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No matter where you stand on the border wall dispute that has captivated the nation, you have to admit that it is an important debate. After all, $5 billion is a lot of money and who knows if the wall will really make a difference. But allowing between 200,000 and 2,000,000 people to easily enter the United States every year via the border with Mexico is probably not a good thing either. You probably just automatically identified yourself with one of those two previous sentences and took it as your position, right? The other sentence may have even made you angry or at least started you thinking about counter-arguments. In other words, like most political discussions, minds are rarely changed by more facts. It's kind of like a jury trial, right? You hear one side. You attach to it emotionally and then proceed to ignore evidence that is contrary to your new belief. In jury consulting-speak, this phenomenon is called confirmation bias. As a jury consulting firm, we've written about confirmation bias many times. See, for example: I’m Right, Right? 5 Ways to Manage Juror Bias Jurors Will Believe Anything (That They Already Believe) When Smart Ain’t So Smart - Cognitive Bias, Experts and Jurors Font Matters - A Trial Graphics Consultant's Trick to Overcome Bias Could Surprise Be One of Your Best Visual Persuasion Tools? 7 Ways to Overcome Cognitive Bias and Persuade However, A2L is not just a jury consulting firm. We’re also a top-ranked litigation graphics firm (and litigation consulting and trial technology consulting firm). So I'm always baffled by big disputes where the participants fail to use pictures effectively. In this day and age, there is no excuse. The science of visual persuasion is well established. See, What is Visual Persuasion and What Do You Need to Know About It?

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Trial teams frequently wrestle with questions surrounding how simple a trial presentation should be. It’s a good thing to worry about. They worry about coming off as condescending. They worry about the story being impossible to simplify. They worry about what order to tell the story in. These are all understandable questions to wrestle with. Unfortunately, on the question of how simple a case should be made, I think most trial teams end up talking themselves out of the right answer. So here’s the answer in five parts.  A trial presentation should be so simple that: 

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Because (apparently), if we only had 15 more minutes, we could all save 15% or more on car insurance, GEICO has run a series of amusing TV commercials that imagine surreal sources of wasted time, including a Pictionary-playing sloth, Emperor penguins betrayed by faulty GPS, and an interstellar commander who loses his spaceship’s keys in the midst of an alien attack.

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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?

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I’m far from alone in asserting that Steve Jobs was an inspiration to many entrepreneurs and CEOs of all ages. For many of us, his contrarian thought process, rigorous attention to detail, and spectacular showmanship formed a model for how to innovate, run a business, and find new customers.  I tracked Jobs’ career during my college and law school days and went so far as to email him a couple of times to thank him for the inspiration that he provided to me. Over the years, his 2007 speech introducing the iPhone served as a model for me. It showed me how to make a presentation that is both informative and inviting. I’ve written about that here. Later, when I was preparing to deliver a commencement speech, I used his 2005 Stanford commencement talk as an example. Steve Jobs’ presentations were admired by many. But not as many people have looked behind his presentations to understand that level of preparation that was involved in each presentation. An article earlier this year from Inc. magazine said it very well: Every product launch was brilliantly performed. Every move, demo, image and slide was in sync and beautifully choreographed. If I sound like I'm describing a Broadway show, you're right. A Steve Jobs presentation had more in common with an award-winning theatrical performance than a typical product launch. Apple still uses the time-tested formula including the final secret ingredient: Jobs rehearsed relentlessly. Carmine Gallo, the author of this article, pointed out that Jobs’ presentations looked effortless precisely because he put so much effort into them. These ideas are totally in keeping with the conclusions that I have reached in three decades of observing trial lawyers. I’ve heard far too many first-chair trial lawyers claim that the reason they didn’t practice their opening statement relentlessly was because it wouldn’t appear spontaneous if they did. Quite the contrary; the openings that I have heard that appeared the most spontaneous were precisely the ones that were the most thoroughly rehearsed. Apparently, Steve Jobs shared that approach. His grueling hours of practice became legendary in the tech industry. The Inc. article, in analyzing the desirable amount of practice time, concluded that the ideal is the 20-20 rule, which means that for a 20-minute presentation, one should go through the whole thing at least 20 times. This is consistent with the conclusions that I’ve reached about trial practice. We like to use a rule that a 60-minute opening should be practiced for at least 30 hours. We all want to look relaxed, confident and conversational in making our presentations. That is a good instinct because that style is in fact persuasive, but the way to get there is not with last-minute cramming, an opening statement practiced privately in a hotel room with no one listening, or an off-the-cuff talk relying on a few bullet points. The best openings I’ve ever seen are the result of countless hours of practice — often done in one-to-one sessions with an A2L litigation consultant. As is the case with any presenter, practice is what separates good trial lawyers from great trial lawyers. You might say, great trial lawyers just “think different” when it comes to practice. Other free A2L articles about trial preparations, delivering great presentations, practice, and developing opening statements include: $300 Million of Litigation Consulting and Storytelling Validation Conflict check: Be the first to retain A2L 3 Ways to Force Yourself to Practice Your Trial Presentation Dan Pink, Pixar, and Storytelling for the Courtroom Practice is a Crucial Piece of the Storytelling Puzzle Three Top Trial Lawyers Tell Us Why Storytelling Is So Important Winning BEFORE Trial - Part 3 - Storytelling for Lawyers Free A2L Consulting Webinar: Persuasive Storytelling for Litigation Storytelling at Trial Works - But Whom Should the Story Be About? Free 144 page A2L E-book download: Storytelling for Litigators Free A2L webinar - Storytelling as a Persuasion tool The Magic of a 30:1 Presentation Preparation Ratio The Very Best Use of Coaches in Trial Preparation 12 Ways to SUCCESSFULLY Combine Oral and Visual Presentations 7 Ways to Draft a Better Opening Statement In Trial Presentation - A Camel is a Horse Designed by Committee The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad (in Trial Graphics or Anywhere)

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I've written about people who present well using PowerPoint many times before. Some of those articles include: President Obama: Presentation Graphics: Why The President Is Better Than You Law Professor Lawrence Lessig: Lawyer Delivers Excellent PowerPoint Presentation Dan Pink: Dan Pink, Pixar, and Storytelling for the Courtroom Nancy Duarte: Litigators Can Learn a Lot About Trial Presentation from Nancy Duarte Scott Harrison: Every Litigator Should Watch Scott Harrison Deliver This Presentation Me: 21 Steps I Took For Great Public Speaking Results Each of these articles offered some useful lessons both in designing good trial presentations and in the art of presentation. Yesterday, the world saw one of the great PowerPoint presentations of all time. If it were given in a courtroom, this presentation would be in the top one percent of courtroom presentations (not for beauty but for effectiveness). However, this presentation was not in a courtroom at all. Still, which famed trial lawyer do you imagine gave this presentation? As the title suggests, it wasn’t a trial lawyer at all. The presentation was delivered by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  If you don't agree with the man or the content, put aside your politics and learn from the presentation. Every trial lawyer should do AT LEAST this well in the courtroom. There are few excuses not to, and every client should demand a performance at this level. If you have (or are) a client who understands the outsized value of investing in the most critical presentations of your case, our team can get you to this level. Every time. This is exactly the kind of work we do with the world's top trial lawyers every day. Watch all or some of Prime Minister Netanyahu's presentation and read my commentary on it below to understand why this presentation is so effective and how any trial lawyer can learn from it. The list of things done right in this presentation is very long. Let's look at a handful, and I will link back to an article where we made these recommendations. Each of these underlying teachings is a technique that our litigation consultants use to help coach trial lawyers and maximize their chance of winning.  He looks the part: 10 Things Litigators Can Learn From Newscasters He chose the right tie: Litigation Graphics, Psychology and Color Meaning He delivers on all five of these promises: 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You He establishes a clear narrative and drama early: Are You Smarter Than a Soap Opera Writer? He uses an immersive style: New Study: A Graphically Immersive Trial Presentation Works Best He uses surprise to engage and persuade: Could Surprise Be One of Your Best Visual Persuasion Tools? Persuasive images are used immediately: Persuasive Graphics: How Pictures Are Increasingly Influencing You The use of deposition-like video is brilliant for setting the stage: 6 Tips for Effectively Using Video Depositions at Trial He presents in a modern 16x9 format (like an HDTV not an old tube TV): Free Webinar: PowerPoint Litigation Graphics - Winning by Design™ He does not talk over the messages: 12 Ways to SUCCESSFULLY Combine Oral and Visual Presentations Captioning is well handled on videos: 6 Tips for Effectively Using Video Depositions at Trial He is very practiced: The Magic of a 30:1 Presentation Preparation Ratio The core opening introductory message is clear and compelling: How to Structure Your Next Speech, Opening Statement or Presentation Netanyahu used a hot seater: What a Great “Hot Seat Operator” Can Add to a Trial Team The theatrics in the form of the binders and the CDs are just brilliant: Using Scale Models as Demonstrative Evidence - a Winning Trial Tactic The level of preparation is clear and is what is expected of elite presenters - even by juries: Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well The hand gestures are well done: 5 Things TED Talks Can Teach Us About Opening Statements The call outs are simple and excellent: 3 Styles of Document Call-outs Used at Trial The translating of scale and size into terms people understand is clear and convincing: 6 Ways to Convey Size and Scale to a Jury You don't have to read Farsi to understand the nuclear materials, he says: Your Trial Presentation Must Answer: Why Are You Telling Me That? He makes limited use of bullet points: 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad (in Trial Graphics or Anywhere) He organizes his message into five points and enumerates on the slides: Litigation Graphics: The Power of Checklist Trial Exhibits He uses limited text on slides throughout the presentation!: How Much Text on a PowerPoint Slide is Too Much? His slides are clean, uncluttered and generally have a single message: 12 Ways to Eliminate "But I Need Everything On That PowerPoint Slide" He includes animated graphics: 16 PowerPoint Litigation Graphics You Won't Believe Are PowerPoint He contrasts what the Iranians said vs. the reality and deploys other credibility attacks in one evidence-backed attack after another: Like It or Not: Likability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom He tells you what to conclude: Your Trial Presentation Must Answer: Why Are You Telling Me That? He repeats (language and video) for effect and clarity: A Surprising New Reason to Repeat Yourself at Trial His use of storytelling throughout the presentation is excellent: 5 Ways to Maximize Persuasion During Opening Statements - Part 2 He makes NONE of the 12 mistakes in this article: The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make He has been well coached by presentation consultants like us: Your Coach Is Not Better Than You – in the Courtroom or Elsewhere Nothing about this PowerPoint presentation is particularly sophisticated. In fact, there are many things that could be done to make it considerably better and more persuasive. However, above all else, it shows what a well-practiced presenter can do. VERY few trial lawyers prepare to the point where they can present at this level and if they would work more closely with elite litigation consultants, whether A2L's litigation consultants (pdf) or others, they could do even better than Benjamin Netanyahu. Here's the ultimate takeaway: it's not some innate gift that helps a presenter be world-class. Instead, it's the humility that allows someone to practice over and over getting these critical presentations just right that makes anyone appear to be world-class.

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I've always been a creative type. In fact, it was my creativity 25 years ago that caused me to learn 3-D animation during law school and ultimately go on to launch A2L Consulting. In the 25 years since then, I've worked on thousands of cases advising trial teams and leading a team of people who advise top trial lawyers on conducting voir dire, running mock trials, managing complex trial technology, and my personal favorite, developing litigation graphics to simplify, explain, and persuade in complex cases. Focusing in on this creative side of the business, litigation graphics development, I have seen two types of trial teams interact with creative teams -- those that have the knack and are successful working with creative people and those that are not. The impact of these interactions turns out to be very significant. Cases have been won and lost because of a trial team's ability to interact well with a creative team. Like anything, it is a skill that can (and should) be learned. Over the past several decades, I've received feedback from hundreds of trial teams and I've seen feedback delivered to others by thousands more. Below are fourteen things to know about delivering feedback to the creative team.  When creative people create, they offer a piece of themselves up for criticism. Deliver your feedback with this in mind, and you'll be ahead of your peers. If you're a shouter, find someone else to work with the creative team. Say what you mean. It's incredibly important that you be honest about what you like and what you do not. Holding in your criticism in an effort to be kind is not the goal. The goal is to deliver feedback in a productive way.  Find the good and talk about it first. This one is a classic and is what is taught in art school. Simply, find something positive to say and then talk about what you do not like. Early feedback is the most important. If something feels “off” or wrong for the situation, don’t hesitate to give your feedback speedily. If you find yourself reading this list muttering something about sensitive snowflakes, you're not the best person to be working with creative people. Ask a colleague to be the messenger.

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Courtroom Technology and Its Limitations

We write here frequently about the importance of using visual evidence in trials and indeed in all sorts of other legal forums. But technology is not the be-all and end-all of persuasion. It is a very useful tool, but the importance of technology does not lessen the need to tell a convincing story to a jury or another decisionmaker. In fact, if courtroom technology is not deployed correctly, presenting visuals to a judge or jury can detract from one’s message rather than enhance it. In other words, figuring out who will be victorious at trial is not simply a matter of determining who is using litigation graphics and who is not. Any trial is ultimately about how each side can use its graphics to support an effective story. Technology-based graphics, therefore, should not be used to make up for the trial skills a lawyer lacks, but rather to enhance the skills he or she already possesses. The type of technological visual is another variable to consider when presenting an argument. Some research has suggested that depending on the case, different types of technology-based graphics can have different persuasive effects on the jury. For example, researchers compared a computer simulation of an air crash, an audiotape with written transcript of a cockpit voice recorder, and a speaker reading the cockpit voice recorder, and asked people to decide whether they believed there was a pilot error based on the evidence to which they had been exposed. The researchers found that jurors who were shown the computer animation believed the flight crew to be significantly less negligent that the other jurors who did not. Animations are so powerful because they can take us to places human beings cannot go. But even without animations, simple PowerPoint slides can be quite effective in advancing your narrative if done right.

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