Vermont Bar Journal
Winning at Trial with a Dynamic PowerPoint Presentation
THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 35, No. 3Fall 2009 Winning at Trial with a Dynamic PowerPoint PresentationBy Robert Lane and Bruce A. Olson, Esq.A lot is at stake-power, money, reputation, future plans, justice. You need to win this case. Your presentation materials surely will play an important role in helping the judge and jury experience the sights, sounds, and details of the case a or not. The choice is up to you, says one tech-savvy attorney. It all depends upon whether you are willing to push PowerPoint beyond its normal boundaries to maximize its interactive and persuasive potential.
This Wasn't Part of the Plan
On a crisp winter's day, Bruce climbed the courthouse stairs and walked toward his assigned courtroom, a ritual he had repeated many times before throughout his career as a trial lawyer. Soon a jury would hear opening statements. Bruce was well-prepared, as usual, to walk them through a carefully arranged PowerPoint presentation-a typical series of linear slides summarizing the case. Everything seemed in order and under control. That's when a surprise hit.
Bruce: "We'd picked a jury in the morning, and opening statements started after lunch. I'd made it part way through my opening when I realized I was starting to lose the jury-they were dozing off. Opening after lunch is always diffcult. To wake them up, I really needed to move up the most important slides from the end where I'd initially placed them for a strong fnish. I also needed to drop a number of slides on the fy to shorten the presentation. Given the way I'd structured my PowerPoint show, though, I was stuck. All I could do was talk loudly and click rapidly through the slides to get to the end so I could reengage the jury's interest.
"While I was generally a fan of PowerPoint, it clearly had its limitations in court, or so I'd been led to believe. As a result, I always exercised caution when using it at trial. The software's linear design worked well for sequential, predictable messages such as opening and closing arguments, but I hadn't learned a way to use it to address unpredictable events like sleeping jurors. Situations like that don't ft into convenient little predictable boxes. They are messy and random-and most aspects of litigation are like that. How could PowerPoint possibly address such complexity?"
Hey, It's Not Like That on TV
"Another factor caused me to further worry about PowerPoint's appropriateness to litigation, a phenomenon I refer to as the CSI Effect. Movies and television shows like CSI condition us to expect visual clues on a regular basis to help fll in information gaps. Suddenly we are taken back in time to see a gunshot, hear a victim's scream, get a zoomed-in view of a blood speck on a carpet, or a thousand other timely bits of information needed to solve the mystery of how the crime was committed. Those clues allow us to mentally piece together what really happened.
"Granted, such television dramas have little relationship to real life, but that doesn't seem to matter with many jurors these days. They almost expect trial lawyers to act like CSI characters, pulling up just the right pictures, video clips, and sounds, at the right moments, to support their points. Words alone are not...