Small & Home Office
To Impress a Jury, Think Like a Television News Anchor
By Lynn Kenneth Packer
ANY LAWYER can use television news techniques to improve courtroom delivery, and it doesn't cost a fortune. Multimedia presentation equipment continues to get faster, lighter, cheaper and easier to use. There is no technical barrier against using digitally displayed words, pictures, charts, audio and video in the courtroom.
The remaining barrier for many trial lawyers, however, is presentation skills. But to train, you need look no further than your local television newscast. Newscasters' presentation skills (especially in major markets) have been refined over several decades of fierce competition in the television news industry.
Here are some lessons we can learn:
* Courtroom Set-up: Stand in the same visual "frame" within the courtroom, just like your local weather reporter stands next to the weather board.)
Some courtrooms are equipped with multiple LCD monitors in the jury box. Don't use them. Instead, use a portable screen (6 feet by 8 feet is probably ideal)
Keep jurors' attention on you and your presentation. Place the podium to one side of the screen or the other, facing the jury. Stand near the screen so that jurors do not have to turn heads as if they were watching a tennis match!
* Lighting: Even if you use a gazillion-lumen projector, dim the courtroom as much as possible. (Remember how distracting it is when all the lights in a theatre don't dim?) Low lighting keeps the "spotlight" on the attorney and the visual evidence. Be sure, however, that the attorney's podium area is lighted, so he or she does not disappear into darkness next to the screen. (Try a theatrical light, or even a makeshift desk lamp with a theatrical, diffuser gel.)
* Equipment: Leave the analog world behind, as many television news operations are doing. Forget videotape machines, audio tape players and even document cameras (Elmo devices). Present off your hard drive (or CD/DVD drive) using presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint, Corel Presentations, Idea TrialPro or InData Trial Director.
Computer video players provide far more control over clips than clunky, analog VHS players. Jurors are used to fast-paced news shows and will become impatient, if not irritated, if you are fumbling around with equipment.
* Hand gestures: Point to words or images on the screen using your hand, like a television weather presenter, not using a herky-jerky, distracting laser pointer. Your software probably offers text highlighting or animated underlining.
Add a drawing "telestrator" for more flexible annotations. (This is a tablet or touch screen device used to illustrate the image projected on the screen. It allows you to annotate the image. (Think John Madden's scribbles over football replays. PointMaker is a well-known manufacturer.)
* Script: TV anchors rarely ad lib, partly because of timing constraints but also so that narration and visuals can be tightly linked. Use your PowerPoint slides as a "safety net" outline to keep you on track.
It doesn't hurt to script and memorize your openings and closings. But do not, not, not, read your slides as if they are a teleprompter -- it's the fastest way to put the jurors to sleep.
Create text bullet points, charts, graphs, pictures and video clips for every point of your "script." (Pacing rule of thumb: An hour-long opening statement may consist of about 50 text and graphic slides.)
* Don't Bury Your Lead: Use simple journalism techniques to tell your story. First, use "inverted pyramid" style -- put your most important points first. (Trial consultants call this "cutting to the chase.")
Present your case theory -- your storyline -- at the outset. Package the presentation in sections, like a television newscast. Some attorneys use different-colored slide backgrounds for each section.
It's a three-step approach: 1) Tell them what you are going to tell them; 2) tell them; 3) tell them what you told them.
Also, don't forget the cardinal rule: K.I.S.S.: Keep it Simple, (Stupid). Or the famous five "W"s -- Who, What, When, Why, Where (and How).
* A Picture Is Worth a 1,000 Words: (Moving pictures are worth a million).
Visuals -- deposition clips, walk-throughs, re-creations, etc. -- are vastly underused at trial. Videotape your depositions so that you can use clips during opening statements. Reduce the expense and hassle of witnesses by choosing excerpts from prior depos.
Many courtrooms are equipped with video cameras; it's a no-brainer to use testimony clips in closings. Further, no law firm should be without at least one digital still camera, a DV camcorder and a video-editing PC (iMac iMovie, Sony Digital Studio, Dell Movie Studio, Compaq MyMovieStudio).
Alternatively, your firm's I.T. staff can equip a regular PC with a 1394 card, and add editing software, to accomplish the same thing.
* Prep with Props: Props are always effective storytelling aids. Sometimes an opening statement slide works well as a foam board chart during witness examinations.
* Argument: Minimize editorializing (argument in lawyer speak), even in the closing. Let the evidence make the case, visually and powerfully. But -- by stipulation or motion in limine -- get permission to use demonstrative evidence in openings.
* Makeup: Makeup in a courtroom will probably backfire for men if they are going to be close to the jury. You don't want to look tooooo Hollywood. But if you are being videotaped or simulcast, it might be worth considering.
Women may want to take advantage of makeup to maximize visibility of expression. The key, always, is to use makeup in a way that is consistent with your personality so that you don't feel uncomfortable on the courtroom "stage."
* Wardrobe: Traditional darker, courtroom dress works well under a fill light or in the projector light while working the screen. Be comfortable and consistent with your style and personality, but factor in the mechanics of the technology.
Be aware of how light affects color. Dress shirts and blouses often do best if skin tone or darker. Oops, there go traditional, white shirts.
Darker dress reflects less light -- thus is less distracting -- and makes the presenter's face stand out for jurors.
Television weathercasts of the '60s were often five or six minutes long, partly because weathercasters were writing out figures on a grease board. Modern weather segments, thanks to rather dazzling technology like satellite images and animated graphics, are much shorter, yet packed with more information. Trial lawyers would do well to follow in those footsteps by presenting more information, more clearly, in less time.