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Life and Death by PowerPoint: The Use of Multimedia in the Courtroom

By Dr. John F. Sase
Revised 4/8/2021

"We are all inherently visual communicators. Consider kindergarten: crayons, finger paints, and clay propelled our expression, not word processors or spreadsheets."

--Nancy Duarte, Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations (O'Reilly Media, 2008)
This article discusses the approaches and methods for using PowerPoint in presentations delivered by attorneys and expert witnesses in jury or bench trials. We will address the use of forensic media that has developed from twentieth-century instructional technology. We have chosen to discuss this issue because a presentation frequently gives the last impression about a plaintiff or defendant to the judge or jury before they retire to deliberate a verdict. In a previous post, we discussed the specific qualities for which attorneys should look when searching for an expert witness. In addition to possessing the qualities of relevant experience and the peer-conferred license of a Ph.D., we noted that experts who teach or speak publically tend to maintain an excellent working knowledge of modern media technologies. Of these technologies, PowerPoint and comparable slide ware have emerged as the most popular tools in many areas. However, though PowerPoint remains the most used media tool in business meetings, in the classroom, and at court, it also represents these technologies' most abused.

This discussion hopes to provide information that will help stop this abuse in the courtroom and aid attorneys in winning cases. Survey Says: Americans Would Give Up Sex to Avoid PowerPoint Presentations Recently, Sliderocket Research (www.clearslide.com/product/sliderocket/) released the results of a survey that underscores the points that presentation gurus have made about PowerPoint abuses for more than two decades. Not much has changed over time. It seems that one-fourth of the professionals surveyed reported that they would rather forego having sex than sit through yet another PowerPoint presentation. Also, more than one-fifth of respondents would rather do their taxes instead of attending a PowerPoint presentation. Another fifth preferred the option of a trip to his/her dentist. Finally, one-third of the survey respondents admitted to falling asleep at least once during such presentations.

Suppose this survey indeed does reflect the attitude of working society at large. In that case, we must pause to ask why—especially before considering using this media technology on a captive audience in a court of law. However, technology is not to blame. The above research resounds loudly and clearly on this point. Instead, the human element provides the quality, design, content choice, and delivery of these presentations. These elements determine whether or not a presentation "turns on" or "turns off" the presiding judge and the jury members.