The Top Ten Mistakes Made in Digital
Presentations & Demonstrative Evidence
By Edward M. Josiah1
Electronic presentation technology is a pervasive force in the world today. This is especially true in the field of law and more so in document intensive and multi-issue construction disputes. An exceptional oral advocate has always had a powerful advantage in the courtroom, but today, presentation technology brings an intensity and flexibility of its own to court. Carefully planned legal strategy and strong content remain the hallmark of a solid case. Carefully planned visual strategies and compelling graphics are the hallmark of a persuasive electronic trial presentation. It is the combination of the two that wins your arguments. This article will explore the top ten mistakes made in the formulation and design of electronic exhibits and presentations.
1. Misuse of slides – Digital slides should not be viewed as electronic versions of document enlargements. The educative power of digital exhibits is in teaching the details. Jurors will read and remember a phrase that is enlarged on the screen. Displaying a full-page document is not conducive to learning. A “picture” should be worth a thousand words -- a thousand words should not be in the picture.
2. Confusing slides - Each slide should address one fact or argument. A slide that attempts to focus on more than one issue will confuse viewers. Rather than decipher its meaning, jurors will simply discount it. Remember, the purpose of the presentation is to communicate facts efficiently for the viewers to remember.
3. Wordy text slides – Electronic exhibits are like road signs. Imagine driving down a highway at 65 mph and seeing the following sign: “The best exit to take to get to 84th Street is coming up in approximately 4.2 miles on the right side of the road”. Even if you could read it, would you? The sign “84th St., Right lane, 4.2 miles” works so much better; it’s clean, short and simple. Electronic exhibits should get to the point.
4. Digital Video – A common misconception is that an event or testimony video taped using digital video is in a format that’s ready to play back at trial. This is not true. The video will need to be translated into a format that computer software can accept. It can then be transferred onto a computer and converted to a file such as an “mpeg”. The digital video is a much higher quality of video, but costs more and takes longer to produce.
5. Faster is not better – One of the most powerful features of electronic presentations is the ability to tell a story slowly and methodically. A good story unfolds one fact at a time. Each new fact should build on the credibility of the last and support the overall theme of the case. By revealing one point at a time, you control the flow of information and how you want the viewers to learn the case and your arguments.
6. Information Overload – The most significant element involved in designing electronic presentation graphics is deciding “what” information should be included. Slides should be driven by the desire to influence the decision making process not exclusively by graphic design. The function of analytical graphics is to enhance the message or testimony. The design of the slide (colors, line weight, etc.) should not compete with the information being presented. Content should work hand-in-hand with the design.
7. Technology Overkill – One of the biggest pitfalls that attorneys fall into is overdoing their presentations with too much technology. Fancy animations and effects have their place but should not be used just because the technology has the capability. The initial design of the slides should reflect simplicity. The need for animations and effects will become clear as the presentation and testimony come together.
8. I don’t need to Rehearse! -- A technological-based presentation must be sensitive to the style of the attorney employing it. It is necessary to synchronize technique with technology and this requires practice. Rehearsals afford the attorney an opportunity to refine problem areas and to become comfortable with the flow of the presentation as a whole. Keep in mind that electronic presentations affect where the attorney stands and how he/she interacts with witnesses, the judge and the jurors.
9. Rooms have Limitations -- Technology considerations must be addressed to ensure that the presentation has the maximum impact on the jury. The best presentation will not be effective if the jury can’t see it clearly. Reviewing and planning for the physical courtroom is critical for success during trial. The size of the room, location of monitors and/or screen, electrical wiring, acoustics, lighting and equipment are all part of the trial environment and must be considered early on.
10. Murphy’s Law will rule -- Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. While the reliability of technology has dramatically improved over the past few years, an attorney should always prepare for the worst. Back-ups for all hardware such as laptops and projectors as well as duplicate informational CD’s are a must. Physical handouts of the presentation should be considered for backup purposes.
Ed Josiah is Director of the Nautilus Consulting Demonstrative Evidence Practice Group. He is one of the nation’s leading demonstrative evidence specialists, past president of the Demonstrative Evidence Specialists Association and graphics consultant to the American Bar Association’s Forum on the Construction Industry.