You have been asked by a partner to put together a timeline in a factually complicated case that is going to trial. The attorney requests that you use PowerPoint® for the project so that your slides might be transitioned into a timeline to assist in the opening statement. Here are 10 simple PowerPoint® tips that will help you, the partner, and ultimately the jury to clearly and quickly understand the essential ideas of your winning case.
- START WITH AN OUTLINE: As with any memo or brief, a solid PowerPoint® presentation requires a detailed and vetted outline. Although it is tempting to dive directly into the preparation of slides, resist. Take the time to draft an outline. Request the trial attorney to tweak it and then sign off. An outline will save you time and steer you directly to the facts that are most important in the case.
- LET THE SLIDE SET THE TONE: PowerPoint® provides templates that are familiar to all of us. Avoid them. Familiar PowerPoint® templates, like the black chalkboard background, may cause viewers who have been subject to endless and often poorly constructed PowerPoint® presentations to turn off from the first slide. Experts suggest a light blue or green background and dark orange or red text. A light background with dark text is said to work best where most of the lights are kept on during the presentation.
- KEEP IT CLEAN AND SIMPLE: PowerPoint® allows for endless creativity that range from swirling transitions between slides to mind blowing sound effects. Leave it all at the door. Just as one would dress simply and seriously in the courtroom, so should your PowerPoint® be serious. You are not before the jury to entertain but to inform. Effects distract from the message and can leave an impression that elaborate form means that there is no substance behind the words.
- ONE IDEA PER SLIDE: We have all groaned at one time or another when a presenter reads verbatim from the PowerPoint® slides during the presentation. The information on the slide is to underscore or clarify an idea. Each slide should be limited to minimal text that supports one idea.
- BANISH BULLET POINTS: Keeping a jury focused means creating some mystery. You want the jury walking along with the attorney anticipating the next step in the fact pattern. Putting an idea on a slide along with bullet points will take attention away from the attorney who is telling the story. The viewer will be tempted to read rather than listen and anticipate. Keeping in mind that slides should be "clean and simple," rather than bullet points consider a simple slide-in from left to right of any points that underscore and anchor the main idea in the slide.
- USE FAMILIAR FONTS: The jury, judge, opposing counsel and even the court reporter, need to be on the same page of your message. It must be communicated quickly and anchored into their consciousness. Simple SansSerif fonts like Arial do that. Avoid fonts that are fancy especially those where the ends of the letters flourish. If the font makes the word difficult to read, or if the letter is read wrong, the meaning is lost.
- PHOTOS AND DOCUMENTS: It may be that your presentation calls for one or more photographs or documents. Make sure after inserting the document in the slide that you view the document at the actual presentation size. Make sure it is legible and not distorted. Focus often changes when one goes from a small screen of a computer to a large canvas screen. Also, you may be asked to do "call outs" on a particular document. While that is better left for trial presentation programs like TrialPad® or TrialDirector®, PowerPoint® can perform "call outs." Deciding if the "call out" requires an animation pull forward or a new slide is part of the creativity you put to use in conveying the message. For "call outs" consider using a color-filled box shape and placing the important text in the box.
- REVIEW AND REVIEW AGAIN: There is nothing that causes a high flying presentation to take a nose dive, more than spelling errors, misplaced slides, and blank slides. While Microsoft Word® has an internal spelling and grammar check, you might consider the minimal investment in a more text editing program like Grammarly®.
- THE EXTRA MILE - GOING TO THE VENUE: Not all courtrooms are alike when it comes to technology. Impress the partner by going the extra mile. Visit the courtroom before trial to locate outlets and to decide where to place one or more screens. Judge, jury and opposing counsel should all be able to see the presentation. Being prepared in advance will make your presentation run seamless and convey to the jury your professionalism. The trial lawyer you are working with will forever thank you.
- PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: If you are going to be the person operating the computer and presenting the slides, work with the partner on pace and timing. Make sure that when you turn on the projector for the jury that it begins on the first slide, which could be dark, as opposed to opening to your desktop. Beyond saving you potential embarrassment depending on your desktop background, it again conveys to the viewer a high level of professionalism and prevents any distractions from the message they are about to hear and see.
PowerPoint® is a strong tool in a trial lawyers presentation arsenal. If you follow these simple tips, you are sure to create a clear, clean and direct message that will impress the lawyer you are working alongside.
Tony Sheffy is an AV rated senior trial lawyer who practices as a partner with the Connecticut firm of SheffyMazzaccaro LLP. His practice centers on Personal Injury and Insurance Defense. Attorney Sheffy's recognitions include Connecticut Superlawyers 2011-2016; Sr. Fellow Litigation Counsel of America; Million DollarAdvocates Forum; AM Best Insurance Defense Attorneys; and Top 100 Attorneys in CT by the American Society of Legal Advocates. He has also served as a Director of the Brain Injury Alliance of CT and acts as legal advisor to many local civic organizations.
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