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How to Make Your Best Impression With Your First Draft

Ken Lopez
By: Ken Lopez

Trial Graphics, Litigation Graphics, Trial Presentation, Demonstrative Evidence, Trial Preparation, Presentation Graphics, Advocacy Graphics, PowerPoint, Persuasive Graphics, Infographics, Visual Storytelling

Roughly half of our business involves the creation of PowerPoint presentations for opening statements, closing arguments and expert witnesses. To create these presentations, our litigation consultants, typically seasoned trial lawyers and communications experts, work with our creative staff to turn the trial strategy into presentations that will motivate decisionmakers to make the “right” decisions. In a trial with millions or billions at stake, our final draft for an opening is typically version 30 or higher — and I've seen version 80 in a very large trial. Why so many versions? This is the result of what great trial lawyers do: They work with our team and iterate until perfection is achieved.

However, every presentation starts with a first draft, and after three decades in this industry, I can say that a first draft sets the tone for the entire engagement. Handle it well, and trust is formed and there is a nice creative arc free from anxiety. Handle the rollout of the first draft wrong, and trust never kicks in, micromanagement dominates, and the deck becomes a “horse designed by committee.” So what’s the magic to the rollout of a first draft?

Most trial teams will say, just send me a draft and we can talk about it in a day or two after a review. But this is exactly the wrong approach for everyone involved.

Instead, the best practice is to conduct a highly controlled and carefully scripted release of the first draft. It should always be prefaced by a speech about first drafts and about how direct feedback matters most -- and how creative teams gain the most from seeing a trial team’s initial reactions, not their refined thoughts. Sometimes trial lawyers go into a bit of a panic when things don’t look the way they expected, but to an artist that’s very useful information because it means they need to go in the other direction. And changing directions in electronic art is quite simple. So if you, as a trial team member, have a reaction to the draft, say so. Don’t hold back. We have thick skin. We do this every day.

In my view, first draft rollouts should be conducted in person or at least by video conference. However, there are times when this just won't work out. In those cases we give the speech electronically.

We say we hate to send things in advance, and here’s why. Something happens between the time you send it and the time you give us feedback -- and instead of your emotional reaction, which matters most, we see your grounded logical reaction, which isn’t as helpful at this stage. We also lose the opportunity for highly engaged dialogue about what works. With all of that said, remember that everything is easily editable and that sometimes we, as trial consultants, are trying different approaches to different demonstratives to gauge your reaction.

It’s getting this message out that matters most. The worst thing one can do is just send drafts without any discussion of how to think about it and react to it. I’ve seen clients go off the rails in that moment just because we didn’t prep them properly. You only get one chance to make a first impression when it comes to first drafts.

Other free A2L articles and resources about trial presentation, PowerPoint, and litigation graphics:

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