Thursday, June 24, 2010

Prosecutor Post - "I use Powerpoint" so Should You.

How does that Dylan song go? “The times they are a changing…” And you better believe it! Whether it be a constant streaming of CSI or unfettered access to an abundance of “interesting” reads on the internet, most people now have preconceived notions of what our legal system should be. Good attorneys recognize this. Heck, all attorneys should recognize this, but good attorney adapt to take advantage of it. Specifically, they are turning to technological advances and discovering new and innovative ways to connect with juries.

In regard to criminal cases, most prosecutors have equipped themselves with a very effective tool. PowerPoint. Okay, it’s not so new, but to many Texas lawyers it might as well have been invented last week. From voir dire to closing arguments, state attorneys have come to realize PowerPoint is so effective that they won’t try a case without it. Why is it so effective? Simple. Our society and the new generation of jurors are visual learners. Speaking alone is no longer the most effective way to reach people, regardless of how engaging or folksy you may be.

Visual presentation is a much more effective way of reaching others and, if you think about it, data and facts that appear in electronic form just seem much more convincing. You not only tell someone X and ask them to trust you, you also show them X on a fancy big screen TV. By accessing two of their senses simultaneously, you double the odds of reaching your audience.

I know, I know, you have probably imagined that if you use PowerPoint, the jurors eyes are likely to glaze over – death by PowerPoint, as they say. But, speaking from experience, it’s not true. Of course, if you put volumes of text on the screen and simply read from the screen, PowerPoint is likely not going to be very effective for you. You still have to bring your advocacy skills to the table – PowerPoint is simply a way to bring your argument to life.

You might be concerned about trying something new, but rest assured there are many who have faced the challenge of learning PowerPoint and found the ability to not only use it, but master it. Like anything else, there are numerous resources available to assist in learning the software. And yes, the software and any tutorial materials will cost money. But you can’t afford to opt out and stick with your easel and oversized flip charts.

What impression do you think is given when you walk into court with a marker board while the prosecutor has his laptop fired up and his PowerPoint presentation rearing to go? Don’t put yourself in that position. This tool is as accessible to you as it is to anyone. And yes, it may be new to you and a bit uncomfortable. But it will only stay that way for a little while. After using it a couple of times, you’ll probably find yourself wondering how you ever tried a case without it…

For those of you new to the PowerPoint game, here’s a few tips to make your presentation stand out:
  1. Start with a black (or otherwise dark) background. Studies show that people can more easily read white text on a black screen than vice versa.
  2. Use effective titles on each slide – some jurors may only give your slide a few seconds of attention. What do you want them to take away?
  3. Pace each slide. Don’t present all your information at once. Proceed incrementally. This allows you to argue and it allows jurors to follow your argument as it progresses.
  4. Use symbols to portray data. Jurors can understand symbols much faster than listening to spoken word.
  5. Avoid messy and overcomplicated charts. Confusing!
Take these tips for what they’re worth. Remember, I’m just a humble prosecutor who barely knows how to check email, but my trial record is good and I use PowerPoint.