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  • Francisco Mahfuz

E93. How to Become the Harvey Specter of Storytelling with Robbie Crabtree



Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.


Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Hi everyone, Francisco here. Just before we get started, I wanted to share something I'm really excited about. I recently launched the story powers bootcamp, a course that teaches you everything you need to know about how to find craft and tell stories that work. But it's not just an online course, because you get personalised feedback from me for all the practical activities in three hours of life coaching to work through any challenges, or focus on specific projects. So it's like if you bought a cookbook, but the chef came along with it. So go to story powers.com and click on Course, all the information you need will be there. So please check it out. And if you love the show, and would like to support us, you can go to buy me a coffee.com forward slash story powers. I drink about five coffees a day, so any support would be much appreciated. All right on with the show.


Welcome to the story powers podcast, the show about the power of stories, the people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco mahfuz. My guest today is Robert Crabtree. Rob is a retired rare See, I can't even speak a retired trial lawyer with 102 trials under his belt and has taught persuasive speaking at Southern Methodist University Law School for years, as well as successfully coaching the national mock trial team. He has developed the performative speaking method to help founders and entrepreneurs raise money, attract top talent and become inspiring leaders and his clients have raised more than $100 million in 2021. He's the harvest factor of startups, the Paul Giamatti with biceps, the Matthew McConaughey of public speaking, ladies and gentlemen, Robbie Crabtree. Rob, welcome to the show.


Robbie Crabtree 1:53

Francisco I think that's the best intro I've seen on any of these podcasts I've had, I might I might have to hire you as my my height man going forward because that was that was as good as it gets.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:04

Well, I apologise for being unable to say retired trial lawyer, which is a bit of a tongue twister. But yeah, as I thought at the Harvey Spectre reference, if nothing else, we'll get through


Robbie Crabtree 2:15

it. One of my favourite one of my favourite television characters, someone is someone I learned a lot from, even though that obviously is a completely fictional world. But it's a it's a great call out.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:24

I used to be a massive fan of that show suits. But I think somewhere around season five or six, maybe is when it started getting to me how every single segment ended on a massive cliffhanger, which was the end of everything. That's like, surely the law firm cannot be at, you know, existential risk every like day of the week. You didn't say much for their foundation? I would just say that.


Robbie Crabtree 2:55

Yeah, I didn't feel like I got a little bit off the rails at a certain point where it can't always be doom and gloom, right. Sometimes things have to be going okay.


Francisco Mahfuz 3:03

Yes, yes, very much. So, something else that, you know, I think you and I have a lot in common. But there's some stuff that I know, we definitely don't. I, for example, I have seen you recommend, as perhaps your favourite book of all time, Gates of Fire from Steven Pressfield writes, I really struggle to finish that book. In I like the subject I like press through the rest of the stuff by him, mostly his nonfiction stuff. But that book I really, really struggled through. But then, you know, you're also someone who finds the movie 300 Inspiring. Whereas perhaps every time those guys I just see them around looking the way they do I just get depressed. So maybe that's what's affecting my judgement here.


Robbie Crabtree 3:49

Gates of Fire is one of those interesting ones, right? Because I can totally feel that because it's not a it's not an easy read, right? Like it's not the simplest action thriller. And in fact, it acts like Well, 300 is fully action gates fires is almost a polar opposite. It's almost all story. It's very little fighting. And it plays with all these different perspectives, plays with different timelines. And to me, that's the interesting thing, as well as kind of its lessons on leadership. And what actual overcoming fear is like, I love this, this idea that the opposite of fear is not fearlessness. It's actually having the courage to overcome that fear. And so I think there's so many just like leadership principles spread out throughout that, that book about how to lead people how to talk to them how to tell stories, and then I just think the the subject matter I'm also a history major. So I love all things history. That's probably also a piece of this, but it is I read that book every year, and I don't know it just has a special place to me. And I think it's a great way to learn, but it's not for everybody, just like any book, right? You've got to find what works for you.


Francisco Mahfuz 4:52

Well, I think it's fair to say at this moment that whenever I criticise anyone on their on their reading tastes I should say that I rotate between all sorts of different books. And I read all the time. But I'm someone who not only has like a science fiction and fantasy category, I have a whole category just for werewolves. So maybe I don't have a leg to stand on, criticise your taste in books, or anyone's right. So one of the things that I definitely want to spend some time talking to you about is your time as a trial lawyer and the lessons you learn from storytelling in there. And as soon as I started finding out a bit more about that time of your life, for some stupid reason, I kept getting that line from the OJ Simpson trial in my head, you know, if the glove fits, you must acquit. And I actually thought, Well, okay, this is a bit silly, but at the same time, a and this is not storytelling as such. But is that type of resource, something that any trial, any trial lawyers that are not in the sort of theatrical trials on TV would ever really use?


Robbie Crabtree 6:04

So the truth is, yes, 100%. That I mean, if we think about it, what I call trial law is competitive storytelling. That's the term of art that I say it is, it is two sides are basically telling a story. And whichever one the jury believes the most is the one that wins. And so to the OJ case, I've actually done a bunch of breakdowns of the OJ case of like, why did the prosecution lose, and you can see the prosecution lose within the first minute of that trial in their opening statement? Because guess what, they don't tell a story. And the story that they tell is about how hard it's going to be for that jury to make a decision, how challenging it is, how stressful it is. And so they set this frame really, really poorly. So in our world, yeah, we were always looking for ways how can we create interesting rhymes interesting ways to make it memorable themes that the jury could walk back to? Because you've got to remember a jury of 12 people who doesn't know anything about the case anything about the law, before they walk into that courtroom. And you have to somehow distil all this information to them over a series of days, weeks, in very serious consequence consequential cases, with hard to understand legal jargon, and make it where they can walk back and understand what you were talking about. How can we take this super complicated ideas and put it into this neat little box. So things like if the glove doesn't, if the glove don't fit, you must acquit is a beautiful way to remind them because guess what it focused the jury's entire attention on one single thing. And oftentimes is what we're trying to do as a storyteller right is we're trying to focus our audience on one specific thing to get them to take action. That's the difference between telling stories and being a storyteller, telling stories is entertaining. Being a storyteller is inspiring action. So that line by OJ his defence counsel inspired the jury to action to say the glove didn't fit, so we're finding him not guilty. And that really is what it comes down to.


Francisco Mahfuz 7:52

I like that this distinction you make between telling stories, and being a storyteller, because in my head, usually telling stories, something that all human beings do, but should do a lot more of being a storyteller is being unshaven having a drinking habit, and speaking to a lot of people on their attempt, but but your definition is slightly more inspirational. It's interesting, you say about the rhymes, and I just had this, again, maybe another silly but not so silly idea of trial lawyers should have a rapper on retainer, or someone who works with rhymes. Because basically, you know, that's the type of thing that I don't, I don't have any particular talent for rhyming. And if that's the type of, you know, catchphrase that you want to be coining, to simplify a larger concept, then there are people who earn their living out of doing stuff like that, although they're probably nowhere near the law, at least they're not on that side of the they're not on that side of the court usually


Robbie Crabtree 8:51

is one of the pieces you like this is one of the things that I did a lot of is I would listen to a lot of rappers and take inspiration from them, or comedians and take inspiration from them. Because what we do is, is we find these sources that are working in other fields, and we find a way to translate them into our field. So I was spending a tonne of time, before any case, figuring out how can I make this memorable? Am I going to use like a rule of three to make it memorable? Is it going to be an alliteration? Is it going to be a rhyming pattern? And so I would I mean, I'd spend an obscene amount of time trying to dial in the words right, just like you would essentially I have a rapper and one of my favourite stories that highlights kind of how rappers think is there's an interview that Eminem does on 60 minutes. And they're talking about like, how he learned to be such a great rapper. And he says, I just read the dictionary over and over and over and over, so I knew every word and then he brings out this, these just like stacks of yellow legal pads where he's written random rhymes and lines throughout them, where it's just testing and figuring them out and he can pull them later because he'll remember I wrote this line back in, you know, March of this year. So I'm gonna go find that and then bring that into this new song I created. And that's really what we have to do as trial lawyers and storytellers to is constantly be testing these pieces and keeping this like ongoing kind of strategic resource library that we know we can pull from later on. And it's the the mistake when people think being a great storyteller is a simple process, because it's really, you've been developing it for years for a lifetime. And that Eminem story always resonated where it's like, if you're not obsessed a level of reading the dictionary, which is going to be so boring, over and over and over, you're probably not going to get to that level that you really want to make it where you really have that, you know, masterful storytelling approach.


Francisco Mahfuz 10:40

So is it an unrealized dream of yours, to have a whole opening and closing argument in rhyme?


Robbie Crabtree 10:47

If I can pull that off? That would be made? I mean, I still I probably wouldn't. I think my jury would be like, hold on, is he like, Is he is he rapping at us?


Francisco Mahfuz 10:58

Lin Manuel Miranda in the chords,


Robbie Crabtree 11:01

there's something to that maybe maybe I would say not in the right case, but I probably have to just use it strategically. Alright, so


Francisco Mahfuz 11:07

let me get get away from the rhyming and rapping nonsense to some extent, and more into the story. So one of the obvious uses of storytelling in any type of trial is the narrative that you're building. And I think, as you said, you know, if the if the, if any of the lawyers don't create a convincing and cohesive narrative, then their case is just not going to make sense. But when it comes to what I think most of us who work with story would understand as an actual story. How much did you use to do that? You know, is it the opening and closing argument? Is it? Do you tell stories of the witnesses? How does that like how many of those could you really get into a trial?


Robbie Crabtree 11:53

For me, I'm I mean, I'm trying to do everything in both macro and micro storytelling format, right? And macro is the overarching narrative that I want to drive throughout the entire case. So that is from Oh, that from jury selection, to opening statement to witnesses to cross examination to closing argument. And the interesting thing, so that's like the macro, there will be like a flow and a narrative that I want my my jury, my audience to essentially walk out of there with. But then in each of those pieces, there's those micro stories, right. So when I'm doing jury selection, I've got 80 to 100. People who I'm trying to figure out 12 people that I can take to that trial that are going to be neutral and, and valuable jury members to listen to me. And hopefully I can convince them. And so in that jury selection phase, I'm just dropping tonnes and tonnes of stories all day long to teach people things to get them to open up, right? Because the easy way to get somebody to open up is to build that connection through stories. So if you came into it, I would watch attorneys do this all the time trial lawyers, they would go in and just speak at their jury the entire time, and they wouldn't get any information. And they would get this terrible jury, and then they lose the case and be like, I wonder why I lost. I was like, I know why you lost because your jury was tuned out from the moment you started. You want to be telling stories about your personal life about your friends, family, people, you know, like parable, parables, right? Like all these storytelling tactics, pop culture, all this sort of stuff that that allows a jury to open up and feel safe and connected. And then throughout the piece, you're telling a story and opening statement, you're and the people who told a story were always far more successful. The witnesses you want to get them to tell a story. Basically, what you're trying to get them to do is open up and retell that story. And this is where people who would ask these, like very short questions, pointed questions, would lose that ability to connect to the audience, the jury, I would always try to be very open ended and be like, you know, tell me what happened. And that was just their cue to tell the story, because the easiest way for my witness to connect to the jury was to basically bring them into the story that they live themselves. And what we do is we prep that witness a bunch. Because if they could tell that story in the right way, you'd watch the jury literally like recoil, you'd watch them cry. I mean, I was trying murders, capital murders and child abuse cases. It was nasty stuff to hear. And when my jury would listen to it, the story would be so powerful. I mean, they would just start bawling. Like we would have to take breaks, because of how much we had worked with the witness to be able to tell their story in a really clear and compelling way. So like part of my job early on was both telling the story and also helping others to tell theirs, which was kind of an interesting world to live in where I was having to master both sides of that one is me actually doing the thing and the other is teaching it.


Francisco Mahfuz 14:29

No, maybe this is because story is what I live day in and day out. And also because I don't know almost anything about trial lawyers that I haven't picked up from TV. But when I think about a trial, particularly the opening the opening statement, I can't really get past just telling the story of what happened particularly if you are if you are the prosecution because arguably you have a story that of the defendant having committed a crime you know what the the victim Whether the person you're working with believes happens in, you would just tell that story. But what you're saying is, a lot of trial lawyers don't do that. They won't just give a whole bunch of statements and go on tangents about stuff, but don't actually tell the story of, you know, it was, it was three months ago, and Janie was walking home from a party with her best friends or whatever. Do you say that they don't often do that?


Robbie Crabtree 15:30

Correct. They just they go in and talk about the law and your duty and the things that you need to do. And they're going to be like, today, you're going to, you're going to hear from this person, and they're going to talk about this thing. And it's not in a narrative format, not in a storytelling format. And what you actually will find, the better you get as a trial lawyer is you actually start playing with like, so there's this this growth trajectory that try literal gone early on, they won't tell stories at all, then they'll start telling stories, but they'll tell them in probably like their most basic chronological way, and then you start getting into much higher level storytelling tactics. So you're playing around with perspective, who's the actual person that is telling the story? Whose viewpoint are you using? What are the timelines, right, you're probably pulling that like immediate Rez where like, you drop them directly into the action right in the middle of the action, and you tell the story, sometimes you're gonna start at the the end and basically walk people back to the very beginning, as though they're putting the pieces together for the first time. So there's lots of different ways that you end up playing around with it. And, and yet, most people are afraid to do that, because most won't put in the time, right, most will put in the time to understand what the case is about, they'll understand the law, they're focusing their time, they're not a lot of trial lawyers want to spend the time thinking of themselves as a professional storyteller. And really understanding what that takes and getting deep into that narrative. Because that's much more additional work, you know, I was dealing with anywhere from 150 to 250 cases at one time, how many how many trial lawyers want to go and spend their time on the weekends in the evenings, developing storytelling tactics for these different like, for 150 different cases, because my goal was not, not only was I telling a story, in the courtroom, I was telling stories when I was talking to defence attorneys, and opposing counsel, and to judges when I was trying to convince certain things to happen. So there was always this need to tell it. And so many people just for whatever reason, get up there and say, well, these are the facts you're going to hear. This is the law that we're going to tell you, this is your duty as a jury, and then they'd be like, so at the end, you're gonna find the person guilty. And it's like, but that's not a story. That's not a narrative. You weren't walking through that it was so easy. I would hardly talk about any of that stuff. And this guy would just like, I literally just like, as though they were in a fairy tale, like movie watching it. And I'd be like, and then by the way, at the end, I'm gonna ask you to find the defendant guilty. And be like, Alright, cool. That makes sense to me now, because I just heard this horrible story. And of course, I'm going to find them guilty. And it would honestly be over an opening statement. Like, I would speak first, as a prosecutor, it would, it would literally be over like, I would see that moment when I had a jury and I was like, Alright, now I just gotta like, now I just got to make good on the promises I just made and will be good.


Francisco Mahfuz 18:01

So when you when you tell the story in the opening statement, and then you get everything that happens after? What, what are you doing with the closing statement?


Robbie Crabtree 18:12

So closing ends up being much more argumentative? Right, that's where I get to. So if we think about storytelling, right, I think storytelling includes two different truths. One is factual truth. And one is emotional or poetic truth. Right? And an opening statement, it's very factual truth. We're telling the story. And we're not really embellishing. We're not really diving into that emotion yet. When we get to closing argument, because everything has come out. And it's now argument, we get to use emotional truth. And this is where I'm doing everything in my power to dig in how the victim felt, what they experienced, how the jury should be feeling, and take them through this roller coaster of emotions. And then I'm also tying up a lot of the storytelling, you know, relating it back to things I did an opening statement or in jury selection. So you're using Cialdini is classic principles when it comes to persuasion. Right? So we're getting things like, you know, we're getting them to make promises early on. And then we're bringing those back so that it plays into the sense of like, Oh, I get my word, I need to do this thing. As well as you're also dealing with any of the bad facts that came out, because there's always bad facts, in any case, that the other side is going to be able to present anything their way, right. Like a simple example is as if there's no no murder weapon, in the case, right? Let's say there was a shooting, somebody died. There's no gun. All right, the prosecutor is going to be like, of course, it's not a gun, because any smart any smart criminal is going to throw the gun away into the ocean before anybody gets found. And the defence is going to be like there's no murder weapon. How do you know like, there's no fingerprints, this murder weapon. So how do you know it's my client who did it? The same fact it's just fun two different ways. So my role as the prosecutor getting up in that closing argument, then is to basically reframe and make sure the jury's sole attention is like, Well, yeah, Robbie gave us a story with all these other pieces. So Of course, it makes sense that the gun was was thrown away, like they don't need to have the gun for us, they don't need that fingerprint for us. And that's what closing argument comes down to is understanding how to frame away the issues the other side brought up, as well as continuing to dial into that emotional truth to really make it sink into the jury. Because you're asking the jury to do something very hard to send somebody to prison for the rest of their life, or for many, many, many, many years. Even if they know somebody did that, we have to dig that hook so deep so that they feel obligated to make that right call. Because it's very easy for a jury for a person to say, I believe you, but I just couldn't do it, it was too much for my conscious, right? Like it was gonna weigh on me that I put somebody into prison the rest of their life, I didn't want that guilt. And so you have to find ways to move them to, to basically, you know, get them to realise they've got a duty and they've got to get to a point. And that's what we dial in that emotional truth.


Francisco Mahfuz 20:51

You had mentioned earlier, there is literal truth or objective truth. I see some people call it and there is emotional truth. And I guess that when Bill Clinton said, I did not have sex with that woman, that is the literal truth. But we all understand that that is not the emotional truth of our club and there. So I know you are you're very much into your pop culture. Is there? Is there a movie or TV show where you you saw regularly see lawyers doing the type of stuff you think lawyers should be doing? It wouldn't


Robbie Crabtree 21:27

be lawyer so much. But the best show that I've ever seen was the West Wing. And that inspired a lot of the way that I think about things. So Aaron Sorkin obviously writes beautiful kind of prose and scripts and dialogue. It's just it's really masterful, in fact, to actually use one of the scenes so I tried 100 trials as a prosecutor and then I went and tried to as a defence attorney, actually, and those to the trial and defence attorney side, I thought both of them were wrongfully accused, one was of child abuse. One was a murder. And the last one I tried was a murder case. And the murder case he had killed his brother like there was no doubt about it was on video. It was on video he had admitted to it. But I thought it was in self defence. Very hard sell though, because still he killed his brother, there was a better option. But I still thought it was self defence. And I tried to figure out how I was going to convince the jury that it was like I'm trying to think through how do I actually deliver a closing argument that makes a jury 12 people who saw on video, this guy, kill another person, say we're gonna find him not guilty and let him go home, especially in Texas, that is just like not that Texas, you kill somebody, you're going to prison. So I actually pulled from a scene in the West Wing, called take the Sabbath day. And I looked at the way the dialogue was written, the scene was written, the lighting, the music, the mood, the the, the way that like they were very intimate, even what I call the theme. So there's this moment, in that that dialogue between Toby Ziegler and a rabbis are talking about capital punishment. And the rabbi says vengeance is not Jewish. Now, obviously, I'm not going to go into my closing argument and say, Vengeance is not Jewish. One, I'm not Jewish. Two, there aren't many Jewish people in Texas, and I wouldn't use it anyways, because it's just not an appropriate way to use that phrase, but I turned it into vengeance is not justice. And that became my theme throughout the entire closing argument. And when I did, I tried to recreate that scene from the West Wing where I speaking very softly, very quietly, very in your in your face, like as we were very intimate. And so for me, the West Wing is his ultimate source of inspiration from the way that they speak from the way that the right from the way that they use music from the way that they build tension, like some of my favourite favourite speeches are in that show. And you can find so much inspiration there. And ultimately that case, right, I use that. And by the end of it, I had a bunch of jury members crying. And ultimately, they came back and said that he was not guilty of that murder charge. And he was able to go home to his family, largely because I knew there were these sources of pop culture that I could connect to that I could pull from that I could use that would help me be successful and the west wing was and continues to be my favourite source of that.


Francisco Mahfuz 23:55

I love the West Wing. I remember watching it obsessively. It was after even one of the few years after it came out so I could actually watch the whole thing in one go. So I watched the seven seasons, I think it was one after the other. The only problem of watching the West Wing of trying to rewatch the West Wing. Is that like, I don't know if politicians were ever like that. I have my doubts. But then you you watch the West Wing, and then you watch the horror show. That is real politics in most places in the world right now. And it just it just makes me too depressed. Like I I wouldn't I wouldn't jab as my president. I you know, but I don't know if there are many jab, right Jebediah I don't know if there are many of them left if they ever existed. So so that's the bit of the problem. The first three,


Robbie Crabtree 24:46

I think they did at one point, it's interesting. I actually know a lot of people who went and worked on Capitol Hill because that show like it inspired a generation of people to go and work on Capitol Hill, and I almost was one of them. That's actually what inspired me to go to law school early on, was I was like, all these people are lawyers. In the show, they all have some sort of legal background. And I was like, I want to be that I want to be a speechwriter. I want to be an advisor to the President, I want to do these really cool things. Because that writing and the way that they approach dialogue and conversation and issues was so attractive to me, it was so inspiring that, that it really didn't pull me into that world. So it's crazy how powerful like that's a story, right? That's a story that's pulling me in and pulling and changing the direction of my life purely because it connects me on such a deep way, which again, it's like the classic Steve Jobs quote, right, you can only connect the dots, when you look in reverse how I got to the point I am today, when I look backwards, I'm like, Yeah, this, of course, makes total sense. And the West Wing played a big part in that


Francisco Mahfuz 25:37

in Brazil, where I'm from, the way you do University is a bit different than the way it works in the US. Because as in US, you have the PSATs. In Brazil, you have one big test, I think now it's changed. But in my days, you had one big test, but you had to choose the course the major before. So you choose whether you're going to go into law school, and then you, you take the test, which is the same for everyone, but you need a specific grade to get in the university want. So any in the weights of the subjects are different. So if you're trying to go into law school, it will be different than if you're trying to go into medicine. And that's it. If you don't pass the test, you don't go into the university period, either in there's no changing, like you don't change from law school to anything else in the middle, you have to pretty much you know, get out of uni, take the test again, and start from scratch or a different university. It's miserable. But I remember that the first, the first time I applied for university and didn't get in was for medicine. And I have no doubt that it was because of the popularity of ER. So I have to I couldn't believe that word on George Clooney, you know, the wrote the rogue, but good looking doctor that made everything look cool. Great Call out. That's the power of storytelling for you. Now, one thing I've seen you talk about a lot, when it comes to what your approach to storytelling is, and what you think is important is, is emotion. And I think this is kind of curious, because I mean, people talk about emotion, there is no storytelling that cannot recognise the value of emotion. But you are only the second person I have ever spoken to in this show that has emotion as like, it's the most primary thing to think about when you're thinking of stories, and it actually categorises stories based on emotion. Curiously enough, you know, you're working on this working with lawyers, the other person works with politicians, by the lawyers and the politicians seem to have clued up to this point, but other people haven't. So can you can you just talk a bit about this approach you have of of sinking of the emotion first and then going for all the rest that needs to be in the in the store?


Robbie Crabtree 27:55

You know, there's this great line from Dave Chappelle where he's like, he'll come up with punchline to a joke. And he won't even know what the joke is, that's going to lead up to it. And he'll just put it in a fishbowl. And he'll find it later when like, he'll just be going through them and be like, I've got this punch line, I know it's gonna be funny. And now I have this story that basically leads into it. And I've always kind of thought about it very similarly is like, I'm figuring out what's the emotion I want to create in my audience, and then I work backwards from there. And we think about it. The reason why this is so important is most people fail, they just kind of hope that they hit some emotion in their audience when they deliver their story, because they're so focused on the facts, and the people and the characters. And they're really going into that logic side of the brain. Right? I think humans want to inherently believe that we are logical, rational creatures, the science tells us otherwise, the science 100% tells us that we are emotional creatures. And then we use logic and reason to justify the emotional decision that we made. And I learned this very, very early on in my career as a trial lawyer like, this is why I care so much about this. I had a case I lost it. It was my eighth jury trial ever. And I lost the case, and I should have won it. I had everything in my favour. And I listened to the jury as they were talking to the defendant afterwards. And they said something that always stood out to me, they go, we know you are guilty. You know, you were guilty. But we believed you and we felt that you deserve the second chance. And I asked him about like, what do you mean by that? Because I was listening to them. And they were like, well, like you, you. You prove the case. They're like you were right. Like he was guilty. They go we didn't really care about what you're offering. And like we liked him and he connected with us. So we wanted to give them another chance and we'll and they told me like we're so sorry. Like we know that you wanted a guilty verdict and you should have got one but we just we just couldn't we didn't have that. Like, we just didn't feel right doing that. Those words. Just absolutely ate at me for so long. Because I was like, hold on. I did my job. I should have won. I did everything right when it came to logic and reason, but I lost it. You know what, I hate losing, I hate losing so much.


Francisco Mahfuz 30:03

And you also care about injustice to losing an injustice. Just pulling you're like, man, no, I


Robbie Crabtree 30:12

know, I know you are Francisco. And it was lucky because this was like a low level case, right? This is like driving while intoxicated, nobody got hurt. It was not serious. But I knew the trajectory of my career was going towards serious cases, right. And I knew I was going to be trying murders, I knew I was going to be trying child abuse cases. And if I lost those cases, because I didn't do it, right, that was going to be injustice, that was going to be victims who didn't get their, their rightful day in court and potential, you know, predators could be back on the street. So I took that very personally because like, I like I could be doing harm by not understanding what it is that moves a jury that moves people when I tell a story. And that was kind of that that path that led me down this emotion train of learning, why do humans make decisions? How can I trigger that? How can I connect to that? So realistically, the one of the first pieces that you should be doing as a storyteller is figuring out what is the emotion I want to create. And I think the mistake so many people make is any emotion doesn't have to be one word, right? It doesn't have to be I want them to feel joyful. It can be it can be a sentence of what I want them to feel, right, I want them to feel like when they walk into their childhood home and smell fresh baked cookies from their mother, like that's like a sense of like warmth, that you can embrace and feel because everybody knows that. And guess what I know that feeling. So if I know I want my audience to feel that same way, like there's this warm embrace of they're like coming home to safety, well, then I'm gonna pull from that that experience that I've had, because I can feel it deep inside of me. And you know, this is a storyteller, when we can actually dial into something that we ourselves know, right, we can create a much deeper emotional connection to our audience, because we're speaking from some place inside of us that we're reliving in that moment, we're reliving that feeling. And by reliving it, it's now real. And so when we speak it in that story, it allows the jury to feel it, or the jury or the audience to feel it on a deeper level. And this is one of the pieces that artists struggle with so much as artists, the reason they're so successful, is they feel on a deeper level than a normal person does. And so when they create a painting, or a photograph, or documentary, they're able to transmit 100% emotion to the audience because they feel it at 150%. But that leads to often wild swings. And it's very challenging for a lot of artists with which Anthony Bourdain was actually speaking about on the documentary Road Runner. I still like that kind of artists curse, if you will. But this is what led me to this emotion being the focus, because this is how we move people. And once I started dialling that in the results were unbelievable. I mean, absolutely unbelievable what I was able to do, I was getting cases that previously had been hung juries, that other other attorneys couldn't convince anybody. And I was going into these cases and convincing juries without a problem, convincing judges without a problem, because they were so focused on so many of these facts and logic and reason that they failed to connect that emotional side of the brain. And then you did you put the logic and reason on top of it. And that's the best storytellers when they move us emotionally. That's what inspires us to action. We then justify it with that logic and reason. And we've got to go into some of these classic principles like sales and persuasion, and human psychology and different pieces. Like if we think about our DNA, we've got to go all the way back. Why do stories? Why do we use stories because they connect to us emotionally. So it's a long winded answer of way of saying I lost a case. And that triggered me to never lose a case again that I should win. And that led to this kind of entire forcing function and belief that emotion is the main driver that we need to focus on in our stories.


Francisco Mahfuz 33:44

We talked about how catchy rhyming things can be the way of explained a lot of what you just cover there is that emotion decides reason justifies that there's a quote I've used before from from a neurologist called Donald kaun, which says, he says that the difference between reason and reason and emotion is that reason leads to conclusions and emotion leads to action, which is slightly more sophisticated way of saying that. Now I do have, I do have a bit of a problem. But I get what you're saying, right? But and I've heard you also say that when you ask people what they want, like, What's the objective they're trying to achieve? A lot of people are thinking of the outcome. They're thinking, I want to sell this product, I want to take them on as a client, whatever. But you can't, as you said, you can reverse engineer that and make that into a story. But you can do that with emotion. Now, I'm not sure if I am an emotionally stunted man child. But I don't find the easiest thing in the world to say, Okay, well say I, you know, I'm talking to some cut times. It's easy to think what's the emotion that I want to inspire here, but I don't find that that's always the easiest thing to do. I think I think it's very easy to say, Okay, well, you were trying to convince someone to work with you, because you can solve the problem, you can share a story of when you help someone like them with the same problem or a similar problem. I think that's easy enough, I don't think is necessarily that easy to say, what is the emotion this prospect needs to feel? So they come on board? So that to me is the That, to me is the is the challenge of that approach. So how, how did you get it? Was that a natural thing for you? Or what sort of training have you gone through and you put your students through? So they learn how to find the right emotion to try and elicit from their audiences?


Robbie Crabtree 35:42

I mean, let's be honest, it is hard. And that I mean, that's the first thing I can say is, this is not the easy approach, right? This is not the one that most people are going to teach in their guru sessions, when they're like, I'm going to teach you how to tell a story, and you're going to pay me X dollars, and then you're going to tell your story, great, you're not to tell a story. But now you're going to try to be fitting a square into a circle, a square into a triangle, because you only have one way of doing it because you don't understand these first principles. And first principles are hard, right? It's hard to figure that out, and you're going to get it wrong. The truth is Francisco, like anyone I deal with, I'm like, You're gonna make mistakes, that's good. You should be making mistakes. But we think about it. What happens, and a lot of times is people, they, if they choose an emotion, it's superficial, right, they haven't given it real thought. And so this is where we start doing things where one we're preparing in both a macro and a micro Wagan. The macro preparation is just getting frameworks and getting ideas in your head that you know, connect to people. So I have quotes, I have things I call set pieces that I'm always using. I have stories, I always know I can deliver, right? That work. I've parables I know can connect, I have these anecdotal stories, I have all sorts of different things at my disposal ready to use, because what I've done over my career over my lifetime, is essentially figure out what do these stories trigger when I tell them to somebody, and I know certain ones are going to work like I know certain ones are going to create certain emotions and hooks, and so I can use those. Same with customer stories. If you're trying if you have a prospect on the phone, you should you should know, what are their main objections going to be? What are the pieces that that they're going to have questions about? What are they coming in with their mindset into this? And where do I need to move their mindset? So we have to think first off, where is the prospect or the audience at to start with? And where do I want them to end up? Right? We do that, then it's what emotion do I create to build that bridge? And then last, where have I felt that emotion so I can pull from it. When we go through that process? If you're talking to a prospect I guarantee you've been sold to to you've been a prospect. So like how we we can think through Alright, when I was a prospect, what was I thinking? What did I need to feel in order to get to move forward, and then you start doing that with other people as well. So you start to get a set of prospects who are different avatars, different mindsets that, you know, hey, when I get this person, this is what moves them, here's the emotion I need to create. So some of this is like doing it on a macro level where you've done a lot of this preparation over time, then in the micro like in those moments, what you're essentially creating as you're reading them, right? You're trying to get a sense of like, what's this? Like? How are they reacting to these things. And so if they come in, and they're very cold, how am I going to maybe they're not somebody who's like super warm and fuzzy, when they get on the call, the emotion I'm gonna want to create, there's gonna be different, like, I may want it to be more where they think it's just a logical to take this next step. So I can play into Logic, but I'm going to do it in an emotional way, I'm going to walk them through showing other people who are super logical, and what they've achieved from that. So it feels to them, what they're actually seeing is a bunch of logical stuff. So they think to themselves, Oh, this makes logical sense. What they're actually doing is they're feeling like, I'm like those people. I'm like those people, which is an emotion that we're using logic to basically trick them into feeling emotion so that they don't have that initial hesitation. Whereas if somebody is more warm and fuzzy, it may be like, they want to hang out and be friends. And they're cool with that. But we need to move them in from like friend mode into buyer mode. And how do we do that. And this is where we play into a different emotion, like, we need to make sure that we can demonstrate that people that we get along with are also getting these results in different ways. So you're always trying to think through what are the different kind of avatars I'm dealing with? How can I create that so you have to prepare ahead of time. But then you also have to be very flexible and nimble in the moment, right, Francisco. And that's the tough part for a lot of speakers. And that's why you need to put in the reps. I always say this, like you've got to get in the trenches. And there's a great speech by Teddy Roosevelt, which the Man in the Arena talk and I'm sure many people have heard that right. Like, essentially the only person's judgement that matters is the man who gets in the the arena that want to get in the muck in the mud and, and the dirt and the grime and all these different pieces. And so that's what we've got to start helping people understand is you don't go from zero to a master storyteller without a whole bunch of bumps, bruises, struggles, obstacles, like failures, frustration, stress, strain, like you have to do all these things to get to that level to get to great to become that most powerful person in the world like Steve Jobs says where that really is the storytellers role. of becoming that most powerful person in the world, because that sets the vision of the future. And that's what we're trying to help people to do. But it's not easy. Nor should it be because the power of storytelling, we can see them bad examples like an Elizabeth Holmes, it has unbelievable power behind it. So we need to almost make it hard as like a gatekeeper function to get into those upper echelons, where you can really start moving people in in unbelievable ways.


Francisco Mahfuz 40:24

Okay, so let's get some examples of that. Because I know you have a tonne of these avatars. But you had mentioned that you had mentioned that case that where you were the defence attorney. So you you you have the situation you believe the guy did it in self defence? Are you going in that particular Kindleberger case? Did you go for putting the jury in the shoes of the of the person who committed the murder is still the right word here? But do you want the jury to feel like that guy who had no option but to kill his brother? Or who do you want them to relate to? What is the emotion that you're trying to instil in a jury in a case like that, for example,


Robbie Crabtree 41:04

so actually, I'm not trying to get them to put themselves in his shoes, because I knew a lot of the jury members, if they were putting the shoes would have said, and they did say later, I would have done something different. I would have left, I would have done this. And I was like, Yeah, you're right, that would have been a better decision. But that doesn't mean that what he did was legally wrong, that he should be held accountable for something that was legally justified. So in that case, what I actually needed to do was more make them feel like they are a part of something bigger, right? I needed them almost to feel like they were a part of this whole just like idea, virtue of justice, right? Almost as though they were the ones upholding our entire system, we're like the weight of the world is on them. Or if you are going to trust this system, the only way you can trust the system is if you are willing to do the hard thing. It was that almost like I hate what I'm having to do. But I know it's the right thing, right? It's it a very kind of like simple example, it'd be like nobody likes eating their vegetables. Like it's not fun. But we know we need to eat that in order to have the right nutrients to be healthy. Like I can't just eat cake and doughnuts all day long. That's not going to be a successful recipe. And so it would have been easy to give them the cake and donut approach. But instead it was like, these are vegetables we've got, like we've got up live like live up to our values, we've got to live up to the things that we took, took a belief in in the system, like part of the US is believing that the justice system has, you know, credibility behind it. And I needed to almost weigh on them that and this is why I went with that that theme vengeance is not justice. And I was trying to relate to I know what your feeling is you want vengeance, you want to say you killed somebody. And so there should be an eye for an eye. But I had to almost do like if we go if we want to go into into the Bible as a reference, right, there's the eye for the eye, which is the Old Testament I'm trying to get them into New Testament which is turned the other cheek. I'm literally trying to say we are in a new age, we are not in this eye for an eye age, we are in the turn the other cheek. And I needed them to feel that that didn't mean it was easy, but that's what I want them to feel not that they were actually the defendant himself.


Francisco Mahfuz 43:18

It's not a perfect parallel by any stretch of the imagination. But I know you like your, your your movies, and I was taken this idea of the the right thing to do is really, really hard and you're not going to like it, but we need you to do it made me think immediately of that scene of which actually happened from the mutation game. When when the the coders who work in Bletchley Park, crack Enigma, which is the code the code machine that the Nazis were using, and I am in this part, I think it's fictitional, where one of the first codes they break is that the Nazis are going to sink a particular ship in one of the codebreakers knows that his brother is in that ship. And then he wants to alert his brother and save the ship. And they're saying, Yeah, but if we do that, they will know we've broken the code in this shape is not important enough for us to throw away this advantage, this is going to win the war. So you're right there is you know, that ship is going down. So that's the scene that that reminded me of, okay, let me just move you away from the trial and get this idea of the emotion and something that you also do a tonne of work with and we're not gonna have time to go into massive detail on it, but I just want to get a feel for that approach. So you work with a lot of founders. Okay. Now when someone is trying to to raise money for a startup, what do you find? Are most typically the the emotions that those founders are trying to elicit from, from investors? What are the most typical things that you tend to find?


Robbie Crabtree 44:55

I mean, it really boils down to they need to show two things they need to show that it's safe and that it's exciting. And there's really that into like that they have the background understanding to make the thing real. So this is like the safety. And the exciting is it's going to be massive, right? There's this huge potential for it. And so there's this, this moment actually pulling from pop culture again, in Vikings the show early on when Ragnar is inviting people, the Vikings actually sail west to England for the first time. And he's giving them this, like, this is an adventure of a lifetime. He's given him the exciting part. And then he's also given the the safety part of we have these new ships, and I have a new way of navigating, and like I'm in control here, I understand what I'm doing, I have a unique perspective. And that's really what founders are trying to do is show Hey, I'm inviting you on this grand adventure, that is going to be amazing that nobody's ever gone on before. But I'm also telling you, it's safe. Because I know the way I have new ideas, I have a unique perspective that no one's come up with before. That is like boiling it down to its purest form is safe and exciting. There's obviously a lot more that goes into it beyond there based on each founder. But those two, if you can nail those two and a pitch to investors, you're going to be in a really good spot.


Francisco Mahfuz 46:03

I mean, that sounds pretty easy, because the safest things in life are usually the most exciting r&d


Robbie Crabtree 46:10

is why we've got to really position that well, because it is they're like kind of they're, they're against each other right, exciting and safe. Like those don't seem to go together. But it works really well. The right founders absolutely can prove that it's safe. And also that it's exciting. It's it's a really cool thing to watch come to life. And that, again, is why they're so successful. And they're able to pitch this way and present this way. Because when when an investor feels that they're like, well, this feels like a sure thing, but also feels like a massive Sure thing, it becomes very easy for them to write that check and say, Here you go, please go build this thing.


Francisco Mahfuz 46:40

I think the last thing we will have time to cover in any detail is I've seen you talk about how founders need to master conversational storytelling. What is your definition of conversational storytelling.


Robbie Crabtree 46:52

So there's this old way of getting on like a zoom or getting in a presentation and giving like a performance giving a presentation, right. And I think that that's the wrong way to do it. I don't think that anybody relates well to that in today's current age, what I think conversational storytelling, where it comes in, is, it's a way to just talk to somebody almost like we do on a podcast going back and forth, where it's like, I'm relating points that I have ideas in a conversational storytelling way, like we're having the conversation and I'm dropping stories in. And every story I'm dropping in is playing into my bigger story. And so one of the things that we do with founders that I do a lot of work with them is developing a narrative a story from start to finish. But then what we do is we actually block that out in terms of like this part of the story actually answers this question. This part of the story answers this question. So there may be something that answers go to market strategy. There may be something that answers the, you know, defensibility piece, there may be something that answers like your origin story, there's going to be something that orders like that, that answers what your customer acquisition is going to look like. There's something that answers like why your team is involved in why they're the right people. And we would do that all in one story. But what happens in a conversational storytelling, why is you start breaking that up? You just have a normal conversation. They're like, hey, like, Tell me Tell me your story. And the mistake most founders would make is they would do like the entire thing. It'd be like a 1010 minute monologue story. I'm like, No, if they say like, Tell me your story. Tell him like your personal story. That's the answer. And then they're gonna say, Oh, that's really interesting. Like, Well, how did you get into this thing? Guess what, now you tell the piece of like your startup story a little bit? And then give me like, alright, so like, how does that make you different? Now, we talked about the story piece of defensibility. Alright, so you have some defensibility? But like, how are you actually going to like, find customers and go to like, actually get them on board. Cool. That's the go to market strategy piece that we're going to talk about in storytelling form. So what we've done is we broken up the story into a conversational way. And this is one of the things you learn as a trial lawyer, especially as a child abuse prosecutor is one of the pieces to tell if a story is real, is to be able to break it up and start and stop at different points. So oftentimes, what you do to find if someone was making up an allegation of child abuse, is can I drop them into any moment of that story, and they can basically start from there move forward, I can take them backwards and forwards and move them all around, and it stays consistent. Well, so we've just basically, I've basically just done this with founders now in a conversational format. So when they're telling the story, it feels so polished and so natural to a listener because it is dialled into us as humans to basically figure out, Is this story real? Or is it just make believe, and when someone tells it from start to finish, it feels a little bit like maplelea, right? It feels like you're creating some like a movie, it feels like you're creating a television show, when you do it in this conversational storytelling format, where it's broken up in these different pieces, and you just have that masterful kind of ability to move effortlessly between different pieces. All of a sudden, the investors like this person just knows, like every question, they had this like this, this narrative behind it, it makes total sense to me. And you also build a deeper connection because instead, instead of speaking at the investor, you're speaking with him. And when you speak with somebody, right? We build a deeper connection because all of a sudden, it's like, Hey, we're just humans. We're having a real relationship real moment here. So that's, that's how I train all my founders. Basically approach any any sort of fundraising pitch that they're going into?


Francisco Mahfuz 50:03

Yeah, I think the best way I've ever seen described not necessarily the separating the story, many different bits, but the, the style in which you converse with people you tell the story is, is the dinner test? No, would you tell it that way over dinner to a friend, because if you if you wouldn't, then there's something you're doing that you shouldn't be doing. Either you're doing too much, or you're doing too little, you know, if you're if you would be more animated, be more animated. If you would be more controlled or or calmer and less per formatic, then then that's how you should be. Because Because otherwise, you're just putting on an act. And people can often see see through that. Something else that I think is changes dramatically how credible any story becomes and and how much we feel that it's true. And I wonder how much in trials, this is actually the case is the right amount of details. To most people, I think it's the biggest difference between it feeling like a story that you're just crafted, or something that actually happened. And I tend to find when I when I do presentations or workshops, I would just you know, I will say it was a small restaurant, there was about eight tables, instead of just saying it's a small restaurant. And you can ask them an hour later to how many tables that restaurant have. And everybody goes eight, I think it was eight tables. But if you don't have those details, then it just seems to be like you don't want 10 different details. But you want one or two. Otherwise, it seems to be lacking some reality. And I guess if it's a business conversation, sometimes there is one detail that everyone who gets involved with that would know. And if you just drop that one detail, like for example, I've used this before, but anyone who posts content on LinkedIn on a regular basis, or on social media knows that feeling of you just posted something you think is going to be a killer. And then you look at it five minutes later, and there's nothing happening. And you think, well, maybe there's there's a problem here, this system is not working, and then you keep refreshing. And they go oh, just there's some people like that. Okay, it's okay. So I don't have to rethink my whole life. Details,


Robbie Crabtree 52:08

we call those sensory details. So sensory details allow us to know that it's real, it's somebody actually experienced it. And the best example I can give of this is if you ask somebody who has like, if you have if you know scuba diving, if you've ever been scuba diving, and you ask somebody, how is their scuba diving experience, if they've really done it, they're gonna be able to give you every little detail if they haven't, and you say, hey, like, have you ever been scuba scuba diving, let's say just someone's like, yeah, because they're trying to impress you. Nothing, you're gonna ask the follow up question of what was your experience, and they're like, oh, you know, like I put on the suit and the tank was pretty heavy. And I you know, the mask like is a little hard to breathe at first, I jumped in the water, there were some like fish around. And, you know, that was it was really cool to see them, then we swam back and just had a really great time for someone who's actually done is going to be able to describe the sensation, like on every part of their body is going to be able to describe the thoughts that are going on their head is going to be able to describe when you hit 20 metres, the water changes temperature, when you hit 30 metres, you feel this pressure. And here's how you actually come up so that you're safe, and they're gonna be able to describe it in a way that you're like, oh, that person believed it. And that's what we're looking for those sensory details. And that was another another key aspect that we learned, as a child of us prosecutor to figure out like, what's the story real, you're looking for timelines, and you're looking for sensory details. Because if they couldn't provide those, it probably wasn't real. And storytellers always need to be thinking what are my most powerful details that will describe and this is where you're talking, you know, choosing to versus 10. It's really figuring out how to maximise the density of your words. We want dense word we want dense details, so that I don't need to describe every little thing about the restaurant I can be it was a small restaurant with eight tables. Everyone can Amelie think of a restaurant like that. I don't need to say it was eight tables with wooden chairs, and, you know, white, white and red little chequered tablecloths and all that. I don't need that. Because a lot of people will just go there, they figure that out. The detail is enough, right? We don't need to go so deep or someone's like, alright, like, we can almost put them off with too many details. So to your point, I agree. And that's what we called sensory details. And it was always a big part of telling the story, right, and making sure that anyone who was telling it, it's one way that I judged whether I believed it or not.


Francisco Mahfuz 54:14

When you were talking about scuba diving, I was just thinking of that one moment that everyone who's done scuba diving or snorkelling knows where you look at the mouthpiece and you ask yourself, how much should I worry about how many people have put this thing in their mouths? And then you just decide to live with it and never think about it again? That came to my mind. I thought of scuba


Robbie Crabtree 54:36

salad. I have no idea I've never been so like that would never actually hit my mind. Whereas somebody who has like what no back and be like yeah, that's the first thing that happens when you see it


Francisco Mahfuz 54:45

who do struggle that might just be my brain and how it works.


Robbie Crabtree 54:50

I'm sure it's not.


Francisco Mahfuz 54:52

There is there is there is a tonne of stuff we never got anywhere near close to touching. I have a feeling we might I'd have to do this again at some point. But I know you're involved. There's a lot of stuff. Where do you want? What is the first place? You want people looking for you? Is it Twitter? Is it LinkedIn? Is it your website, just, you know, plug away?


Robbie Crabtree 55:12

Yeah, LinkedIn would be best. That's, that's where you can connect to me the easiest. And then the second place would be my website, which is just Robbie crabtree.com. I post up there and you can get in touch with me there as well. So those are the two best places these days to get in contact with


Francisco Mahfuz 55:25

me. Perfect. Man. This was a this was a pleasure. I'm glad we did this.


Robbie Crabtree 55:28

Thank Francisco's amazing.


Francisco Mahfuz 55:29

Alright everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time.


I hope you enjoy the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or a rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find the show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars tab. I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website story powers.com



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