Tag Archives: legal graphics

The Value Of The Visual

Between the horrendous NSA slides and the disappointing prosecutorial closing presentation in the Trayvon Martin case, we’ve seen some pretty terrible slide design in the news lately. These recent examples might seem like the exception, but unfortunately, they indicate the underlying perception that presentations are not valuable workproduct. Visual communication is a huge opportunity in the business sphere. Even more than briefs and spreadsheets, great presentations can engagepersuade, and increase information retention.

The NSA’s PowerPoint presentation on the Prism Program was intended as an educational piece about electronic surveillance. Visual communication is a great approach to communicating data and complex ideas in an understandable way, but the NSA missed an opportunity when they neglected to prioritize the quality of their graphics. The template and graphics are so poorly designed that they come across as confused and convoluted.

NSA Prism Slide Original | Presentation Design

Below, we’ve simplified the template to focus on the main point: the diagram of telecommunication data exchange. To increase speed of comprehension, we’ve added visual cues and changed the configuration of the diagram to emphasize the US as the “backbone.”

NSA Slide | Prism Powerpoint | Redesigned

The slides from the Trayvon Martin trial were so poorly constructed that they received some harsh words in the press. This slide from the Prosecutor’s closing arguments looks slopped together.

Trayvon Martin Slide Design

It’s hard to imagine that any professional would feel comfortable with this slide, never mind a prosecutor with 20 years of experience. Some quick finesse adds credibility:

Trayvon Martin | Slide Design | Improved

In the age of life-like video games and multimillion dollar advertising budgets, great design is all around us and subpar design has never been so obvious. Poor quality visuals damage not only the credibility of the presenter and organization, but also that of the arguments. Failing to spend the necessary time and resources on visual communication is an insult to the audience.

From the classroom to the courtroom to the boardroom, presentations can be excellent tools for communicating complex ideas, arguments, and strategies in a way that is memorable and easy to understand. Investing in the design and development of visual communication is as important as ensuring quality in all areas of professional communication.

For more thoughts how to employ presentation design in business, pop over to our Expertise page.

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Persuasive Presenting: Death To Red Herrings

Presentation design: Avoid ClichésI once sat in court for a Big Oil client and watched with a mix of bemusement and horror as the plaintiff’s attorney put up an illustration of an anthropomorphized fat cat in a suit struggling to hold shut the door of a closet bursting with skeletons.

We can all see what my confused adversaries were going for: Big Oil is a bunch of fat cats with skeleton-filled closets. Don’t trust them!

A fair argument when it comes to Big Business of all sorts, but the miscalculation is this: Clichés are so overused that they bore our brains. This, likely expensive, piece of design was a throw-away for the jury.

Well-used metaphors can engage the brain and create powerful associations. Researchers in 2006 found that our brains are stimulated by original and intriguing metaphors that use sensory-charged words like “coffee,” “lavender,” and “perfume.” In fact, these words light up the primary olfactory cortex of the brain – the cortex in charge of processing smell.

However, when metaphors age and, finally, mature into clichés the effect diminishes. Phrases often heard in courtrooms like “a lot of moving parts,” “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and “pulling wool over our eyes” become commonplace, meaningless language. In short, our brains read these phrases literally and the metaphor completely loses it’s ability to inspire thought or feeling.

I was once witness to slide where certain events on a timeline animated into “red herrings.” The trial team was enamored with the cleverness of the slide, but I watched as the jury sat, passive and bored, as the fish appeared. It simply did nothing for them.

If the jury remembered this graphic at all during deliberations, I’m fairly sure it was referred to as that “strange fish timeline.” A better strategy would have been to simply turn the offending events red and notate that the importance of these events was falsely exaggerated by opposing counsel. Then remove them completely and discuss what the situation looks like without them. Now a powerful point has been made, rather than just labeling events red herrings and expecting that tired phrase to do the work for you.

When it comes to incorporating graphics into your presentation, leave the clichés out and focus your resources on the concrete facts of your case. The more original your use of metaphor, the more it will resonate with your audience – inspiring thought and associations with the arguments you’re presenting.

Further reading:
Another Red Herring Story and Nine Other Don’ts from the Persuasive Litigator