SLIDESHOWS IN COURT: The media is NOT the Message


Even though not used too often yet, slideshows like for instance a Powerpoint presentation can have a significant impact in your case. Opening statements and closing submissions are two of the few opportunities where you can prepare your story in advance and present it to the court hopefully without too many distractions.  Preparing a series of slides and using the power of visual communication can substantially increase your ability to present a lot of information and increase the level of comprehension thereof. Now just because you know how to create a nice background to your presentations, that does not mean that your presentation will actually be of added value to your statements or submissions. A bad presentation may even harm your case. In fact you may very well not even need a presentation, but if you think you do, here are some matters to consider.

SOME GOLDEN RULES AND TIPS

1. Create an outline first
Keep in mind at all times that the slides are not meant to tell the story, you as a solicitor or barrister are. The presentation is there to support what you want to present to the court and not the other way around. It is important not to get caught up in the visual and audio enhancements available to you. The story is what comes first and should be able to stand on its own. Once that is done you could review your outline and see where it may benefit from visual enhancements: a photograph or video, a fragment of an audio recording or videotaped statement, a highlighted part of a document or an important document itself. The enhancements are there to illustrate or emphasise important points.

2. Simplicity Rules
Presentation programs such as Powerpoint offer a wealth of whistles and bells: slide transitions, cool background options, animation effects to name but a few. That does not however mean you should actually use them. The courtroom is not a place to provide entertainment it is a place where justice needs to be done. A conservative approach is therefore strongly recommended. Simplicity rules here: keep things lean and clean, at best with a light blue or otherwise non-distracting background. I prefer a light background as opposed to a dark one (somehow dark blue seems to be a favored option for many. Like a website, a lighter and softer background is much easier on the eyes).

3. Colors and Fonts
Also keep in mind that what you see on your screen is not necessarily how things will come across in a court room or on a big screen. Anything that is too dark or too bright may be a distraction which could ultimately have the effect of loss of attention instead of attracting it. With loss of attention comes loss of retention and loss of comprehension.

By default white is the standard background colour but this is not the easiest on the eyes when seen on the big screen. Instead consider light grey, or a soft blue background, it is much easier on the eyes especially when you are presenting images.

Likewise with fonts. Not all fonts are equally easy to read on the big screen. Fonts like Times New Roman, or Book Antiqua (a favorite under lawyers it seems) are best suited for printed materials but hard to read on a big screen. I prefer and recommend using font types such a Arial, Tahoma, Trebuchet or Verdana for non printed media including presentations because they are easier to read and therefore more suitable. Again; with loss of attention comes loss of retention and loss of comprehension.

4. Too Much of a Good Thing
As said before, presentations are there to support your story not to tell the story. All too often I see how too much information is crammed on the slides. It may be tempting to put a particular part of your submissions on a slide (for instance a complete paragraph) but that can have some terrible side effects. First of all it may lead to slides that are very hard to read because of the small size of the font that necessarily comes with. More importantly: there is this tendency to start reading ahead, which results in your audience being focused on reading your text instead of listening what you have to tell. YOU are telling the story not the slides.
Also keep in mind that bullets are speaking points not reading points. Reading texts straight from the slide is besides that very boring and therefore does not help in retaining the attention.

5. Visual and audio enhancements

So you made the outline and you are now ready to incorporate visual and audio to your presentation, assuming that this will be functional.
With photographs, I recommend making them as large as possible: meaning use the complete size of the slide and where you are considering blowing up part of a picture, use a separate slide for it and apply the same rule. On other occasions you may want to use the initial photograph as the background and add a blown up fragment on top of it to emphasise a specific point. Consider your options here.
When incorporating documents, ensure that you incorporate he relevant parts either by using a hyperlink to a specific part of a document or by cutting and pasting a specific fragment into your presentation.  When you want to highlight a certain part of a text in a document, I recommend so called “reverse highlighting.” Instead of having one of those yellow boxes consider the option of a black box in which the specific part of the text is made bright yellow or white.
And then there are video fragments. There is no reason why such fragments should be playing small size. Where blow them up to the size of your slide. For audio clips I recommend a blank slide with at the most a small icon showing that the clip is playing. You want your audience to focus on the audio not on the player.

“Excuse me, I am encountering a technical problem here: it doesn’t work?”
I bet you have you seen at least once a video or audio clip on a PowerPoint slide that didn’t start playing. Usually the reason for that is that someone has copied or moved the presentation from one location to another. The program searches for the video or audio file, and it’s not there. What I recommend is that you copy all the visual and audio enhancements into a separate folder that sticks together with the presentation itself. You could burn this on CD and you will have no trouble at all. For Powerpoint users: use PowerPoint’s “Pack
and Go” or “Package for CD” feature. This feature will ensure that all embedded files are included with the presentation.

ALMOST READY TO GO
You have finalized the presentation and are almost ready to go now. I recommend you make notes where slides need to be switched in your text so as to ensure your story and your slides will run as one smooth operation. Besides that I would like to suggest that if you have the possibility, to run a try or rehearsal. Reviewing your outline and actually presenting it are two entirely different things. At the very least you will have an indication as to the length of your performance. Perhaps you could rehearse the presentation for some of your colleagues or team members. Make sure you get some sort of feedback on whether or not your presentation is convincing, is able to appeal to your target audience (dealing with a jury that is different than dealing with a judge or panel of experienced arbitrators), and whether or not adjustments may be required.

KNOW WHEN TO GET HELP AND ACTUALLY GET IT
If you have the time and resources to do all of this yourself, go for it. If you are sure you will not risk the outcome of your case, go for it. Whilst the tips outlined here are relatively basic, they may well end up to become time-consuming, especially if you are an inexperienced user. This is time you could have used on the merits of your case or another case. If you do not have the time to devote to this type of preparation, or if it is just something that would divert precious time away from more important responsibilities, consider assistance by an experienced party: someone in your office, an outside party such as a litigation support professional or trial (presentation) consultant who can tackle the production matters and where required or desired, who can even be present during to assist at the relevant times in your court case. You don’t need to be and want to be distracted with the technicalities as you are presenting your case and therefoe need to be ocussed on your audience.

Costs are at all times a consideration, but should not impede the best possible representation of your client. If the case was worthy to be tried it is worthy to be presented properly, effectively, and efficiently.
If that means you need to bring in some assistance than you should bring in the assistance. A trial is not the time for bargain-hunting.
At all times make sure that like yourself your team is trained and experienced. Learning the ropes on the account of the client is not acceptable.

No matter how good looking or convincing you think you are, delivering opening statements or closing submissions are the few moments where you are in almost complete control of the story conveyed. Using visual aids can have a significant impact on  how the story comes across and is comprehended. Where a lot of information needs to be shared not using visual aids can lead to confusion or at least make make you fail to impress your audience. On the other hand excessively flashy presentations could have a negative impact as well.

A conservative, balanced and effective approach is to use proven designs and colors. Your presentation should fit with the environment it is presented in, you are presenting to a court not providing the entertainment of the day. At all times keep in mind: YOU ARE TELLING THE STORY NOT THE SLIDES!

Think you may need some outside advise by now? Contact us and we are more than happy to help in getting the best out of your presentation.

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