In part one of this three-part series, I gave an overview of presentation technology for legal advocacy. Part two covered the essential elements of software, equipment and people. The final installment highlights three of the most common mistakes in using presentation technology – and strategies to avoid them.
Common Mistake #1: Treating Technology as an Afterthought
The best presentations are the product of significant planning and preparation. It takes time, attention and forethought to:
- Gather the information you need to make informed decisions. Research topics include:
- Type, subject matter and length of the proceeding;
- Audience – judge, jury, hearing officer, arbitrator, mediator, opposing party;
- Room layout and display system;
- Building hours, security, parking, elevator;
- Number of exhibits and video depositions;
- Anticipated use of demonstratives;
- Case value and budget.
- Assess technology needs, wants and what you can afford.
- Choose your presentation software.
- Choose your display system. Buy, rent or reserve equipment.
- Obtain approval from the court or other decision maker. Seek cost-sharing for equipment vendors.
- Assemble the presentation team. Provide training as needed.
- Set up and test technology at the venue.
The most common mistake legal professionals make in using presentation technology is treating it as an afterthought. The usual consequences are ineffective use of technology and cost overruns. The worst-case scenario is a courtroom horror story.
Common Mistake #2: Not Testing in Advance
Five minutes before start time is self-evidently not the ideal time for an equipment test. Yet this scenario recurs again and again. Not testing presentation technology in advance is a surprisingly common mistake.
Testing has two parts. First, an equipment test of the display system and the presentation computer. The computer’s display settings often must be adjusted, especially in courtrooms outfitted with older, square monitors. Projectors frequently need a lot of tinkering.
After confirming the equipment is working like it should, you need to confirm your content looks and sounds the way it’s supposed to.
It’s important to display a representative sample of each type of content (exhibits, depositions, demonstratives). The conditions of the test must simulate the actual presentation; in other words, using the presentation computer connected to the venue’s display system. Dynamic content like PowerPoint slides and animations can look very different from one computer or monitor to the next.
Common Mistake #3: Not Having a Communication Plan
Case teams need a common language and workflow for exhibits. The effects of poor preparation are felt most keenly once proceedings are underway. Teams who don’t have a communication plan suffer confusion, frustration and embarrassment.
Worst of all is the unnecessary delays. People hate having their time wasted. The people deciding your case are no exception.
When I’m filling the “hotseat” role in the courtroom I tell my team members that I speak exhibit number. I ask the examining lawyers to send me their witness outlines with exhibit references the night before the witness is expected to testify. That allows me to identify key passages in advance and have exhibits queued up as I follow along with the questions.
Of course, I understand trial is fluid and they may go off script at any time – or have no script. Cross-examination especially often goes in unexpected directions. I can quickly put anything on the screen so long as they ask for it by exhibit number.
In addition to witness examination, have a plan in place for communicating content changes. Exhibits and demonstratives may be added, modified or redacted during the proceedings. Video deposition clips for direct designations are subject to change until they’re played, whether by choice or necessity (i.e., rulings on objections).
Lastly, know who to call for technology troubleshooting and include support staff back at the office in the communications plan.
Presentation technology is a powerful persuasive tool for legal advocacy. With planning and preparation, you can avoid common technology mistakes and present your best case.