The law loves the word, but people love
pictures. Integrating words and pictures in your presentations
is key to a litigator's success - whether addressing the judge,
jurors, arbitrators or mediators.
One of the tests of
a litigator's professionalism is the way you design - and
present - exhibits. A professional litigator knows how to
present exhibits so they pack a punch, instead of die on the
vine. Exhibits can build tension in your story and add drama
to your presentation - but too often, they are anti-climatic.
Instead of hitting your point home, the point gets lost in
the telling of it.
This article will discuss
three major mistakes that attorneys often make - mistakes
which can make the difference between winning your case and
Mistake Number One: Illustrating
the Facts Instead of Telling the Story
Mistake Number Two: Designing Visuals
Which Are Self-Explanatory
Mistake Number Three: Anticipating
the Punch Line
|Mistake Number One: Illustrating
the Facts Instead of Telling the Story
Not long ago, defense counsel asked me
to develop an exhibit of a factory floor for a wrongful termination
case. He claimed that plaintiff was responsible for causing
a fire and wanted an exhibit to illustrate where the fire
took place. But upon further reflection, we discovered that
the point he needed to emphasize was not where the fire took
place, but that it was caused by plaintiffs poor judgment.
And upon further discussion, we discovered that the fire was
just one of a series of poor judgments the plaintiff had made.
So we developed a time line instead, documenting a series
of events which illustrated this mans overall incompetence
on the job. A diagram of the factory
floor might have been useful, but not essential to the jurors'
understanding of the case. Whereas the time line, which told
the story of the case, was crucial evidence.
I use this simple example to dramatize
an important point: Too often attorneys go into a presentation
with nonessential exhibits which demonstrate the facts, instead
of essential exhibits which tell the story.
|The Problem of Minutia-itis
Identifying the important issues which
advance your story is the most difficult part of putting together
a visual presentation. After you have been working on a case
for months - sometimes years - you are bound to lose perspective;
every little detail becomes magnified in importance. The more
involved you are in the details, the more exciting they become.
This condition is known as minutia-itis,
and it happens to everybody. You know you have this disease
when you find yourself saying to a colleague after a deposition
of the other side's expert: "Hah! Did you see Doctor X squirm
when I asked him about the secondary side effects on turtles
of hecktor-skektor poly-pie-skemia? And the answer he gave,
that they are abba-babba-dabba, influenced by the neo-largo-rhythms
in the metatarsal of the fourth pad? No juror will ever believe
No juror will ever understand that!
|How to Avoid Minutia-itis
and Find The Key Elements
The technique for finding
the key elements which tell your story is to ask yourself
the question: "What does the arbitrator, the judge or
the jurors have to know in order to give me the verdict."
No case should have more than 5 key elements - no matter how
long the trial might be.
Once you have identified the key elements
of your story, you have established the outline for your Visual
Trial. Each important issue needs to be visually described,
so that one exhibit tells the story of that issue. Then you
need to substantiate the story with other exhibits illustrating
the specific facts. These additional exhibits can be blow-ups
of your documents. Without the big exhibit illustrating the
story, however, the specific facts get lost.
|Mistake Number Two: Designing
Visuals Which Are Self-Explanatory
When designing your exhibits - whether
using low tech boards or high tech computer projected graphs
and animations - the golden rule is to design exhibits which
enhance you, not replace you. Translated, this means that
you will never want to show an exhibit which is self-explanatory!
One of the most serious mistakes attorneys
make in designing visuals is putting too much information
on them, so that they need no one to interpret them. While
the jurors read through your exhibit, you might as well (choose
one): 1) Prepare your closing argument, 2) read the newspaper,
3) go out for a cup of coffee.
Rather than put yourself on the sideline
in your presentation, design exhibits which put you in the
middle. Leave out nonessential descriptive data which you
can easily fill in verbally. Hit your audience over the head
with a smashing picture, which only comes to life with your
explanation of it. Establish yourself as the authority figure
who holds the key to your audience's understanding of the
exhibit - and the case.
When designed correctly, your exhibits
can establish your leadership and authority in the presentation
arena. When poorly conceived and developed, your visuals can
confuse your audience and make you look ill prepared and incompetent.
|Mistake Number Three:
Anticipating the Punch Line
One of the most serious mistakes attorneys
make in presenting exhibits is anticipating the punch line
- jumping the gun - giving the ending away. Showing an exhibit
is like telling a joke; timing is key to making it work.
The technique for showing an exhibit correctly
is to lead into it, not away from it. You want to talk about
the exhibit before you show it - creating interest, building
up to its central point, but not giving the point away. When
you reveal the exhibit, then your audience finds out what
the point is. The visual should tell the story, not you.
Never make your point and then reveal
it on the exhibit. Never! Otherwise, you lose the drama and
excitement that the picture offers.
|An Example of How To
Lead Into an Exhibit
For example, you represent the defense
- a telephone company - who plaintiff maintains was responsible
for his company going broke because call-in customers, upon
whom the business depended, kept getting disconnected. Your
point is that the disconnects accounted for only .02% of all
the calls, hardly enough to cause a company's failure.
In the visual we developed for the case,
black phones represented all the calls that got through; white
phones were the disconnects.
To show the exhibit correctly:
- Put the exhibit on an easel, facing
backward so your audience cannot see it
- Begin to talk about the issue,
i.e., that plaintiff claims the telephone company was the
cause of his company's failure because of the disconnects
- Build up the tension
by asking the rhetorical question: "But exactly how
many disconnects are we talking about here? Let me show
you on this exhibit. Now the completed calls are ....................
- Go to the exhibit, turn it over and
reveal it to your audience. Continue your sentence: "..............
in black and the disconnects are in white.................."
- Keep quiet while the jurors look
at the exhibit and digest it. After you are sure everyone
has had a chance to study the exhibit, you will want to
sum up - for clarification - what the jurors have seen:
- "Can you see the two white disconnects?
Upon investigation, we have found that out of every 1,000
calls to Yellowphone, only 2 were disconnects - only two-tenths
of one percent. Ninety-nine-point-eight percent of the calls
to Yellowphone were completed. And yet, plaintiff would
have you believe that those few disconnects caused his company's
- Continue talking about the exhibit
until you feel confident that the message has been communicated.
It is an important message. One of the main points of your
case. You have developed a separate exhibit to specifically
tell that story. Make sure you tell it loud and clear.
- Your visuals should entertain as well
as educate. Exhibits which are well designed and rehearsed
in their delivery are like exclamation points in your presentation,
adding an element of suspense, surprise and drama.
|Remember three points as you put together
- Illustrate the Story, Not Simply the
- Design Visuals Which Need You to Interpret
- Let the Visual Make the Point, Not
By developing these simple skills, you
will enhance your presentation many times over-creating interest,
building drama, communicating your message persuasively and
helping win your case.
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