by Ken Lopez
How many slides should a world-class trial lawyer or trial presentation consultant create for use in a typical trial? That’s an interesting question that I hadn’t thought of until recently, when I had a fascinating debate with some litigators about this topic. One took the view that a trial with twice as many issues should require twice as many slides, even if the two trials are of equal length. I disagreed, and I think these litigators found my position confusing at first.
I told them that the presumption for any trial team should be to use as few slides as possible to make a point. More slides just create more complexity. And that inhibits persuasion.
There's a famous quote that has been attributed to many people, but it is correctly attributed to French mathematician Blaise Pascal: “I would have written a shorter letter if I had more time.” I think this sums up in many ways the goals of effective trial presentation. If you find yourself going to trial with 500 slides that you plan to use in a five-day trial, you are probably overdoing it. But people do that all the time.
I wrote about this topic in an article discussing how the PowerPoint slides that you do use are informed by the ones you don't. I think of it like a sculptor and Michelangelo’s famous saying how he could see the finished piece in the block of stone, he just needed to chip away the extraneous stones.
I do think trial presentation should work something like that. That's why it takes a long time to make a good presentation and why you should not find yourself at the end of the trial apologizing for not having written that shorter letter.
Here are a handful of best practices for any PowerPoint slide presentation with additional reading incorporated throughout:
- Follow an immersive graphics presentation approach: A 2012 study encourages the constant use of of graphics during trial. So, while more may be better, there is a line not to cross where too many becomes too much. What works best for your case is best revealed by testing your case in a mock trial setting and/or by working with a trial-savvy trial presentation consultant.
- Each slide should have as few words as possible: If you think putting a paragraph on a slide is going to persuade someone, you're doing it all wrong, sorry. However, showing a key portion of a document and then parsing key phrases will persuade. See The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make.
- Each slide should be understandable in a few seconds. Courtroom litigation graphics are not at all like Charles Minard's famous Napoleonic army chart that Professor Tufte of Yale helped make famous. Jurors do not have time for thoughtful reflection in most cases. They need simple and quick messages that evoke emotional reactions. See 12 Ways to Eliminate "But I Need Everything On That PowerPoint Slide."
- Don't read from your slides. If you do, you are far worse of than if you had used no slides. It's not easy to do this well. Here is a helpful article on how to properly speak and use PowerPoint slides at the same time. When you do it well, you increase persuasion. See, 12 Ways to SUCCESSFULLY Combine Oral and Visual Presentations and 14 Tips for Delivering a Great Board Meeting Presentation.
- Don't use bullet points. I've said this so many times that I'm nervous about over-repeating this stance. It's not the bullets that are bad, of course. It's that when you use them, you tend to commit all of of the PowerPoint slide sins that measurably and are scientifically known to diminish persuasion.
Other A2L articles related to using PowerPoint slides well in or out of the courtroom include:
- How Much Text on a PowerPoint Slide is Too Much?
- 5 Ways to Maximize Persuasion During Opening Statements - Part 4
- 16 PowerPoint Litigation Graphics You Won't Believe Are PowerPoint
- 10 Types of Value Added by Litigation Graphics Consultants
- How to Handle a Boring Case
- 12 Reasons Litigation Graphics are More Complicated Than You Think
- How to Make PowerPoint Trial Timelines Feel More Like a Long Document
- 12 Ways to Eliminate "But I Need Everything On That PowerPoint Slide"
- Why Expensive-Looking Litigation Graphics Are Better
- How To Use and Design Trial Timelines
- 14 Tips for Delivering a Great Board Meeting Presentation
- 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad (in Trial Graphics or Anywhere)
- Contact A2L about litigation graphics consulting services, contact us about helping with a presentation of any type, or just ask a question
- 6 Studies That Support Litigation Graphics in Courtroom Presentations
- FREE Webinar: Persuading with PowerPoint Litigation Graphics
- 11 Small Projects You Probably Don't Think Litigation Consultants Do
- Why Reading Your Litigation PowerPoint Slides Hurts Jurors
- 6 Trial Presentation Errors Lawyers Can Easily Avoid
- The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make