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2 min read

Set for Sentencing:  Immersion Helps Lawyers Humanize Convicted People During Sentencing

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This week, our very own Dr. Paul Zak was on Doug Passon's podcast - "Set for Sentencing."

Doug is a criminal defense lawyer and sentencing expert with over 25 years of experience.

Doug’s goal is to illuminate the process around sentencing - the punishment given to a person convicted of a crime from the judge. 

As Doug explains, over one million Americans face sentencing every year. Even though the individual has done something wrong and must be held to account, the system is broken, often resulting in punishments that are unduly harsh and handed down with less than careful consideration.

Doug’s work aims to bring more awareness, fairness and humanity to the process. 

Storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool at every stage of litigation, and is particularly impactful at sentencing. There is no better way to help a judge understand the depth and true character of the person they are about to sentence.

From the moment they enter the system, someone else has control over Dougs' clients' stories.

Sentencing is his opportunity to tell the truth of his client’s journey in a way that may never have been done before. Done right, there is nothing better than credible and immersive storytelling to truly balance the scales of justice. 

"Our clients are suffering," explains Doug in his compelling video explaining this point of view. "And most of the time, whatever it is they are suffering from . . . has usually led them to this moment in time where they now face sentencing; where they are being judged by another human being. My job is to help the judge understand the suffering of my client. So that maybe the judge understands why [my client] committed the crime. And maybe that's important as to why they are not going to do it again."

Doug sums up:

"In order for the judge to truly understand my clients' suffering, they have to walk a mile in their shoes. That's where true understanding comes from."

Doug takes his advocacy to the next level, by using documentary filmmaking to better tell these stories. He has long been recognized as the pioneer in this cutting-edge process.

With storytelling so essential to Doug's work - his conversation with Dr. Paul about Immersion creates the missing piece to understanding why storytelling is an indispensable tool for lawyers.

Dr. Paul gives lawyers the science behind how narrative activates the brain and moves people into action. In his podcast, Doug wanted to share that with his audience, especially now that there is a tool to measure this engagement in real time. 

In their conversation, Doug and Dr. Paul discuss the power of Immersion in creating impactful storytelling. 

"Humans are social creatures,” explains Dr. Paul. “And storytelling drives the empathy and connection you want to create in this situation.”

In this two-part podcast, Dr. Paul and Doug discuss: 

Part 1: 

  • The crucial difference between empathy v sympathy
  • How narrative “immersion” leads to audience action
  • Brain response to immersion
  • The importance of “opening hot”
  • How long immersion lasts and why the brain needs a break
  • The importance of strategic placement of a “call to action” in your narrative communication
  • Neurologic responses to written, spoken and visual communication
  • Why traditional “focus groups” are ineffective
  • Using multiple story lines to sustain immersion
  • Pauses – a speaker’s superpower
  • Link to Podcast & Full Notes Overview

PART 2: 

  • Dr. Zak's five step "SIRTA" process to achieve immersive storytelling
  • How to turn a judge into a superfan with story
  • Why every judge and prosecutor should spend a day in prison and witness an execution
  • Why every lawyer needs to understand that we are now living in an "experience economy"
  • Running 3 minutes of Doug's sentencing video through the Immersion platform
  • Why music is integral to storytelling
  • Link to Podcast & Full Notes Overview

You can check out the podcast at any of the below links or anywhere you get your podcasts:

Apple Podcasts



Interested in trying Immersion for your own storytelling work? 

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