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Practice management and technology articles written by experts. July 21, 2009
TechnoFeature: Top Ten Tips for Creating Professional Trial Presentations Using PowerPoint
By Ted Brooks
(This article is a Technolawyer Exclusive.)
Just because you can create a PowerPoint presentation with flying text and
a pink background to accompany your opening and closing arguments
doesn't mean you should. But a professional looking slide show can have a
significant impact. In this TechnoFeature article, trial presentation expert
Ted Brooks offers ten trial presentation creation tips that you and your
team can immediately put to use. Your adversaries will wonder what hit
them. This article contains 1,953 words.
Opening statements and closing arguments are two of the few opportunities
when you can prepare a scripted story in advance, and (hopefully) tell it
without too many distractions or interruptions. Preparing a series of slides
to add the power of visual communication to your case can increase the
level of comprehension and retention of a great deal of information.
For the purposes of this article, I will assume that PowerPoint is the
software used in creating these slides although other options exist (other
presentation software will have similar features).
1. BEGIN BY CREATING AN OUTLINE
Do not get distracted by trying to develop your story with pictures. The
slides you will use do not tell the story — rather they help to clarify the
points you are making. You should initially prepare your outline as though
you had no visual support. The story should stand on its own, and should be
Then, you can review the outline, noting any place that might warrant
adding a visual, such as mention of a certain document, a description where
a photo or drawing might help illustrate the point, or even videotaped
testimony of a witness. All of these elements can and should be considered.
2. KEEP IT BASIC
PowerPoint is a wonderful tool — perhaps too wonderful at times. I have
seen some slides and formats used in court more suitable for presenting to a third grade class. Just because the program has a bunch of bells and
whistles (read: fly-ins and fancy background options) doesn't mean you
have to use them. The courtroom is no place for twirling text sailing into
place for the next bullet point, nor do you need to utilize the vast
assortment of design themes included in the program.
Unless you'd like your jury to think you're trying to amuse, entertain, or
otherwise present your evidence in an obviously condescending manner, I
advise making it look like every other professionally-created graphic used in
court. There is a reason they all appear similar in design — simple, clean,
and often with a soft blue background.
3. COLOR CHOICES ARE CRITICAL
When designing graphics, you can easily forget the medium you intend to
use to display the end product. In other words, what you see on your
computer monitor is not necessarily what the jury will see when projected
onto a big screen or on a printed posterboard blow-up in court.
As the case is presented, anything visually distracting, too bright, too dark,
or too difficult to read will have a cumulative effect, eventually resulting in
loss of focus, concentration, and of course retention. While the color white
is the default for most document and graphics programs, it is not the best
color when viewing different types of images. It is much easier on the eyes
to use a darker color, such as gray or blue. You may certainly use other
colors, but the idea is to soften the background so as not to make it more
difficult to view the important part of the slide, be it a document, photo, or
4. USE PROPER FONTS
An often ignored secret in graphic design is the proper choice of a font. A
sans-serif font, such as Arial or Verdana, is best used in non-printed media,
including trial presentation slides. Sans-serif fonts do not have the little tips
(serif) on the letters.
Times New Roman is often used in typed and printed documents, but it is
more difficult to read when projected onto a screen so don't use it in your
slides. Save Times New Roman and other serifs for your motions and
5. DON'T GET CAUGHT IN THE TMI TRAP
While it may be tempting to fit the entire text of a key paragraph on a
single slide, it might result in the text being too small to be legible.
Remember, when designing your slides, you are right in front of your
monitor. Try stepping back 10 or more feet and see how it looks then.
Another problem with too much information (TMI) on one slide is that it
tempts a juror to read ahead, possibly resulting in loss of concentration.
While it could easily merit an article of its own, bullet points are also known
as speaking points — not reading points. In other words, if you choose to show a bullet-point outline to your jury, do not include the entire text —
only the outline topic point. Don't display and then just read to the jurors
the content of the slide showing on the big screen in front of them. Doing so
6. RESIZE YOUR IMAGES TO FIT THE SLIDE
It is relatively simple to add photos or documents to your slides. You can
copy and paste them from a file folder, from another program that has an
image showing, or you can use the PowerPoint program menus to insert
any number of different items.
Once you have placed the image on the slide, don't just leave it where and
how it lands by default. If you click on the image, you can then resize it,
move it exactly where you'd like. Depending on the type of image, you may
also be able to lighten or darken it, crop it, and/or otherwise modify it.
A resizing trick: hold down the Shift key while grabbing the corner of the
image, and it will maintain its original shape. In other words, it won't distort
the image into a tall and skinny version of the original.
If the image is too large for the slide, you can drag it or scroll until you can
see a corner, then resize. When dragging an image, if you get near the
corner of the slide, it will tend to "stick" there, helping you align it.
7. ADD VIDEO OR AUDIO CLIPS
As with images, you can resize a video clip as well, using the same
techniques described above. There is no reason to have a tiny video window
playing on a big slide. It is generally a good idea to fill the entire slide with
As for audio clips, you might have a blank slide, or you might even have the
transcript or text showing as the audio plays. If your audio file displays an
icon on the screen during the presentation, you can simply move it out of
view on the slide layout. It will still play just fine.
One little caveat: Have you ever seen video on a PowerPoint slide that won't
play, even though you can see a still picture of the video clip? The reason
may be that someone has copied or moved the presentation from one
location to another. The program searches for the file, and it's not there.
One way to make sure you include it in a copy is to use PowerPoint's "Pack
and Go" or "Package for CD" feature. This feature will ensure that all
embedded files are included with the presentation.
8. HIGHLIGHTING YOUR TEXT AND DOCUMENTS
Where's the highlighter tool? This is not Microsoft Word, so you will have to
be a little more creative if you want to highlight your documents.
If you've ever seen TrialDirector, you know what it is supposed to look like.
If you've ever seen a slide with pale yellow washed out text that is supposed to be highlighted, you know what it looks like when it's done
wrong (or at least, not as nice as it could be). Many lawyers highlight by
drawing a box around the desired text and then choosing a pale yellow
semi-transparent fill — it really doesn't look very nice.
For text, you have a couple choices. One is to place white text inside a
black background or text frame, and then simply use a yellow font color on
the portion you'd like to highlight. People refer to this method as "reverse
Another way is to type the text into a clear text frame, create a yellow
box(es) in the shape of the text you wish to highlight, and then place it
underneath the text by right-clicking and using the Order, Send Backward
For documents, you are better off doing the highlighting in TrialDirector and
capturing a screenshot, or you might use something like PaperPort. It is a
very helpful program for such tasks.
9. TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Once you've completed your outline and have created all of the desired
graphics to help your jury better understand your message, you should
make a note where each slide should be displayed. Doing so will help you
remember to change each slide at the proper time.
You should rehearse your opening or closing, and use the slides to make
sure everything flows smoothly and makes sense. You might find that you
need some extra visual support in one area, or that you don't really need it
in another. Quickly reading and reviewing your outline is much different
than actually presenting it. You should have an idea how long it will take,
and adjust if necessary.
It is also helpful to do this in front of others, such as in a mock trial or in
front of a jury consultant. If this is not feasible, you might at least present it
to others in your office or family. Attorneys generally know all of the fine
details of their case so well that when explaining it to a jury, they can easily
forget that others do not have the same degree of understanding.
One quick bonus tip: Should you need to make adjustments such as
skipping a section and your notes indicate which slide number is to be
presented, you can type in that number and then hit the Enter key. It will
go directly to that slide, preventing you from flashing through a series of
slides that you no longer want to use.
10. KNOW WHEN TO GET HELP
If you have the time and resources to do all of this yourself, and if it will not
risk the outcome of your case, go for it. Most of these tips are relatively
basic, but like anything else, they can become time-consuming.
If you do not have the time to devote to this type of preparation, or if it is
just something that would divert precious time away from more important responsibilities, you should consider assistance. Someone in your office, an
outside graphics vendor, or trial consultant can tackle the production chores
and can even be present during the trial, following along with a copy of your
outline and advancing the slides for you. This assistance enables you to
focus on connecting with the jury.
Cost is important, but should not impede the best possible representation of
your client. A case worth trying is a case worth presenting properly,
effectively, and efficiently. If that means bringing in some help, so be it.
If you do find that you need assistance, a trial is not the time for bargain-hunting.
Make sure your entire team is trained and experienced, and not
just learning the ropes on your (or your client's) dime.
Delivering an opening statement or closing argument without any visual
accompaniment could certainly can confuse or at least fail to impress no
matter how eloquent or good looking you are. On the other hand, over-the-top or excessively flashy presentations could have a negative effect as well.
A safe, but effective, approach is to use designs and colors proven over
time in the courtroom, bearing in mind that the media is not the message.
As long as it looks and feels like it belongs in court, the jury will accept and
Ted Brooks, President of Litigation-Tech LLC, has written and presented legal technology topics for numerous organizations, including California State Judiciary, U.C. Berkeley, NITA, ABOTA, LawNet, ADC, DRI, ILTA, SFTLA, CAOC, ASTC, American Lawyer Conference, Paralegal SuperConference, plus Bar Associations, Government Agencies, and law firms. He has provided trial technology consulting services in numerous civil and criminal trials. Read another recent related article by this author.
Copyright 2009 Ted Brooks
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