Show Don’t Tell

Trial exhibits are a big part of all properly conducted litigation. Most lawyers learned long ago that showing, and not just telling, is important. Some lawyers are more effective than others with this but most of them seem not to think visually. Once again, it’s Rush to the rescue. The first track on their 1989 Presto album was “Show Don’t Tell.” Neil Peart’s lyrics for the song include the words “You can twist perception. Reality won’t budge!” That sums up the reason it is important to show, not just tell. (The song has allusions to a courtroom experience.) Of course, in the process, what the attorney is showing is probably being done to create (if not twist) the perception needed to advocate for his or her side of the case. Exhibits and their use are of particular interest to me, as a photographer. And, we trial consultants make recommendations and help create visuals for our clients’ cases. I learned the importance of visuals during a college internship in a hospital setting. One of the jobs of the hospital photographer, for whom I was interning, was creating 35mm text slides for doctors to use in lectures. I was introduced to a special Kodak film that created “reverse text,” white letters on blue type, especially for this purpose. With a copy stand for the camera and a macro lens, producing a batch of slides was fairly easy. I quickly learned how effective it was and created text slides when I had to do class presentations allowing me to show, not just tell, in many, many classes. I think it helped me get “A”s! To be continued…

Remember when we, as children, were subjected to “show and tell” by well meaning teachers?  I had little use for these trivial displays, finding most of my classmates’ showing and telling dreadfully boring.  However, this being said, the “show and tell” experiences from many people’s childhood illustrates the fundamental concept that a visual representation of an event is more powerful than merely telling someone about it. For example, when my major professor told me about his sabbatical teaching experience in India and went on to describe the colors in the environment, it was not as meaningful to me as seeing his photos (in the form of an old school slide show) of all the colors for myself.  Many attorneys are verbal learners and, as such, they are often unable to recognize that the majority of people are visual learners, preferring to see things rather than be told about them by someone else.  I liken this preference to many people’s preference for reading something for themselves rather than having something read to them by someone else.   My education and experience in cognitive psychology (the psychology of attention, learning, thinking, and remembering) makes me keenly aware that, in order to remember something, for example, an important piece of evidence in a trial, one must learn it and the best way to learn something is to capture one’s attention.  The best way to capture someone’s attention is, of course, to make a powerful, meaningful, interesting, and colorful visual presentation.  It makes sense to me!

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