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Not long ago, data display maven and Yale Professor Edward Tufte caused a minor stir when he called Microsoft Corp.’s PowerPoint presentation software “evil,” and sniped that “Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” ( Wired, Sept. 2003.) Regrettably, Tufte, like so many others, only knows PowerPoint at its most banal. Judging presentation software by bad PowerPoints is like judging all women by Paris Hilton. Truth is, even Microsoft doesn’t know how to use PowerPoint to its best advantage. Where do they get those awful templates and wizards? You can perform amazing feats and be a more effective advocate using presentation software; but, you’ve got to set aside nearly all you know about PowerPoint and the ways you’ve seen it used. Cast out PowerPoint the Huckster and embrace PowerPoint the Persuader! START SIMPLE — AND GROW It’s a mistake to wait until the eve of mediation or trial to start building a presentation. Instead, use PowerPoint throughout your case — as you interview witnesses, work with experts and conduct discovery. Forget slide templates. Begin your presentation with a white background and black type, or vice versa. Start inserting your visual evidence, photos, video, deposition excerpts, maps, graphs, key documents, jury issues and so forth, each on a single slide. Don’t worry about appearance or order at first — and certainly waste no time on bells and whistles like animated titling or sound effects. Simply load every visual you might use into the presentation, resizing the images for effective viewing. At this stage, the program is just a vessel to hold your visual anchors. As you gather new visuals, insert them into the presentation. Don’t forget audio evidence, too. Voicemail, recorded statements, and 911 calls can all be dropped into PowerPoint. Once your visual evidence and demonstrative exhibits are in PowerPoint, you can easily access them. Though PowerPoint is a linear presentation tool, it also provides direct access to any slide (type the slide number, then hit “Enter”) and can hyperlink from any object in any slide to any other slide, file or external application. As the case develops, you’ll return frequently to your presentation — to show a photo to a witness, a medical illustration to a doctor, or a deposition video clip to the court during a motion hearing. Along the way, you’ll add titles, labels, highlighting, and animation, as well as determine slide order, keeping what works and dropping what doesn’t. The presentation evolves with the case, and a polished product emerges gradually as your skill level grows. ANIMATE TO INSTRUCT PowerPoint’s ability to animate text and enhance it with grating sound effects has long been abused. Cute animated effects quickly become fingernails on a blackboard when repeated. So, if you make it move, make it move for a reason lest you detract from your message. Animation done right and for a purpose is stunningly effective at increasing comprehension and focusing attention. The enhanced animation capabilities added to PowerPoint in versions 2002 and 2003 offer better ways to bounce text on, off, and around the screen. But PowerPoint animation is capable of so much more when applied to “objects,” PowerPoint’s term for visual elements placed on a slide. You can make objects fade in or out, change in size, or follow a precise motion path. But it’s the ability to animate multiple objects at the same time and tightly control their entrance, movements, and exit that puts the power in PowerPoint. You can even apply animation effects to the same object simultaneously, allowing, for example, an object to follow a defined path while also rotating and growing. You needn’t be a rocket scientist or run Pixar to build dynamic courtroom and mediation presentations. With a little patient tinkering and creative thought, any PowerPoint user can turn out animations rivaling those once produced only by professionals. You can animate complex mechanical processes, reconstruct auto and air crashes, depict needed safety features in operation, or re-enact medical procedures. I’ve used PowerPoint to animate process flow leading to a petrochemical plant explosion, the operation of a computer’s hard drive, and intersectional collisions. I’ve also used it to depict complex money trails in fraud cases and to bring an investigating officer’s drawing of a wreck to life, making his hand-drawn cars collide as if the police report were enchanted. To experiment with motion path animation, draw a rectangle on a blank slide representing a car. PowerPoint includes a toolbar of basic drawing tools (if you don’t see it on-screen, choose the View menu and select Toolbars, then Drawing.) Right-click on the rectangle and choose Custom Animation from the pop-up menu. Select Add Effect, then Add Motion Paths, Draw Custom Paths, and Curve. Click on the center of your rectangle and drag a motion path for the object to follow, clicking at every point where you’d like your car to change direction. You may want to superimpose some rotation on the object to better mimic the real world. To do so, left-click on the rectangle and again select Add Effect from the Custom Animation menu, then Emphasis and Spin. Menu options allow you to adjust the amount, speed and direction of spin. You can instruct the spin to start with the motion path you’ve previously created (select Start with Previous). Now adjust the settings to achieve fluid movement. Once you know how to animate an object, you can layer multiple effects or animate several objects at once or according to a time line you control. This conceptual version of the wreck built with rectangles may suffice, but you might want to increase the sophistication of your image by, e.g., animating a top view of a vehicle against a background of an aerial photo of an accident scene. Movement lends itself to a host of events other than car wrecks. Almost anything that changes over time, from flow charts to time lines to cash flows, is easier to grasp through animation, with the added advantage that when you control movement, you control where the jury looks and when. From client presentations to prepping witnesses to ADR proceedings, your animation efforts will pay off. It rarely matters if lawyer-created animations are admissible because most cases never get to trial. But even in court, if there is a competent sponsoring witness vouching for the fairness and accuracy of your depiction, most judges will admit it. Head off objections by giving an advance copy of your presentation to opposing counsel. If all else fails, you may get it admitted with an appropriate limiting instruction. BANISH BULLET POINTS Titles and bullet points are not your message. Your PowerPoint message flows from you as advocate and from your visual evidence. Use bulleted text sparingly, as speaker notes or to orient your audience so they aren’t left wondering, “Which witness is he talking about?” If a cause of action or contractual duty requires that five conditions be met, bulleting those five points makes sense. Otherwise, keep bullet points to a minimum, and where you can use something else, perhaps a document or photo, do it. Above all, respect your audience. The jury can read. A presenter commits an unforgivable sin by reading slides aloud. MANAGE FOCAL TRANSITIONS Are you a moderator, lecturer or narrator? People can neither listen to two speakers at once nor read and listen at the same time. So, if the jurors are reading your slides, they aren’t hearing you. Fortunately, most have no difficulty simultaneously watching and listening. As between you and the screen, where do you want the jury’s focus? If you’re presenting a video deposition excerpt that needs to be seen and heard, you’re just the moderator and it’s important you remain silent and even avoid the jurors’ field of vision so as not to distract them. Alternatively, when you’ve got something to say that demands the jurors’ focus, you don’t want their attention ping-ponging between screen and lecturer. Instead, either ensure that the visuals cease to draw attention or put your self into the visuals, such as by moving alongside the screen and gesturing. Fading the screen to black is an unequivocal way to signal a shift in focus. Make this transition clear and crisp — not jarring — so jurors know it’s time to look at you. In between these two poles, strive to narrate a screen filled with visually rich and engaging silent images and animations. Hold the jurors’ ears but surrender their eyes to the screen. Be their trusted instructor, presenting a documentary which equips them to reach the correct verdict. Focal transitions are useful in controlling the rhythm of your presentation. Used well, jurors stay awake and alert. Used badly, jurors don’t know where to look, and become frustrated and tired. REDEMPTION At nearly all of the scores of speeches I give each year, someone asks, “What program did you use for your presentation?” They’re amazed that it’s just PowerPoint. Free of templates, unburdened by a mind-numbing succession of bullet points and brimming with strong visuals and purposeful animation, PowerPoint shines. Professor Tufte got it wrong. PowerPoint isn’t evil. It’s just misunderstood. Craig Ball, a trial lawyer and certified computer forensics examiner, is a member of the Law Technology News Editorial Advisory Board. He can be reached at [email protected].

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