The Grid

Narratives Matter

Hey y’all,

I’m back in Texas again for a quick stop in Houston then Austin for a bit.

It’s been wild seeing the growth of the newsletter since the rebrand to The Grid. With that in mind it’s full steam ahead but as always if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or advice just reply to this email.

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Life as a trial lawyer is a game of competitive storytelling.

That might sound cold or callous given the stakes in these cases but it’s the truth. The scales of justice tip in the favor of the best storyteller.

It’s why the transition into my role as a course creator, consultant, and coach worked so well. I grew up testing storytelling techniques and shaping narratives in cases like murders, capital murders, and ultimately child abuse cases. Nothing feels like pressure after working with an abused child who looked at me like I was the only chance they had to stay safe.

The world I lived in for far too long thrives on silencing people. Silencing victims. Silencing justice.

OJ Cases

One of my favorite examples to point out when it comes to narratives and why they matter so much is the O.J. Simpson cases. Yes I said cases because there was both the criminal case and the civil case.

You may be wondering why we are going back into history but it’s because these cases tell us everything we need to know about why storytelling, speaking, and structuring the narrative matter.

In the criminal trial, the prosecution lost the case in the first 2 minutes of opening statement. This is the very first opportunity to talk about the facts of the case, the witnesses who will testify, but most of all, to tell the story and bring it to life. But the prosecutor missed this opportunity.

People make first impressions. They judge a book by it’s cover. They go to a movie because of it’s trailer.

Trial is no different.

So when the prosecutor stood up that day with his first impression on the line he began with a fatal flaw.

He told the jury how difficult the case would be and how long it would take to get through it all. He told them they had the hardest job.

When that’s the first thing they hear, they believe it. If the prosecutor says it will be hard for them to reach a decision then that’s the expectation. They judge everything more harshly. They look for mistakes. Errors. Doubts.

In a criminal case the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet the prosecutor gave them doubt from the very beginning.

He spoke about the jury being sequestered (kept away from family, friends, and work). He spoke about boring legal concepts. He spoke about facts and evidence. He spoke about justice and thanked them in advance for a verdict they will sometime return.

He didn’t even get to the story until 2 minutes into his opening statement. It’s outrageous.

Guess what? He lost.

Now let’s go to the civil trial. In that case the plaintiff’s attorney (the attorney trying to prove OJ committed the murder) immediately started with the story. The story of the victims and how they saw the events that day. It is gripping. It is chilling. It is powerful.

Guess what? They proved that case but could only receive money because this was the civil trial (and yes I’m aware that there is a lower burden of proof but that’s not why the outcome was different).

This brings me back to the idea that controlling the narrative matters. Telling the best story matters. And not just for a legal trial.

Winston Churchill

I love Winston Churchill as an orator. He regularly gets named as one of history’s finest. There are movies made about him and especially his speech “We shall fight” during WWII.

One of the things I love about him is that he would actually write mistakes into his speeches. He would even put in big pauses so he could act like he came up with an idea in the moment. He wanted his audience to feel like he was speaking with them and not at them.

This is one way he controlled the narrative.

Nobody wants to hear a perfect speaker. Too perfect and polished will make a person unlikable because they are different. A great speaker knows it’s about connecting to the audience.

Two parts need to be built up in a speech. Credibility and likability. One can work but both create magic.

Churchill used countless rhetorical devices to make his words come to life. He used repetition like a savant. He knew exactly what the right phrase was to make the biggest impact that would be remembered. He wrote and spoke in such a way that he was both unimpressive and wildly impressive.

I say this because as I was discussing rhetorical techniques that orators can use, I pulled up the actual Churchill recording of his “We shall fight” speech. Not the movie version with actors but the actual audio. I knew what would happen.

People are shocked.

He’s not all that inspiring. It’s difficult to understand his words at times. He doesn’t leave the audience with chills and a desire to run through a wall.

But what he does do is use rhetoric extremely proficiently. That is his superpower.

Except I used the speech to show people that one of history’s best orators, really isn’t all that special in terms of his delivery. It’s a lesson in narratives. Once people started saying he was one of the best, it started to become true.

A bit like how children believe in Santa and so Santa exists. Parents must make it real because their children believe.

In this way Churchill is the perfect example for so many clients that I work with these days. They think they need to sound like Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Viola Davis, or Matthew McConaughey. They hear motivational speakers like Les Brown, Tony Robbins, or Oprah and want to recreate that energy. These are all great examples but they aren’t right for everyone.

Some people just need to sound like Churchill and they can become one of the best too.

I still love Churchill as a speaker because I think his preparation and understanding of persuasion are both masterful and worthy of celebration.

So what does this mean?

Narratives matter. The story you tell the world matters. The story you tell yourself matters even more.

Develop the skill of storytelling. Tell the best story and you can rule the world.

This is true for creators, entrepreneurs, founders, executives, coaches, investors, lawyers, and all the people who read this newsletter.

Life is filled with competitive storytelling. You need to make sure you can win.

Last week I published a deep dive into how to craft your story for founders with my good friend Vik Duggal. The framework and ideas apply more broadly or if you know a founder that may find it useful, please share it with them.

Take a read here: How to craft your story

Tomorrow I’m heading to Austin to check out Creator Cabins. My good friend Jonathan Hillis created an amazing retreat location for online creators and I get the chance to Beta Test it for him with some great friends I’ve only met online. It’s going to be a blast.

On Deck Performative Speaking is currently in week 6 where we are covering these topics:

  • Delivery Tactics

  • Persuasion Principles

  • Opening Hooks

  • Themes

  • Closing Dismounts

Are you or someone you know looking for coaching to become a better public speaker, storyteller, and more confident communicator?

Email me or book some time with me on my notion page here.

Finally here is one of my favorite stories that inspired a tweet from me this week.

See you next week.


Email me:

Twitter: @robbiecrab

IG: @therobbiecrab