Park Howell

Park Howell, always looking up.

I sure love a good story.

That’s why, back in November, I found myself sitting in a Phoenix conference room chatting with a small group of people about how best to interest others in our story and to persuade listeners or readers to act on our story.

The conference room was at the advertising firm Park & Co., and the workshop was nimbly led by the firm’s principal, Park Howell. (He blogs here; more on that in a bit.)

He is an adept storyteller himself, and he walked the group through the steps of crafting a tale that leads readers and viewers to a conclusion. In the workshop, he used a 68-year-old video to demonstrate that “the brain is helpless to the suction of story.”

Confused? Here is how Park Howell describes it:

“In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel created this animated film to test the brain’s compunction to create stories, even out of the most crude stimuli. Of the 114 people that watch this short film, 113 of them knitted together a story of what was happening, and only one said it was just shapes moving around a screen.”

That video and Park’s words struck a chord with me, and I think they would do the same with anyone who has ever argued to a jury. As jury consultant Dru Sherrod told us in a recent Arizona Attorney Magazine, “Jurors bring to the trial this whole lifetime of collected stored scripts. When jurors hear something in the trial that evokes a stored script, they immediately map that life experience onto the trial information.”

So we know on an intellectual level that “story model research” is correct when it instructs about the power of stories to persuade. But practice is what’s needed—and what Howell offered our small group.

park & co logoOn this Change of Venue Friday, I invite you to see more of the stories he spins in his own blog. Whether you are interested in sustainability, marketing or simply in stories well told, take a look. I’m suspecting you may opt to bookmark his insights or opt for the RSS feed.

A recent post of his reminded me that the use of the word “green” may be getting a bit green around the gills. What’s needed, he argues, are not mere catch-phrases, but “genuine stories of sustainability.” True enough, I think, for every industry, including law.

After reading that, head over to his firm’s “Backstories” page, where you can see a selection of the impressive work they have done for clients, many in the most sustainable of industries.

Have a great weekend.

Dru Sherrod

Yesterday, I sat down for an interview with Dru Sherrod.

Those who hang on my every tweet know that he gave a boffo presentation at this month’s Arizona Women Lawyers Association luncheon in Phoenix.

He is a principal at the California trial strategy firm Mattson and Sherrod Inc. Here’s his background:

“Drury Sherrod, Ph.D. joined Larry Mattson in 1988 to form Mattson and Sherrod, Inc. Dru brings a background in psychology and communication to bear on questions of juror behavior and trial strategy. Dru is the author of a textbook on social psychology and more than thirty articles on psychology, jury behavior, attribution theory and the effects of environmental stress on human behavior. Dru holds a B.A. from Southern Methodist University, an M.A. from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Dru is a member of the American Society of Trial Consultants, the American Psychological Association, and the Society for Experimental Social Psychology.”

On March 28, he spoke on the topic of how stories explain jury verdicts.

His topic was pretty compelling, so we will run a separate Q&A with him in the June Arizona Attorney Magazine.

At his March 28 lunch talk, he revealed his true title for the day: “The Myth of the Open Mind.”

His presentation then unpackaged our common view that people are swayed by facts and by the rewards of a just result.

Um, not necessarily.

As he explains, when a lawyer walks into a courtroom prepared for trial, she may have spent more than a year dissecting every element of the case: facts, witnesses, documents.

When a juror walks in, Sherrod says, he doesn’t come empty-handed. Instead, “Jurors bring to the trial this whole lifetime of collected stored scripts.”

Those stored scripts can play havoc with what the lawyer believes is a carefully organized and orchestrated parade of facts. The scripts may cause the jurors to see the facts in ways the lawyer never imagined.

Of course, jurors are not the only ones with stored scripts; we all have them. They help us make sense of the avalanche of stimulu that comes our way on a daily basis. They are what make the human comedy the diverse thing it is. But while we may gleefully exclaim “Viva la différence,” trial lawyers scratch their heads and consider a career wind-surfing.

More on my conversation with Dru Sherrod in our June issue. And here are some more photos from his AWLA talk.

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