Using Powerpoint Effectively in Trial

Using Powerpoint Effectively in Trial

Craig Ball
Law Technology News

Whenever I give a speech, someone always asks, “What presentation software do you use?” They hardly believe it when I respond, “Just PowerPoint.” They’re just so accustomed to presentations made in that torturous way I call, “Death by PowerPoint.” That’s a shame because Microsoft Corp.’s PowerPoint is capable of so much more.


Be a PowerPoint rebel. Bid goodbye to word-weighty presentations by shunning the too-familiar templates thrust upon you.
In fact, avoid templates altogether. Select the default “Click to Add Title” and “Subtitle” frames. Delete them. Savor the tabula rasa before you. It’s where your brilliance begins.
Now, pledge to avoid PowerPoint’s overexposed clip art library. Most importantly, swear never to use a bullet point where a picture will do.
PowerPoint is a superb image presentation tool, but it’s a lousy word processor. If you’re using it to deliver a lot of text, you’re abusing it.
Next — and this is a hard one — don’t construct slides to serve as a handout. If you have to furnish a handout, write one. If your presentation comes across on your slides alone, you’re demeaning your audience by reading to them.


Even presenters who avoid the cardinal sins of too much text per slide, and reading to the audience, often commit the venial sin of competing with their slides. They don’t respect how the brain works.
No one can read and listen at the same time. When you speak while displaying more than a few words onscreen, the spoken and written words vie for brain space, and neither wins.
But wondrously, because different parts of the brain process speech and pictures, we can at once assimilate language and visuals.


Are you the type of person who can recall where something you read appeared on the page?
That’s “visual anchoring.” We retain more information as a consequence of the cognitive connections forged between pictures and words.
It works for sounds and music, too. The more “sensory anchors” you can bind to an idea, the greater the chance that idea will stick.
Music is powerfully evocative. It’s astounding how a snippet of music can summon lyrics you’d never recall absent the tune. Music not only anchors information, it taps into each listener’s experience and emotions.
Use sound and music to establish a mood or re-engage listeners. Again, stay away from PowerPoint’s packaged sound effects.


Your audience shares common experience through movies, television, ads, billboards and Web sites. Billions are spent to insure we respond to popular media. Piggyback on that effort by emulating the layouts, fonts, colors, sounds and design values of mass media. For example, model your visuals on a stunning set of opening credits or a compelling magazine layout. Your homage will tap into powerful emotions.


Challenge your audience, and bring tension and drama to a presentation. Try expressing your key point in a single intriguing word. One word, naked and alone onscreen, is a powerful provocation. Tension born of uncertainty weaves more cognitive connections to your message. These are the moments to make your powerful point with PowerPoint.
One oddball way I create dramatic tension is to identify an audience member who least understands my topic and challenge them, offering $100 if they can honestly say they still don’t get it when I’m done. Instantly, there’s electricity in the room, and every audience member becomes a vicarious competitor. Plus, it injects something all-too-rare in continuing education: fun.


Presentations should be sensual — engaging, exciting, varied, beautiful and kinetic. Recall how even the simple pan and zoom movements employed by filmmaker Ken Burns breathed so much life into Civil War photos.
We respond instinctively to movement. Include video clips and use animation and lively imagery to captivate your audience. Explore PowerPoint’s remarkable motion path animation features, and experiment by applying multiple simultaneous animations to objects in your presentation.
Use animation to direct attention or enliven an idea, but avoid aimless animation. Never fly in text just because you can.
A good PowerPoint is an extension of a good presenter: energetic, enlightening and effective. PowerPoint is capable of so much more when you trim the text, stop competing with your slides and play to its strengths in sound and imagery.

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