“Most people use PowerPoint like a drunk uses a lamppost — for support rather than for illumination.” — David Ogilvy
A Google search for “Death by PowerPoint” generates 217,000 results over 15 pages. There are songs about this topic, comedy skits, and even a book titled PowerPoint Makes You Stupid.
Most of the articles tell you what you should and shouldn’t do with PowerPoint and what drives these authors crazy. The common message — “Don’t use too much text,” “keep it simple,” and “stop using the silly animations.” Yet, these authors, comedians, and songwriters are clearly missing the “Point” — the “Power” of PowerPoint as I’ll explain in this issue of LitigationWorld.
Forget Text; Think Visuals
I find it hypocritical that many of these presenters use PowerPoint to tell us not to use PowerPoint. They also tell us not to use too much text by creating slides with, yes, you guessed it — too much text! They violate the very rules they criticize.
I admit some of the tips in these “Death by PowerPoint” articles are good. They focus on text, how many words, phrases, color schemes, ideas, keeping it simple and how to capture an audience. What they all seem to miss is the real Power of PowerPoint — the visual graphics tools.
Most of these critics examine the use of PowerPoint in non-legal settings. In litigation, however, presenting to a jury, judge, mediator, or even an adversary, “visual education” is the key. To enhance a trial attorney’s arguments, we find that PowerPoint is the most simple, yet comprehensive, tool for visual advocacy.
Rarely do any of the “Death by PowerPoint” authors criticize the visual tools in PowerPoint, instead going on and on complaining about text or “cluttered graphics.” Let’s get specific about the visual advantage of PowerPoint that these authors ignore.
Compelling PowerPoint visual aids in litigation are those that tell a story or support an argument. Of course, I agree that throwing a bunch of text bullet points onto a slide and displaying them is a useless graphic. However, one of the best tools in PowerPoint is the built in animation feature. This tool can create compelling and educational effects.
Not that long ago, to get an animated effect, you had to use 2D animation software such as Adobe Flash. Now, 2D motion is built in, giving the user timing, frequency, and controlled movements. PowerPoint also has an interactive trigger feature, giving you interactive control of animated movements that eliminates the need for programming or scripting.
Create Interactive Timelines
In telling a story in trial, timeline graphics bring the events to life. Using the animation tools in PowerPoint, and starting with a blank timeline you can unfold one event at a time that will focus on each element of the timeline, tell the story as desired, and allow the presenter to “step” their audience through events, one at a time. See screenshot.
Correlate Evidence With Animated Effects
A key element of litigation advocacy is linking evidence. To support this linking and focus on relevant and related timeline events, documents, photos, testimony, or charts, it’s persuasive to make objects zoom out from a specific area. This improves comprehension. See screenshot.
Forgotten Video and Audio Editing Tools
Beyond the more common uses of PowerPoint, version 2013 and later gives you video editing tools that enable you to control the start and stop times of any video you embed into PowerPoint. In the past, video and audio editing required dedicated software. Now, you can import the entire video or audio file, and then use the built-in editor to create the desired excerpt.
Once you import a video into PowerPoint, it becomes an object, so to create an impact, the video clip can appear to zoom out from any other object showing the view from a particular point on a scene diagram. You can also move the video one frame at a time and, while using the scroll bar, move the video clip in real time. See screenshot.
Franckly My Dear Critic, We Litigators Don’t Give a Damn
Franck Frommer, who wrote the book How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid, offers more than 250 pages of criticism. The first three chapters try to steer the reader away from it. It appears that Frommer didn’t learn the entire program or, at least, the advanced features. Not once did he comment on the visual advantages of building timelines, showing complex processes, or the advanced use of video.
If Frommer had to explain the chronology of events over time that lead to a lawsuit, or where, along a shore line, oil was found after a spill, he would need to use some sort of visual aid. He would then have to concede PowerPoint as an option.
PowerPoint can take any visual and bring it to life, allowing the trial attorney to educate their audience. By stepping through the elements of the visual, a trial lawyer can, “spoon feed” the audience making a compelling argument by exploiting the concept “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Gone are the days when a trial lawyer, with no visual aids, can give a compelling speech to persuade a jury in any courtroom proceeding. Today’s 50 and under crowd isn’t going to be persuaded by words much less listen closely to them. They need visuals, similar to what they see on their smartphones. PowerPoint does this job and does it well.
Enough of “Death by PowerPoint.”
One of the country’s top litigation consultants in the area of trial consulting, demonstrative graphics, animation and ediscovery, Tim Piganelli brings his clients over 25 years of experience, over 500 case projects, over 250 in-court trials, and over 20,000 courtroom hours. His trial experience includes high-profile cases such as Hulk Hogan v Gawker Media, Exxon Valdez case, and U.S. v. Governor Rick Perry re Texas Voter ID. He is a frequent CLE lecturer, co-author of the Trial Technologies chapter of the 2015 Arizona Trial Practice Manual, and has published more than 200 articles. Contact Tim today to discuss how he can help your firm with its next trial.