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Finney: Give power to your point at trial

May 23, 2012
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By Deanna Finney  

deanna finney Finney

In this age of on-demand access, it can be difficult to keep a jury engaged by merely talking and flipping through a collection of documents, especially on a complex issue. Using technology at trials has become increasingly popular with a variety of software packages specifically intended for displaying evidence in the courtroom. While these trial presentation tools have great value, they often require advanced knowledge to operate. Many overlook a tool they already have, Microsoft PowerPoint. It was initially designed to be a presentation aid, something that could bring power to your point, but unfortunately is now often more of a crutch than an aid. There are many reasons PowerPoint is not used, underused or misused during trial.

One of the most common pitfalls with PowerPoint presentations are slides loaded with bullet points and text. Bullet points are not inherently bad; they are just not the ideal tool for learning new information. They are good for summarization and an excellent way to help organize thoughts when planning a presentation, but should not be the primary presentation tool. Images are imperative to allow jurors to visually process and remember new content. There are several great ways to break free from bullet points.

PowerPoint 2007 introduced a new feature called SmartArt which automatically transforms a bulleted list of information into a graphical display that is easy to update as information changes. It is a great tool to depict process flows, organization charts and compare or contrast data. Adjustments can be made by either manipulating the graphic or altering the bulleted list, which makes creating these graphics a breeze. Within a few clicks a polished and professional looking graphic is ready without the struggle of aligning shapes, text boxes, arrows and lines.

Timelines are also a great option for displaying data. Using a series of lines and text boxes from the shapes menu, a traditional timeline can be built. The timescale can either be horizontal or vertical depending upon the data being presented. Each event can be animated to appear one at a time to allow for discussion of each point. Additionally, there are several non-conventional timeline formats that are effective and easy to create using tables and shapes in PowerPoint. These options present an overview of data rather than a detailed view of specific events. One such example is a monthly calendar with color-coded days to indicate at a glance how many times during a month an event occurred. This is a great display choice for items such as history and severity of pain, days off from work, and sleep habits of an individual. Other historical information such as prescription drug usage and employment history can be displayed nicely in a chart with the timespan in the header row and various markers or images for each event within the body of the chart. While timelines are a fantastic tool to display the big picture of a situation, it is vital to be selective of which events are included to prevent creating a slide that is cluttered and complicated.

Another major struggle that many have faced with using PowerPoint in trial is the sequential nature of the application. Trial presentations often take unexpected turns either due to a ruling by the judge of what evidence may be displayed or because a witness says something that was unforeseen. Therefore, it is important that slides and animations can be presented or skipped on-the-fly which historically has not been easy for PowerPoint users. Traditionally slides had to be presented sequentially, but beginning in PowerPoint 2007 a new slideshow option called Presenter View was introduced. This option displays a different view for the presenter allowing them to see what slides are coming up and easily skip around without the audience knowing. Other features of this view include speaker notes, current time, time elapsed since the start of the presentation, mark-up options (including a highlighter), and a black screen option which is great for sidebars when presentations need to be temporarily hidden.

While the Presenter View allows slides to be presented out of order, it does not enable presenters to change the order of animation for a slide. For example a presenter may have a slide containing an image of an important document in which they wish to call out specific paragraphs. By default, the presenter cannot select the paragraph on-demand; instead, they are presented in whatever order was set when the slide was created. Using the triggers function in the animations pane, objects can now be set to enter or exit on a trigger rather than a consecutive order.

With a little planning and exploration, PowerPoint can be used to engage jurors and avoid some of the hurdles others have faced to bring power to your point at your next trial.•

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Deanna Finney (deanna.finney@miscindiana.com) is a co-owner of the Indianapolis-based legal technology company, Modern Information Solutions LLC. Areas of service include traditional IT services, software training and litigation support including trial presentation services. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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