I had an interesting conversation today with a client who was preparing a PowerPoint presentation for an upcoming mock trial. As we discussed his plan, he mentioned that he was planning to use 20 slides for a 10 minute presentation. I tactfully suggested that 1 slide every 30 seconds is too many. This led to a discussion beyond his case during which I explained that PowerPoint should not be used as a script. Whether for a trial, a business meeting, or for any type of presentation, using PowerPoint (or any related electronic presentation tool) as a script is a bad idea. Reading from that script to the audience is guaranteed to bore them. An outline perhaps, but not a script. We’ve seen this many times in mock trials – an associate or junior partner prepares the e-presentation and the lead attorney sees it the day before (or even day of) the mock trial with no time to modify, and without preparing for the mock trial. It becomes a script. As we discussed this today, I thought of a few simple ways to make e-presentations more effective:
1) Use as few words as possible. Edit, edit, edit to include only what must be shown for reinforcement. You don’t want the audience (jury) reading what you are saying or about to say.
2) Use small words as appropriate – make the words count. Be clear and concise. Minimize legaleze and jargon. Find a way to explain the words which might not be understood by everyone.
3) Use big letters – as in font size. I can’t tell you how many e-presentations we’ve seen with fonts too small to read. Following the above, especially #1, try to make the few, small words, BIG, and easy to read.
4) Use pictures where possible. Many times, an image will reinforce a message better than a word will. Rather than showing, for example, a text slide with the word “Contract” on it, show a photo of the contract. Remember, most people learn more visually than verbally (attorneys are often wired differently in that respect.)
5) If you, as the speaker, need the script aspect of a PowerPoint – use the notes function. Don’t force everyone to read all of the words you say. Only the words you need them to “hear” and remember (audibly or visually) should be presented.
There are other considerations, but I wanted follow my own Rule 1 and keep this post concise. Keep in mind, tools like PowerPoint allow almost everyone who can use a computer to create a presentation. But, just because they can, doesn’t mean it will have the impact desired. And, professional help is available; use it when it counts.
Death by Powerpoint. That’s what I call the majority of Powerpoint and other, similar, electronic presentations. I have witnessed countless attorneys “kill” their audience with electronic presentations that contain words, then more words, then even more words. These well meaning attorneys, in their quest to educate the jury about their case, put everything they can think of into their Powerpoint presentation, jamming the projection screen with tiny words that no one can read from a distance of more than a few feet. In addition, many attorneys use their electronic presentations as a “crutch” for their unrehearsed speech, such that, instead of saying things that are interesting and compelling, they read their copious words, printed in a tiny font, to allow them to cram the most words onto each slide. It would be far better for these attorneys to practice their speech, trim their electronic presentations, and most important, use colorful pictures and photographs to captivate the jury’s attention. In my opinion, many attorneys perceive themselves to be “too busy” to spend the few minutes it would take to transform their boring presentations to something meaningful, not to mention interesting, to their audience. Here’s some free advice from this long time jury consultant: Do everything you can possibly do to make the jury, or anyone in your audience, be happy they saw and heard your presentation. Avoid death by Powerpoint, at all costs!