practice. And they are the stories that you can find a way to share (more on that in a future post!) to show your current clients why you continue to be the right choice for them and your future clients why they should choose you.

How will you tell them?