We expect trial lawyers to be skillful advocates and effective speakers. However, too often when we hear a lawyer describe their case or relate the story of a trial, it is an overly long, detailed and confusing. Trial lawyers favor the use of PowerPoint and Keynote in their presentations and at trial. However, too frequently they are ineffective because there are too many, they are hard to read or they have too much written material per slide. It is important for trial lawyers to learn how to make effective presentations to groups, judges and juries. It is equally important for them to know the most impactful way to present slides in support of their presentation. Here are some general rules in that regard.
TIPS FOR GREAT PRESENTATIONS
There are some general rules that apply to almost all presentations in order to be effective with the audience. The fact is that studies have indicated a large percentage of people admitted to daydreaming during much of presentations made to them. Worse, some 39% of people confess to actually falling asleep during presentations. Here are some need to know tips that may improve your presentations.
Grab Attention Immediately
We all know that there is a short period of time when we first start speaking to an audience where we have their full attention. Some reports indicate that we have about 60 seconds on the average to capture people’s attention. Don’t waste time with the irrelevant. Here are other basic rules:
- Keep it Short
For the same reason that we need to capture attention immediately, we also need to keep things as short and simple as possible. That’s because the attention span of the audience is limited, and they will soon drift off in their mind so that your message should be delivered as quickly as reasonable. We know that people can focus on one subject for a finite period of time which is reported to be about 10 minutes at the very most. The well-known TED talks are therefore limited to 18 minutes in total length. That’s something for us all to consider in determining how long we should make our presentations.
- Practice Makes Perfect
Even experienced trial lawyers and speakers need to prepare in advance. It is equally important for us to actually practice or rehearse the planned presentation. That does not mean memorizing the talk or preparing to the point that it sounds staged and not sincere.
- Have a Key Theme & be Consistent?
Obviously, you have to know what your key theme point is in order to communicate effectively and clearly. This is especially important when you are limited in time to make your presentation. You have to know and make clear what the message is you’re trying to communicate to the audience. All of the exhibits or slides as well as the story must support your core message. Don’t waste time on details or irrelevant information. In deciding what to include. Apply the test of whether this helps to clearly and effectively communicate the core message.
- Tell a Story
We know that storytelling is powerful. All learning involves storytelling. Jurors make up their mind through stories they create based upon what they are presented with and their pre-existing beliefs as well as experiences. We’ve been told many times that stories need to have a beginning, middle and end. Yet, too often, we hear lawyers present rambling descriptions which defeat the primary purpose of the presentation.
- Remember Eye Contact, Body Language & Voice
It’s important to remember the fundamentals. These include good eye contact, appropriate body language and effective voice control. We know that people believe we are talking to them or listening to them by maintaining eye contact. While listening to another speak, we must maintain eye contact until they have completed speaking. When we look away or look at our notes while they are speaking, we are rejecting them. Our body language speaks louder than our words in most situations. We know that crossed arms communicate someone who is not open to us. How we look and stand, and dress are all important in our communications. Surprisingly some lawyers have a problem speaking at an appropriate level to be heard. We need to speak loud enough that the court reporter and our audience or jury can hear us without difficulty. Speaking too fast is the common fault of nervous lawyers. We must be conscious of slowing down the rate of speaking to ensure that people are able to absorb what we are saying. It goes without saying that speaking in a monotone is always a mistake. In fact, been found that people who speak in a monotone voice or with inappropriate expression in their voices are perceived as untrustworthy, boring or even dishonest.
- Be a Genuine Person and Always be Honest with The Audience
People are open to what is said by those they think open, genuine and trustworthy. In order to be believed we must be seen as trustworthy. To be seen as trustworthy we must be honest and truthful as well as genuine persons. In presenting our position to an audience we should be prepared to acknowledge facts that are in conflict with our position and deal with it. Furthermore, we should not be afraid to admit that we are nervous or are uncomfortable about some aspect of the situation. When we are honest it helps to break down the barrier between ourselves and our audience.
- End on a Strong Point
Of course, we should try to bring everything we have been saying together at the conclusion of our presentation. We should end with a strong message just like we began with an attention getting strong message. Our conclusion should request the action we want.
TIPS FOR GREAT POWERPOINT OR KEYNOTE SLIDES
Most of our presentations will involve the use of slides. An expert on PowerPoint, Gary Kawasaki, has written about what he has called the “10 – 20 – 30 rules for PowerPoint.” Whether you are using PowerPoint or Apple Keynote or other slides his advice is worth reviewing. Rules involve the question of how many slides should you use? How much text or other material should you put on each slide? And how long should you speak? Mr. Kawasaki answers with his rule for a one-hour talk: 10 slides are the optimal number to use for a presentation. 20 minutes is the longest amount of time should speak. 30-point font is the smallest font size you should use on your slides.
Limiting slides to Ten
While 10 slides for one hour talk seems like a small number it raises the issue of the number of slides you should use. Commonly, we use too many slides. Instead of swamping the audience with too many slides it is better to keep the slide portion of the talk short and to the point. In applying this rule, however, we need to acknowledge that every situation is unique. There is in fact no perfect number of slides. The decision should be made by determining the content first and then deciding the number of slides really needed to present that content. The real question is how many slides are necessary to convey the message in an effective manner. That depends upon the content of the message being delivered and how complex the slides are.
20 Minutes in Length
We know that the attention span of people is getting shorter all the time with social media and changes in our digital communication. In today’s digital world, less is more. The decreased span of attention, thanks to television and our digital communication, is decreasing by the day. This rule has considerable merit. However, it depends on the situation. There are situations where it is essential to spend more time. This is a good guideline, however.
30 Font Size
It’s important that your audience is easily able to read what is on the slide n order for it to be effective. It should be readable by the audience in front or in back of the room. It’s been found that smaller font size impairs readability making it difficult for the audience to clearly see what it says. In addition, the larger font size forces us to choose our words carefully because of lack of space. The size of the font really depends upon the situation including the size of the audience and the distance they are from the screen. What is important is the amount of content you are putting on each slide and whether everyone can easily read it.
Books have been written about the proper way to create slides. One universal rule is that in giving the presentation, we should not read the text from the slides to the audience. In fact, some of the best slides have either a limited number of words or no words at all and instead just a picture or illustration. In choosing the content always choose pictures over words. We know the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” and it is particularly true when it comes to slides. The slides should include only main idea keywords or talking points. Remember that you are the presenter, not a PowerPoint slide. You, and not the slides, should be doing the talking. Use your slides to emphasize a point, keep yourself on track, and illustrate a point with a graphic or photo.
There is a general rule known as the 5\5\5 rule which refers to experts suggesting that our slides use no more than five words per line of text, five lines of text per slide or five text heavy slides in a row.
These are fundamental ideas about making better presentations, but trial lawyers need to stop and review fundamentals from time to time. Our goal is persuasion for our clients. Our duty is to continually try improve our skills.