Life by PowerPoint

Posted on 05-22-2018 by
Tags: Jim Wagstaffe , litigation , Powerpoint

Death by PowerPoint? Nonsense. If well used, PowerPoint is a most powerful tool


In recent years, trial lawyers and litigators remarkably have developed the same love-hate relationship with PowerPoint presentations as have public speakers and presenters throughout the country. It is indeed a funny thing that PowerPoint has simultaneously a 91% market penetration for users of projected images and a dismal 21% overall approval rating for the product.

 The framing of such dissatisfaction is captured in the titles of well-distributed articles and books: “Death by PowerPoint.” So, let me be a bit of a contrarian in saying that the reports of PowerPoint’s death are not only premature, they ignore the reality that the problem lies not in our projected stars, but in ourselves through misuse.

There can be no doubt for anyone with two eyes in a courtroom that the use of PowerPoint is pervasive in oral arguments, evidentiary hearings (e.g. Markman, Daubert), opening statements, cross-examinations and perhaps most notably in closing arguments. Okay, then why all the collective angst about sitting through “yet another PowerPoint presentation”?

I’ll tell you. Lawyers and other presenters implicitly understand the now well-researched observations that PowerPoint (and other projected images like Keynote Prezi, Google Docs) – even if badly used – increase the vital three “shuns”: attention, comprehension, and retention. That’s called teaching, learning, and persuasion.

Death by PowerPoint? Nonsense. If well used, PowerPoint is a most powerful tool that supports the title of this piece: “Life by PowerPoint.”

We can all identify the deadly disasters accompanying bad presentations: bullet point-it is, nauseating graphics, uninterrupted chain-slides, and words, oh so many words. All of these impediments flow from violating a simple truism – PowerPoint should not be used to assist the speaker, but to aid the audience’s understanding.

Trial lawyers and litigators should pay attention to these ten simple and immutable PowerPoint principles:

  1. Never (I mean never) have a slide with more than 10 words.
  2. Stop using bullet points as a substitute for presentational flow or thinking.
  3. Try the rehab rule of using no more than 1 slide every 2 minutes.
  4. Remember that you – not the slides – are making the presentation.
  5. Keep the judge or jury’s eyes on you as the presenter at least 75% of the time, even when you’re using slides.
  6. Thus, don’t turn out the lights.
  7. Use a backscreen rather than projection if at all possible, to avoid those deadly shadows.
  8. Like every visual aid, make sure it’s aiding in the service of something not unto itself – so turn it off when you’re not using it.
  9. The k-i-s-s principle is particularly apt for projected visual images (so never say “this is complex information”).
  10. And finally, never (again I mean never) turn to a screen and start reading with your back to the judge or jury.

Indeed, therefore, you want lively – not deadly – PowerPoint presentations. Print these rules, hand them out and tell your colleagues to follow them religiously.

But do me a favor – don’t put them on a PowerPoint slide.

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