Winning at Trial with a Dynamic PowerPoint Presentation

Applies to: PowerPoint 2007, PowerPoint 2003

By Robert Lane and Bruce A. Olson

A lot is at stake—power, money, reputation, future plans, justice. You need to win this case. Your presentation materials surely will play an important role in helping the judge and jury experience the sights, sounds, and details of the case … or not. The choice is up to you, says one tech-savvy attorney. It all depends upon whether you are willing to push PowerPoint beyond its normal boundaries to maximize its interactive and persuasive potential.

This Wasn't Part of the Plan

Figure 1

Figure 1: A typical courtroom

On a crisp winter’s day, Bruce climbed the courthouse stairs and walked toward his assigned courtroom, a ritual he had repeated many times before throughout his career as a trial lawyer. Soon a jury would hear opening statements. Bruce was well prepared, as usual, to walk them through a carefully arranged PowerPoint presentation—a typical series of linear slides summarizing the case. Everything seemed in order and under control. That’s when a surprise hit.

Bruce: “We’d picked a jury in the morning, and opening statements started after lunch. I’d made it part way through my opening when I realized I was starting to lose the jury—they were dozing off. Opening after lunch is always difficult. To wake them up, I really needed to move up the most important slides from the end where I’d initially placed them for a strong finish. I also needed to drop a number of slides on the fly to shorten the presentation. Given the way I’d structured my PowerPoint show, though, I was stuck. All I could do was talk loudly and click rapidly through the slides to get to the end so I could re-engage the jury’s interest.

”While I was generally a fan of PowerPoint, it clearly had its limitations in court, or so I’d been led to believe. As a result, I always exercised caution when using it at trial. The software’s linear design worked well for sequential, predictable messages such as opening and closing arguments, but I hadn’t learned a way to use it to address unpredictable events like sleeping jurors. Situations like that don’t fit into convenient little predictable boxes. They are messy and random—and most aspects of litigation are like that. How could PowerPoint possibly address such complexity?

Hey, It’s Not Like That on TV!

“Another factor caused me to further worry about PowerPoint’s appropriateness to litigation, a phenomenon I refer to as the CSI Effect. Movies and television shows like CSI condition us to expect visual cues on a regular basis to help fill in information gaps. Suddenly we are taken back in time to see a gunshot, hear a victim’s scream, get a zoomed-in view of a blood speck on a carpet, or a thousand other timely bits of information needed to solve the mystery of how the crime was committed. Those clues allow us to mentally piece together what really happened.

“Granted, such television dramas have little relationship to real life, but that doesn’t seem to matter with many jurors these days. They almost expect trial lawyers to act like CSI characters, pulling up just the right pictures, video clips, and sounds, at the right moments, to support their points. Words alone are not enough. A subconscious thought demands: ‘Show it to me like they do on TV so I can decide if he really did it or not.’ There is a huge difference between rebutting an argument with a statement like, ‘That’s impossible,’ compared to ‘That’s impossible … and let me show you why.’ The latter response taps into a CSI expectation of seeing evidence when it’s most relevant.

“A lawyer who can’t satisfy this media-enhanced expectation to at least some degree risks losing jurors’ interest and concentration. Just having that information gathering dust somewhere in a long slide show is not enough, either. Details must be available at a moment’s notice, regardless of context, to provide jurors with what could turn out to be a pivotal clue. In that instant of relevant display, they realize, ‘Ah! Now that makes sense.’

“Again, in the past I would have thought, ‘PowerPoint for more than openings or closings? Are you kidding?’ I have a different perspective today.”

Adding Navigation Elements to Your PowerPoint-based Evidence

The Need for Flexibility

The change of perspective came while experimenting with PowerPoint’s built-in interactivity tools. By combining shapes, pictures, and hyperlinks, Bruce created what are known as navigation styles—simple hyperlinking strategies that allow random movement within, and between, slide shows. Before long, and using nothing more than standard PowerPoint software, he could approach jurors with a highly flexible, interlinked collection of about 200 slides. Any topic was displayable within seconds, in any order. Plus, content could be reviewed at a later time, or skipped altogether.

Bruce: “It felt a little strange at first. Interactive delivery is quite different from plowing through a fixed sequence of slides. You need to know your content well and get in the habit of asking yourself, ‘Do I have a slide that can help me make this point or answer that question?’ I had to give up the robotic dependency on PowerPoint to spoon-feed me the next topic every time. The next topic was whatever I wanted it to be. It was a liberating. My presentation style gradually began taking on a more conversational, spontaneous feel—which was fun.

“Here’s an example of how the process works, something you can do with your presentation materials, as well. Let’s say hypothetically I am representing a client in an automobile accident injury case. Certain kinds of pictures might be very helpful, right?

figure 2: an accident scene

Figure 2: An accident scene

“I probably will want pictures of the vehicles involved: close-ups, full-views, various angles, inside and outside perspectives. I need pictures of the accident scene: skid marks, damage to plants or signs, security camera captures, if available, and so forth. Pictures of the environment might be helpful: shadows, the sun angle, anything that might be distracting to motorists at that intersection.

figure 3: inside perspective showing a deployed airbag

Figure 3: Inside perspective showing a deployed airbag

“Eventually, I end up with quite a few images. Certainly I could throw them all into a long, linear slide show like everyone else, but there’s a better strategy. I want to have instant, individual control over which of these pictures are shown, at the right time. That’s how I, and you, will simulate that CSI Effect mentioned earlier.”

A Look at Showcase Navigation

figure 4: powerpoint slide in slide show view displaying three categories of pictures

Figure 4: PowerPoint slide in Slide Show view displaying three categories of pictures

“One of the simplest, yet effective, navigation styles I might choose for this kind of content is a back and forth process Robert calls Showcase navigation. Here’s how it works. We’ll use the same three categories of pictures mentioned above and turn them into an interactive PowerPoint presentation as shown in Figure 5.

figure 5: example of interactive slide with 3 categories of pictures

Figure 5: Example of switchboard slide with 3 categories of pictures

“Assume we have 8 pictures per category—24 in all. That means our PowerPoint presentation must have a total of 25 slides. We need one slide for each picture, and then one additional special slide at the beginning of the show called a switchboard. That first slide (Figure 5) contains small thumbnail representations of the full-sized pictures appearing on the show’s remaining 24 slides. The thumbnails, not surprisingly, link directly to their respective picture slides, allowing the speaker to quickly find and display any full-sized picture (Figure 6). Note: In evidentiary situations where showing the switchboard’s thumbnails might be inappropriate, use PowerPoint’s screen blackout feature to temporarily hide the display while making a selection.

figure 6: full-sized picture of accident scene

Figure 6: Full-sized picture of accident scene

“Of course, once a particular picture is displayed that’s not the end of the story. The speaker must be able to immediately return to the switchboard slide for additional choices. So, the trick of how Showcase navigation works is to also link all the full-sized pictures back to slide 1 (Figure 5). That action completes the loop. While performing, a presenter first clicks a thumbnail to display its picture content full-screen, and then clicks that picture to again access the switchboard. The process can be repeated over and over again with as many pictures as desired.

“Notice, too, that the thumbnails in Figure 5 are arranged on the slide in groups, according to their focus. If a vehicle picture is needed, for example, the speaker can completely ignore the other two categories while searching. Such grouping strategies improve the efficiency of interactive presentation methods, reducing time spent moving between topics.”

Building Showcase Navigation

Try converting some of your own content into Showcase navigation. To do so, follow the steps below. For more detailed instructions, access free Showcase navigation tutorials here for both PowerPoint 2003 and PowerPoint 2007.

Step 1: Make the (or open the existing) presentation.

Step 2: If you are using an existing show, simply add a blank slide at the beginning to be the switchboard. If you are building a new show, add a slide for each content topic and one additional slide for the switchboard. Note that a showcase presentation is a traditional linear slide show in all respects—except for the extra slide at the beginning and the internal hyperlinks that allow random slide selection.

Step 3: If your show contains pictures on its content slides, as in the example above, place a copy of each picture on slide 1 and downsize all the pictures to be small images (Use the thumbnails as shown in Figure 7). Arrange the thumbnails on the slide as desired, ideally in organized patterns.

figure 7: pictures inserted onto a slide and downsized into small thumbnails

Figure 7: Pictures inserted onto a slide and downsized into small thumbnails

Step 4: Hyperlink each thumbnail to its respective slide. Do so by right-clicking a thumbnail and choosing Hyperlink from the menu that appears. Then on the Insert Hyperlink dialog box, click the Place in this document tab (Figure 8). Click the appropriate slide number and then click OK at the bottom of the dialog box. Repeat this process with the remaining thumbnails.

figure 8: insert hyperlink dialog box

Figure 8: Insert Hyperlink dialog box

Step 5: Once the switchboard hyperlinks are in place, complete the return hyperlinks. Activate each slide in turn, right click its content picture, and hyperlink the picture to slide 1. When finished, all the content slides should link back to slide 1.

Step 6: Test the hyperlinks to make sure they work properly. Note that hyperlinks are active only while in slide show mode. So, start the slide show at slide 1. Then click a thumbnail and verify that the proper slide comes into view. Click that slide’s content to return to the switchboard. Systematically check all links. You should be able to go back and forth with ease. If any links do not perform as expected, end the slide show and edit the links accordingly.

That’s all it takes to add interactivity to your evidentiary displays. Various other navigation styles are possible, as well. See them in action here.

Best Practices

Adding hyperlinks to a PowerPoint slide show is a relatively simple process, but there’s more to interactivity in the courtroom than just that. It’s vitally important that you also change your entire way of thinking about presentation. Rather than preparing slide shows to be lectures progressing down a line, think of them as collections of individual facts, answers to questions, and spontaneous points of interest.

Consider that if you have 200 slides available, you might use only 3 on any given day. That’s OK. Or you might access 10 or 50. Be flexible and smart. Display relevant material—AND ONLY THAT MATERIAL. Think of those slides as visual vocabulary that can be spoken as needed, nuggets to be mined for maximum impact. You might as well become an expert at giving jurors the timely visual cues they want because the CSI Effect probably won’t disappear anytime soon.

Photo of Robert Lane

Robert Lane is a US-based presentation consultant specializing in visually interactive communication theory and is the author of Relational Presentation: A Visually Interactive Approach. His Web site,, features free demonstration video clips, tutorials, guides, and other resources that further explain the concepts discussed in this article. Contact him at: References, visual examples, and additional resources are available on the Aspire Web site.

Bruce Olson jpg

Bruce A. Olson is President of ONLAW Trial Technologies, LLC, a consulting firm offering trial technology, eDiscovery, and computer forensic services. A trial attorney and nationally recognized legal technologist, Olson is AV rated and Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is co-author of "The Electronic Evidence and Discovery Handbook: Forms, Checklists and Guidelines," published by the American Bar Association. He received the prestigious "TechnoLawyer of the Year 2002" Award, from TechnoLawyer, and was Chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2004, Vice Chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2003, and served on the TECHSHOW Board of Directors from 2000-2004. Contact Bruce at: or visit ONLAW Trial Technologies, LLC.

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