The Power of Soft Storytelling
Greetings, Chief Storytelling Officers.
Good to see 2,191 of you here!
Today I want to help you understand and deploy what I call Soft Storytelling.
Let’s dive in.
DEEP DIVE: The Power of Soft Storytelling
“Why didn’t you tell the jury to find the defendant guilty?”
That was the question my co-counsel asked me after one of the toughest child abuse cases of my career. We had just finished up a week long trial where the defendant had done everything in his power to convince the jury that he would never sexually abuse his fiance’s younger sister.
The defense attorney brought in experts, character witnesses, and tried to tear the victim apart during her testimony. From the outside it looked like the case could go either way. From the inside I knew the challenge in front of me.
Juries are tough to convince in a serious case like this where there’s no scientific evidence and nothing other than two stories. One from the victim and one from the defendant. In that world the final story was told by me to those 12 people who would decide how to write the final chapter.
So why didn’t I tell the jury to find the defendant guilty? After all, that would be the logical thing to do. It’s exactly what many child abuse prosecutors would do.
That’s exactly why their results were mixed. They won some, they lost some, and they blamed the losses on the jury.
I used a different approach. I used Soft Storytelling.
What’s Soft Storytelling?
Soft Storytelling invites the listener to take ownership over the story. Instead of listening in a passive way, they become an active player in the story.
It’s a bit like Bob Ross who would teach people across the world how to paint on their own.
Soft Storytelling is an idea I figured out after studying politics and influence. It came from diving into soft versus hard power.
Hard Power comes from force. Think of it like a military invasion to force a nation to do something.
Soft Power comes from persuasion. It’s the ability to co-opt instead of coerce. In Joseph Nye’s book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, he described it as the ability to shape an outcome by appeal and attraction.
What I realized early in my career as a trial lawyer is that people don’t like being told what to do. They want agency and ownership. So I asked how I could get the result I wanted without telling the jury what to do. That’s where I realized soft power directly applied to what I now call Soft Storytelling.
Last week, Professor Scott Galloway wrote a deep piece on storytelling and why it’s the number one thing he would tell his kids to learn to compete in the modern society. So why did he say this? Because the research and lived experience both back this up.
The arc of evolution bends toward good storytellers. Communities with larger proportions of skilled storytellers experience greater levels of cooperation, and … procreation. Their evolutionary fitness is buttressed, as storytelling translates to more efficient transmission of survival-relevant information. Storytellers themselves are more likely to receive acts of service from their peers — and among men, being skilled in storytelling increases attractiveness and perceived status to potential long-term mates. My dad used to tell me that men get turned on with their eyes, women with their ears. It turns out his theory is backed by science.
How to use Soft Storytelling
The first thing you need to know is that it’s not going to be comfortable and you’re going to want to fall back into hard storytelling. You’re going to want to tell people what to do. After all, that’s the way you’ve learned storytelling.
It’s never been the most effective way. Just go back to Alexander the Great who studied Homer’s epic poem The Iliad. That epic poem served as a guide for centuries of how to act with honor and achieve lasting glory. It’s part of the reason why Alexander the Great wanted to cross into Asia and conquer the known world.
He was looking to build on top of that epic poem. He was looking to continue that story.
That’s what soft storytelling does. It invites an investor to be a part of your story. To join you in writing the next chapters.
It invites a crowd of customers at a launch event to tell their friends about this bold new future that’s just ahead.
So once you get past that it’s a different way of doing things, you can start building this power.
I use four key questions to guide me in my own soft storytelling.
- Where is the audience currently at?
- Where do you want the audience to end up?
- What do they need to feel to get there?
- When have you felt that emotion?
Soft Storytelling builds the bridge for the audience to walk across safely on their own. It’s a journey that you give them the ownership over.
It’s a bit like Obi-Wan when he let Darth Vader strike him down. Obi-Wan knew that he had given Luke everything he needed to continue his own journey. It’s why Obi-Wan tells Vader that by striking him down he will become more powerful than he can imagine.
The reason is because he’s empowered Luke to own his journey.
That’s what you can do with those 4 key questions.
The reason I never told the jury in that case at the start to find the defendant guilty is because that created friction and resistance. The moment I told them they had to do something is the exact moment that they wouldn’t want to do it.
Even if they believed me. It’s simple human nature to resist.
I learned this lesson the hard way in some of my earlier cases where I did lose because I tried to force the jury to do what I wanted. In fact, I’d tell them that I was entitled to the verdict.
As I write that, it’s painful. Sadly it’s how many of my bosses and colleagues taught young trial lawyers to talk to juries. I realized this is because it’s easier to teach even though it’s far less effective.
One of the best examples for you as you start thinking more about soft storytelling comes from Christopher Nolan.
I talked about Inception a few weeks ago and there’s one more moment I want to highlight from that movie. It comes at the very end.
Leo’s character has talked all movie about how he has a top that he spins to know when he’s in a dream versus reality. In a dream it keeps spinning. In reality it stops and falls.
At the very end of the movie he spins the top. Then the movie ends.
I remember the discussion this created among my friends and the larger movie going audience. Was Leo in a dream or reality?
Nobody knew but everybody had their idea.
What Nolan did is invited the audience to take ownership of writing their own finale.
It’s what I did with my juries and why I didn’t lose a single one of the 17 child abuse cases I tried over 16 months.
Isn’t it time that you convinced people to do what you want without having to force them?
Welcome to the world of Soft Storytelling.
RESOURCES for Founders and Storytellers
Did we take a time machine back to the free money days of 2021? 750k in ARR and a 350 million dollar valuation with offers at over a billion is nuts. (By the way, I like this product and was an early user so this might be the real deal but still super high early valuation)
Speaking of Inception…here’s a video going deep into how you can plant ideas into investors’ minds and get them to sign the term sheet and wire the funds.
I don’t know about you but I’m inspired by how Lebron James continues to dominate as he’s now in his 20th season. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from him.
“All your life you are told the things you cannot do. All your life they will say you’re not good enough or strong enough or talented enough. They will say you’re the wrong height or the wrong weight or the wrong type to play this or be this or achieve this. They will tell you no. A thousand times no. Until all the no’s become meaningless. All your life they will tell you no. Quite firmly and very quickly. And you will tell them yes. “
Learn more about the work we do with founders that has led to our clients raising over $575 million in capital by going to Founder Fundraising.
A former trial lawyer and prosecutor in Dallas, TX, Robbie trains founders to become world-class storytellers and venture capital fundraisers.
In barely two years, he's helped founders raise $575,000,000 of venture capital.