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The Advantage Blog

  • Theodore O. Prosise Ph.D.


In a previous blog, we discussed the usefulness of graphics in trial. In part 2, we delve deeper to address not only when to use graphics, but how to use them in a way that will be most persuasive to jurors.

We note an increased use of graphic presentations for opening, in closing, and with fact and expert witnesses. The trend is no longer just a graphic or two, although that still occurs, but more so it is about an overall orchestration of visual presentation with the rhetorical efforts. Often graphics are considered simply a means to display information, but persuasion involves entertainment and engagement as well. Regardless of whether a few key graphics are used or there is an entire presentational strategy, demonstrative exhibits are a form of visual advocacy that extends the impact of the oral message, evidentiary support, and even legal instructions.

Graphics are most effective in use. That is to say, do not just look at the images and content on the page or PowerPoint, but immerse yourself in how you will use them, perform with them, in the effort to communicate your case. When designing your exhibit, the goal is to further the case story and themes. It is oft said that the best demonstratives do not need an explanation – they can be understood simply by looking at the graphic. That is partly true. Good graphics can certainly impress a central idea upon an audience. It should leave a strong and memorable impression. But the real trick is to develop synergy between the rhetorical and visual message. The details in the graphic become useful only to the extent they support the central point(s) or “headlines” of the case messages. Graphics are most effective when thought of as tools in the courtroom performance, as extensions of oratory, as information and design that the trial lawyer or witness interacts with in the messaging efforts.

During trial, use a variety of mediums for your demonstrative exhibits (PowerPoint, Prezi, exhibit boards, flip-charts). Jurors appreciate efforts to help them learn, classify information, and to make simple sense of the issues. Variety keeps them engaged and thus more likely to retain and recall your message. Switching between media allows you to entertain the jurors, provide “breaks” and transitions in message delivery, critical to learning and retention. It enhances engagement through performance and drama of the courtroom, where the trial attorney is seen as in command and control of both the details and the big picture.

Let the primary purpose and goal of the graphic determine the appropriate medium. Timelines may be best displayed on static boards, although we have been innovating many ways to make these simple static boards become highly interactive teaching tools. Some timelines may involve hyperlinked documents, call outs, animated processes that make the graphic more interesting and alive by situating actual evidence displays within a visual message content. Processes or patterns may be best shown through building animation in PowerPoint, laying information to build engagement and anticipation of an unfolding idea or message. “Process graphics” or “Verdict Maps” that guide jurors through the step-by-step process they should go through in evaluating the verdict form questions, in light of jury instructions and key evidentiary points, may be best as animated “builds,” emphasizing the step-by-step nature of a thoughtful and careful group deliberation.

It is important to think visually and rhetorically in addition to considering what you want to say. Too often we all engage more in persuading ourselves as the audience rather than to the actual audience that matters. Integrating the visual with the rhetorical is not just a process that happens at the end, but ideally is considered from the start of your argument/messaging strategy. The best integration of both of these critical tools is when the graphics plan and the written/spoken outlining happens in tandem. Sometimes attorneys build their entire outlines of opening, closing, or witness examination areas around the graphics from the start. Regardless of the particular method, thinking about the synergy between the oral and visual messaging is key.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” When used as a teaching tool in concert with the case facts and themes you verbally communicate to the jury, graphics can be an effective extension and complement to the rhetorical effort. When time constraints are a factor and jurors are overwhelmed and looking for help, take advantage of the efficiency, effectiveness, and power of graphics.

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