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The Litigation Consulting Report

How to Make PowerPoint Trial Timelines Feel More Like a Long Document

Posted by Ken Lopez on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 @ 01:33 PM


trial-timeline-litigation-slidingby Ken Lopez
A2L Consulting

I love a good trial timeline whether it's a printed large-format trial board or whether it's in PowerPoint form. This goes for my colleagues here at A2L, as well. In fact, we love timelines so much that we've even produced a book with more than 30 types of trial timelines illustrated.

Timelines are used as demonstrative evidence in just about every trial. They serve an obvious purpose of orienting judge and/or jury to the order of events and how those events relate to one another. It's the one exhibit that helps make sense of it all, particularly in a complex case.

As our trial timine book discusses, a timeline does not have to be limited to simple chronologies. In fact by incorporating graphs, photos, color schemes and more, a timeline can transmute from being simply informative to being quite persuasive.

When I first launched A2L back in the mid-1990s, timelines were almost exclusively printed on large trial boards. There were many advantages to this approach. Sometimes we had to use as many as five tiled boards standing next to each other to make a complicated case make sense and show many events over a long period of time.

Click me

Relative to the 1990s, very few printed trial boards get produced these days, although we still prepare a good number each month. One of the best exhibits to use a printed trial board for is the timeline, because you can often leave it up in front of a jury or judge and help them stay oriented to your case. However what happens when you can't or don't want to print a large timeline on a board?

There are a couple of good techniques for designing timelines in PowerPoint, Prezi or Keynote that allow you to create the illusion of a much bigger canvas than you can otherwise show legibly in PowerPoint. I've written about this approach in Prezi before, but I continue to advise against using that program at trial because of issues people have with motion sickness.

The sliding timeline technique is a great method to use when you have many events over a long period of time. By creating a transition between slides that mimics sliding a large piece of paper across the screen you help keep your audience oriented and in touch with the passage of time. Have a look at the simple two-slide example below to see what I mean.


In this PowerPoint trial timeline that compares the role of testifying experts and consulting experts, we move along the litigation lifecyle in a case from complaint to discovery by sliding the timeline across the screen using a push from right transition. I think it does a good job creating a fluid and elegant transition, and it helps the jury clearly appreciate when you're going forwards and backwards in time. It's a simple lesson, but it is one I see frequently underutilized. Dig into the articles, books and webinars below to learn more.

Other articles and resources from A2L Consulting discussing trial timelines, printed trial boards, PowerPoint and litigation graphics generally:

trial timeline trial graphics litigation courtroom timelines


Tags: Trial Graphics, Litigation Graphics, Demonstrative Evidence, Presentation Graphics, Advocacy Graphics, PowerPoint, Visual Persuasion, Timelines, Prezi

12 Ways to Eliminate "But I Need Everything On That PowerPoint Slide"

Posted by Ken Lopez on Fri, Aug 8, 2014 @ 12:00 PM


busy powerpoint slide make it fitby Ken Lopez
A2L Consulting

Have you ever heard any of the following during a PowerPoint presentation?

  • "It may be hard to make out the details of this slide."
  • "I'm not sure if you can read this in the back of the room."
  • "In case you can't read this, let me read it for you."
  • "I know there is a lot on this slide, but bear with me."
  • "Let me try to zoom in on this part of the slide [proceeds to fumble with remote]"
Of course you have heard these apologetic statements. If you are in the business world, you have probably heard them all. However, there is never an excuse to say these things whether in a boardroom or in a courtroom. As much as you may want everything you have to say about a key message on a single PowerPoint slide, as hard as it may be to imagine another way of doing things, I promise, you most definitely do not need everything (or even a lot) on one slide. And, you can still get your point across.

The number one video in my recent article The Top 14 TED Talks for Lawyers and Litigators 2014 as well as other articles I have written like 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad and 7 Ways to Avoid Making Your PowerPoint Slides Your Handout describe methods for limiting the amount you put on your slide.
With all this said, it is important to remember that sometimes you just need everything on a slide. Sometimes it is an advantage. So, in this article, I want to offer twelve easy methods for eliminating PowerPoint slide clutter and focusing your audeince's attention on what matters - you and your message. Sometimes, albeit rarely, this means getting everything onto a single slide. More often than not, however, it means taking a single slide's complicated content and spreading it across many slides without your audience knowing you've even changed slides.
  1. 28 point font: My recommendation is to use no less than 28 point text, and if you do so, you will be forced to take care of most slide-clutter issues before they become problems. Most of the points below will explain how one might do this.
  2. One idea per slide: Another technique for eliminating slide-clutter, and a best practice generally, is to only include one idea, one takeaway, and one message per slide. Try not to focus on your total slide count as this is mostly irrelevant to the length of a presentation. Focus instead on one idea per slide or one idea per click on your remote.

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  3. Zoom with remote: Some projectors have a nice high quality zoom feature that allows you focus in on one area of a slide. IF you are very adept with this feature, IF you are in control of the projector and the technology in the room and IF you have a high-enough-resolution image, then this may be a good option, but I don't recommend it for 99% of all presenters. The resolution of your image must be high enough so that it does not pixelate when you zoom.
  4. Zoom box: Say you want to present something like an organizational chart with 25 elements on it. You might show the whole thing to start with, but no one can be expected to read it since the font size will be far too small. Consider starting with the whole image and then placing a zoomed-in version of portions of the chart on subsequent slides. To keep your audience oriented, use a small icon of the full image in the corner with a red box to indicate the portion you are showing.
  5. Sliding timelines: Very often people want to put a timeline onto a PowerPoint slide. If it has more than five items on it, it gets hard to read. One technique that we use, described in example 25 in A2L's free book, The Litigation Guide to Trial Timelines, is to create a sliding transition between time spans in the timeline. If you break your timeline up onto multiple slides it is easier to read. If you use the sliding transition, you give the impression of a larger timeline and keep your audience oriented.
  6. Prezi: Prezi is an alternative presentation tool to PowerPoint. It allows the presenter to create a large canvas of materials (i.e. videos, text and images) and allows the presenter to zoom into portions of the canvas. I think it is a neat program, we use it at A2L, but in the hands of an untrained user, Prezi presentations give people motion sickness. You can learn more about it and see an example in my article Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) Explained for a Jury.
  7. Custom animation: Zoom effects in PowerPoint are not for beginners. PowerPoint actually makes it quite hard to zoom in on an element in a slide without it becoming pixelated. However, if you have learned how to do this, you can take something like an org chart and create animated zooms into key elements of it to make your points. Done well, the audience never loses sight of the big picture.
  8. Layer elements in: When it is advantageous to show many elements together on a slide, the best way to do this is to build them in over time. Showing an audience too much at once causes them to shut down. Allowing comfort with the materials to build over time is a best practice. Example #4 in The Litigation Guide to Trial Timelines illustrates this nicely.
  9. Zoomed-pop-in elements: Similarly, if you need to show many things on a single image, you can make them legible by introducing one element at time, zoomed in, nearly full screen. Once introduced they can reduce in size and be placed where important. For example, in an org charge, each box could start full-screen sized and then shrink while moving into place on the chart.
  10. Hyperlinked elements: When you are not sure what order you have to show materials in, you can use PowerPoint's hyperlinking function to pop-up an object so that it is legible. For example, if you are showing an org chart, you could create a hotspot on each position that when clicked would zoom open a larger version of the box. Example #7 in How To Use and Design Trial Timelines shows how this is achieved.
  11. Printed materials: Very often, it just makes no sense to show something in PowerPoint. Printed documents have better resolution than a screen and offer a range of other advantages when handed out. See also 7 Ways to Avoid Making Your PowerPoint Slides Your Handout.
  12. Exception: Sometimes you want to show how hopelessly confusing something is to gain an advantage. This is the only exception to the rules articulated above. For example, if you want to show that a process was nearly impossible to follow, PowerPoint may be ideal since you can build elements of the process over time until it becomes impossible to follow.
In subsequent posts, I am going to take these topics and show how to handle each of them. In the meantime, here are some articles and resources that discuss eliminating slide clutter, best practices for using PowerPoint and how to present well in general:

Tags: Trial Graphics, Litigation Graphics, Trial Presentation, Courtroom Presentations, Demonstrative Evidence, Presentation Graphics, PowerPoint, Timelines, Prezi

Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) Explained for a Jury

Posted by Ken Lopez on Tue, Aug 23, 2011 @ 08:43 AM

by Ken Lopez

Quite often, the subject matter at issue in a major trial is very complex and technical and is not intuitively obvious for a jury composed of laypersons, or even a judge, to understand.

In fact, that’s why trial consulting companies like us emerged in the early 1990s – to help lawyers explain in a clear visual manner what’s at stake in a case, so that judges and jurors will be able to understand the facts and make a well reasoned decision.

As a Texas trial lawyer has written, “The typical jury has a 14th-grade education, a 12th-grade comprehension level, and a 9th grade attention span. The implications of this are important in presenting scientific or technical information to a jury. For one thing, it means you cannot assume the jury will have any pre-existing knowledge or understanding of the information you are trying to convey, particularly if it involves a scientific or technical matter.”

In cases involving product liability, patents, the environment, antitrust, and other areas of law, courtroom presentations ranging from the most basic photograph or chart to the most complex computer-generated presentation have been a staple for sophisticated litigators for decades.

using litigation graphics courtroom to persuade trial graphics a2l consulting

In securities litigation, however, lawyers have been much slower to adopt visual courtroom presentations that can help juries understand their cases. Yet as Wall Street has become much more complex than just stocks and bonds, quite often the issues in a securities trial have become every bit as opaque to the average juror with that 12th-grade comprehension level as a complicated patent infringement case would be.

Now, as litigation from the financial collapse of 2008 and 2009 is finding its way into court, jurors are being asked to understand and to pass judgment on complex financial matters such as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).

A typical definition of a CDO is that it is “a type of structured asset-backed security (ABS) with multiple ‘tranches’ that are issued by special purpose entities (SPVs) and collateralized by debt obligations including bonds and loans.” This definition will make little or no sense to most jurors, and a lawyer who tries to present the concept on this level in a courtroom will have little or no success.

Below, we use a new presentation tool called Prezi to explain CDOs in an intuitive way that is tailored to help juror understanding.  Like much of our work in securities litigation, this is not a trial graphics-heavy presentation at all.  Rather, our work was spent on how to best tell the story more than how to show it.

Use the play button or your right arrow to step through the presentation.
Zoom in or out, move to other sections of the presentation and return
to the script by hitting the play or back key.

Prezi is a new type of presentation program that permits the litigator to create non-linear courtroom presentations and to escape the sameness that sometimes pervades PowerPoint exhibits. Rather than slides, Prezi relies on a large canvas or mind-map type of presentation that permits the viewers to zoom in and out of a visual story.

This Prezi exhibit shows how CDOs are created, packaged and sold and how the flow of mortgage income keeps them afloat in good times – and what happens when mortgage payments dry up.

Click me

demonstrative evidence provider

Tags: Trial Graphics, Courtroom Presentations, Trial Consulting, Trial Technology, PowerPoint, Securities Litigation, White Collar, Prezi, Information Design

Beyond PowerPoint: Trial Presentations with Prezi and Keynote

Posted by Ken Lopez on Fri, Aug 12, 2011 @ 07:30 AM

by Ken Lopez

No trial presentation exhibit specialist can perform any better than his or her tools. Although the judge and jury aren’t usually aware of what software the trial consultant is using, the choice of presentation software is essential to the success of the consultant, and ultimately to the success of the case.

Over the last decade, presenting demonstrative evidence has usually meant using PowerPoint. In the hands of an expert trial consultant, PowerPoint is an extremely flexible tool. As we said earlier this year, for talented information designers, PowerPoint is a blank canvas that can be filled with works of presentation art. Among major law firms, PowerPoint still maintains nearly a 100 percent market share. After all, if something has been shown to work over and over again, there is every reason for a trial lawyer to continue using it rather than trying something new and unproven.

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However, PowerPoint is beginning to face some competition. One source of competition is Apple’s Keynote program. Not surprisingly since it is an Apple product, Keynote is easier to use and generates presentations that are more attractive over all. Transitions feel more professional, animation effects are more design-oriented, and the designer will find it easier to create a slick looking presentation. In addition, presentations can be imported from PowerPoint and exported for use on the iPad.

The sample below, courtesy of keynoteuser.com, shows off some of the features of Keynote.

As a reviewer has noted on CNET, “Keynote is a pro-level tool, probably the application most able to compete with the 10-ton gorilla, Microsoft's PowerPoint . . . [Keynote] faces an uphill battle against the entrenched Microsoft PowerPoint. But Keynote has, from its first incarnation, done some things better than PowerPoint . . .”

Another much newer and arguably much more exciting competitor is Prezi, which has been referred to on wired.com as “a digital poster online” and “kind of like a giant concept map.” This is the zooming presentation tool that has wowed crowds at the TED Talks.

Rather than rely on slides, Prezi creates a very large electronic canvas and permits viewers to zoom in on a particular element of the presentation, either interactively or scripted to behave like slides. With Prezi, you never have to wait for a slide that is 20 minutes away. Every element has a location in both time and space.


 Click me

For the right subject matter, Prezi can potentially be very helpful to the trial consultant. For example, if the site plans of a manufacturing plant, or the structure of a coal mine are at issue, each element could be zoomed in on without distracting the jury. In fact, a Prezi presentation might appeal to the jurors’ basic concept of spatial orientation and help them understand something that would be hard to show with another software package.  Unlike PowerPoint or other presentation mediums, it is easier to maintain context.

Below is a Prezi of a large timeline originally designed for display as two printed foam core trial boards measuring five feet wide each.  This short Prezi trial presentation was built in just a few minutes and designed only to introduce the use of Prezi in the courtroom.  The camera pans around the timeline in a scripted fashion and is advanced using the play button.  It does not take too much imagination to see how this might be useful in a trial presentation.

Press the play button to advance the Prezi.

While I don’t see PowerPoint disappearing or even losing significant market share any time soon, competition is a good thing, and I am looking forward to a time when healthy competition will create software products that are even better adapted to litigation consultants’ needs than they are today.

Watch for an upcoming article that shows off more of the Prezi toolset.

Click me

trial presentation demonstrative evidence provider

Tags: Trial Graphics, Trial Presentation, Courtroom Presentations, Litigation Technology, Trial Technology, Animation, PowerPoint, Timelines, Prezi

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Ken Lopez founded A2L Consulting in 1995. The firm has since worked with litigators from all major law firms on more than 10,000 cases with over $2 trillion cumulatively at stake.  The A2L team is comprised of psychologists, jury consultants, trial consultants, litigation consultants, attorneys and information designers who provide jury consulting, litigation graphics and trial technology.  Ken Lopez can be reached at lopez@A2LC.com.


Tony Klapper joined A2L Consulting after accumulating 20 years of litigation experience while a partner at both Reed Smith and Kirkland & Ellis. Today, he is the Managing Director of Litigation Consulting and General Counsel for A2L Consulting. Tony has significant litigation experience in products liability, toxic tort, employment, financial services, government contract, insurance, and other commercial disputes.  In those matters, he has almost always been the point person for demonstrative evidence and narrative development on his trial teams. Tony can be reached at klapper@a2lc.com.

dr laurie kuslansky jury consultant a2l consulting

Laurie R. Kuslansky, Ph.D., Managing Director, Trial & Jury Consulting, has conducted over 400 mock trials in more than 1,000 litigation engagements over the past 20 years. Dr. Kuslansky's goal is to provide the highest level of personalized client service possible whether one's need involves a mock trial, witness preparation, jury selection or a mock exercise not involving a jury. Dr. Kuslansky can be reached at kuslansky@A2LC.com.

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