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PowerPoint: Evidence Presentation

There should be a point to using a PowerPoint for evidence presentation.

Don’t just launch into using PowerPoint because it’s great fun and easy to use. Decide to use it only after reflecting on how it would enhance your case. Don’t just reach for technology for technology’s sake. 

There will be times when a simple story told by a witness unadorned by technology is better. Think of a lawsuit based on a person recounting the story of being sexually abused as a child. Courtroom technology in such a case could distract and may even be perceived as trivializing the emotion of the testimony.

On the other hand picture a personal injury lawsuit where the road design is being blamed for the accident and the resulting life-changing injuries. Such a case would lend itself perfectly to a PowerPoint. A judicious choice of images could illustrate the road defects much better than a talking-head engineer recounting deficiencies. The effect of the injuries could be persuasively brought home with real-life before and after photos. Images could show a robust plaintiff before the accident contrasted with a wheelchair-bound plaintiff after the accident. Such illustrations are a powerful and memorable way to show the need for compensatory damages.

Once you’ve decided your case will be improved with the use of PowerPoint the next step is to consider the themes of your litigation story. This is a necessary step which will lead to a more efficiently focussed selection of images to illustrate each theme.

Here’s a step by step approach to building a PowerPoint to present your evidence. This should of course follow the essential steps of obtaining a retainer, determining there’s a remedy to justify the retainer and setting the matter for trial.

Step One: e-Gathering

Marshall images, diagrams, maps etc. in electronic format. Photos should be in a format such as JPEG. I’ve found that formats such as TIFF can be unnecessarily large causing your PowerPoint to run slowly. 

Adobe PDF formats also work. There is a snapshot feature in Adobe that allows you in effect to cut and paste from Adobe into PowerPoint.

Step Two: Rough Cutting

In bygone days of negatives, photo albums and blow-ups on easels the number of available images was conveniently small. The advent of digital cameras has meant an exponential growth of available photographs. When I first started prosecuting, police might bring in a roll or two of film. Now they bring in hundreds and hundreds of digital images. “Why not,” they shrug, “it’s just as cheap to snap and burn 24 photos as it is for 240”.

Before you populate your PowerPoint with images do a once through rough-cut eliminating the bad and irrelevant ones.

My motto for image selection: ‘If in doubt leave it out’.

Refining your selections should be done at Step Four when you edit and sequence.

Step Three: Assembling the PowerPoint

In a previous column I introduced a few basic ways for inserting images into a PowerPoint for evidence presentation. I showed three simple ways for getting photos, diagrams, maps etc. into a PowerPoint by either inserting them one at a time or doing it in one go using either Microsoft Office Picture Manager or the PowerPoint Photo Album Feature.

Generally there should be one image per slide. But you should consider putting multiple images on one slide where different angles of the same object are helpful or a comparison is needed. For instance before and after photos of a plaintiff could be placed on the same slide. 

Step Four: Editing and Sequencing the Images

This step is where your creative side should come to the fore. Therefore at this juncture it’s best to stop thinking like a lawyer and allow yourself to think like a story teller. Imagine yourself at the pub telling friends about your case, making sure you only tell them the important bits in the right sequence.

At Step Four that is what you’ll be doing: making sure your PowerPoint only has important bits in the right sequence. PowerPoint makes this easy with its “Slide Sorter” feature which is found under “View”. “Slide Sorter” looks like this:

Click on image to enlarge.

This view allows you to see all the slides at a glance. 

You can now step back and consider each one in turn and consider how it adds to the unfolding of the narrative. If you can’t articulate a reason for a particular slide, out it goes. 

Having decided which ones are essential you must now determine a sequence that best matches the story line or narrative of your case.

Changing the order of slides in ‘Slider Sorter’ is just a matter of grabbing the slide and dragging it to another spot in the sequence.

In choosing a sequence consider two factors.

One factor is the order they will be shown to a witness. 

The second and more important factor is to choose a sequence that makes it easy for a trier of fact to follow. In other words some logical and self-evident pattern that allows the trier of fact to reconstruct your case by looking at the images. Since you won’t be with the trier of fact during deliberations the images should speak for themselves, simply and logically.

Try to envision the trier of fact, all alone, about to open the evidence PPT, asking rhetorically “let’s just see how the images relate to the issues I heard counsel blather on about”? If, standing on its own, your PowerPoint answers this question you will have succeeded.

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