Finding Clients by Telling Stories

by LawVision Group LLC

On the morning of Halloween 2003, 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton was surfing close to her home on the island of Kauai. Bethany had big plans. She was training for her next surf competition, a stepping stone for bigger things—perhaps even a national title one day. Sitting out in the lineup, she paused for a moment, waiting for her wave with her left arm dangling in the warm, Kauai water. In an instant a 14-foot tiger shark rose from the deep, clamped its jaws around her arm just below her shoulder and sped off as quickly as it had appeared. That moment changed everything for Bethany. Her life was saved that day due to a makeshift, surf leash tourniquet and some quick thinking friends and bystanders. However, her surfing career seemed to be over. At least, that’s what everybody thought—everybody but Bethany.

Within a year, she was back in the water, and by 2007, she’d won her first national title. By 2011, Bethany was the subject of a popular film, Soul Surfer, which chronicled her life and her accident. The film almost didn’t get made, but Bethany’s determination and focus made it a reality. Bethany knew her story was compelling, but she also knew it was much deeper than “girl meets shark and then gets back in the water.”

Peter Guber, famous film producer and author of Tell to Win, tells how he passed on the project. In Guber’s words, “(they) talked numbers and budgets. I was unmoved. Nobody says, ‘Hey, let’s go down to the AMC theater, I hear there’s a film there that came in on budget.’”

But the story continues…

One afternoon, Bethany Hamilton showed up on Guber’s doorstep. Guber was impressed not only with Hamilton’s self-confidence and drive but with the place from which her passion emanated. She explained that the loss of her arm helped her to see her bigger purpose in life. Guber assumed she meant becoming a national surf champion, but her purpose was bigger than that. “No, my purpose from God,” she explained. “To help others know God’s love. I want my story to inspire others to never give up, no matter what. That’s why I hope this movie gets made.”

Bethany’s story was not only more compelling than the producer’s budget figures, Guber remembered: “I realized it would appeal to a wide audience—teens, surfers, Jaws fans, religious believers, and the business folks needed to bring the movie into the marketplace.”

Bethany won him over with her story, not the story about the shark bite, the story about her wider purpose, her elevation not just as a surfer but as a human being.

Why Stories

As Bethany Hamilton and Peter Guber have discovered, ever since Eve ate the fruit, Noah filled the ark, and the Trojans let in the horse, stories have been the way we learn, remember, and inspire. Today, businesses and professionals are also finding that stories are an impactful way to connect with audiences. The trend is to use storytelling in business development, presentations, and meetings, as well as to motivate employees or even to present complex research.

Stories capture attention and create empathy. They do this, according to Jane Praeger, faculty member in Columbia University’s M.S. programs in strategic communications, by making complex issues and concepts relatable and understandable. Stories diminish skepticism. In a recent post by Joan Dowling, Jane claims that people are less likely to be defensive or counter-argue when a concept is delivered through a story. Science backs this up. Scientific studies by Paul Zak conclude that good, character-driven stories actually cause the brain to produce oxytocin, which increases trust, generosity, charitability, and compassion. Stories are also great for helping people adopt a new idea. Through stories, emotions that can help inspire decision-making are engaged. Stories can be applied in almost any environment and topic, and they make concepts memorable. In other words, stories “stick.”

Stories are a great way to talk about your firm or your colleagues. A good story can make the difference in selling your firm and selling your services to a prospective client. The right story at the right time can put you ahead of your competition and seal a new engagement.

I’ve created an acronym (SHED) as a simple way to remember key elements of good stories so you can use stories in your approach to prospective clients.

SHED: Simple, Honest, Emotional, and Directed

Simple – Good stories:

  • Are easy to understand
  • Contain language, tone, and a narrative that matches the target audience
  • Easy to recall later when needed
  • Have been stripped of non-essentials and simplified
  • Have been practiced and re-worked so all the elements work together

Honest – Honest doesn’t mean a story has to be true, but they must be:

  • Relatable
  • Genuine
  • Transparent
  • Authentic


  • The best stories lead you through a variety of emotions. If your audience both laughs and cries you’ve tapped into an impressive emotional range.
  • Sample emotions are: happy, amused, sad, empathetic, fearful, angry, joyful, disgusted, and trusting.
  • These emotions can be evoked through anticipation, struggle, suspense, expectation, and surprise.

Directed – Stories need a purpose, an objective. Three story objectives in the business world are:

  • Branding – stories that build trust around the speaker or another person or group
  • Convincing – stories that drive someone to action by convincing them to do something
  • Capturing attention – stories that draw an audience in, making them willing to pay attention to subsequent key learnings

Next time you really want to make an impact, consider ditching the bullet-pointed PowerPoint, and tell a compelling story.


Written by:

LawVision Group LLC

LawVision Group LLC on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.