Lawyers give presentations in many settings—to clients, with business partners, for CLE and in court. Some eschew the use of visuals aids, because it can detract or distract from their message. Others use slideware tools to enhance their message and provide visual stimulation. Still others use slideware to help convey complex or detailed information.
Edward Tufte, famously in his essay “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint,” criticizes the software often used to generate these visual displays as a tool misused and abused—from the overuse of bulleted lists, to the oversimplification of complex information by using the built-in charts and graphs tools. However, he concedes that the tool itself is not the problem—it’s how people use it.
Others have made slideshare tools a welcome and useful accompaniment to verbal communications. The “Lessig Method” describes the presentation style of Lawrence Lessig, in which he uses a rapid-fire series of slides displaying single words, phrases, photographs and graphics to emphasize his message. These slides are not meant to be copied down, but to act as powerful visual stimulation. While Lessig often uses hundreds of slides during a presentation, it is not the number of slides that matters. Guy Kawasaki uses a similar technique of showing slides that strengthen—not substitute for—the message, but will often have only 10 slides.
No matter what your presentation style, re-evaluating your use of slideware can only strengthen your case.
Tools of the trade
Microsoft’s PowerPoint is the ubiquitous tool used to create presentation slides. The software has been significantly improved over the years, and the current version, PowerPoint 2010, has made enhancements such as a screenshot tool, video embedding and editing tools, new slide transitions, and the ability to save a PowerPoint presentation to video. Other tools that were introduced in recent versions include WordArt and SmartArt, as well as significant improvements in custom animations.
As more lawyers move to the Mac OS X platform, many have found that Apple’s Keynote is a very functional presentation tool, with beautiful templates and powerful editing capabilities for graphics. Keynote allows users to save files to a number of cross-compatible formats, such as PPT, when working with users in other operating systems.
There are other presentation tools emerging on the market. Google Docs and Apps suite now includes a Presentations tool. You can upload an existing PowerPoint slidedeck, or create a new one from scratch. While the functionality in the Google Presentations application is not as sophisticated as newer offerings from Microsoft and Apple, its simplicity might inspire creativity. As with all Google Docs applications, the true power of Google Presentations comes in the ability to collaborate and share the work seamlessly, capturing version history, and all without e-mailing huge files back and forth between collaborators.
Another new online presentation tool, SlideRocket, allows for collaboration as well as creation of online presentations with narration and tracking statistics.
New presentation tools are entering the market, ones that re-envision the creation and display process. One such application is Prezi, which describes itself as the “zooming presentation editor.” Prezi offers hybrid online/offline access, and the Pro version at $159 per year offers plenty of options including security, support, customized logo and 2000 MB of online storage. Building a presentation in Prezi is similar to creating a mindmap. The information layout is not necessarily linear, and the user can more easily convey relationships and complex processes by “zooming” from point to point. The easiest way to understand Prezi is to visit its website and watch what others have done with this tool.
Recent presentation software makes it easy to drop in audio, animation and video clips. There are a few key things to keep in mind when adding this type of multimedia to a slide show. One is that the addition of multimedia files will make the overall file size significantly larger, and may increase the requirements for processor speed and updated players (such as Flash or QuickTime). Do a complete sound check, replicating the exact circumstance in which you will be presenting to ensure everything works the way it should. If the quality or performance of the audio or the image is poor, go to Plan B.
A picture is …
High-quality graphics, including stock photography, not only make a presentation look professional, it also can have high impact. A cartoon-like bit of clipart pales in comparison to a high-resolution, full-color photograph. There are a number of places to get stock photography and images. Microsoft offers free photos online. Simply go to its clipart site and restrict the results to photographs. Fotolia and iStockphoto are two royalty-free stock photography sites, though there is a small fee for using the images. Be careful when using images found through searching the Web, as many are protected by copyright. In some cases you may be able to use them with attrition, or under fair use. Google Advanced Image Search has options for restricting by usage rights.
Nothing ruins a slide presentation like using an old, overused or busy template. Consider having a template custom designed, or peruse free templates from Microsoft or TemplatesWise for a simple, effective background. Remember to only cover one concept per slide.
Presenters should use technology to enhance and emphasize the message—not make it. A wordy PowerPoint slidedeck encourages both the audience and presenter to read the slides. Engage your audience, and use slides to stimulate the senses—not put them to sleep!
This article first appeared in YourABA e-newsletter, a monthly publication distributed via email to all ABA members. Learn more about the benefits of belonging to the American Bar Association.