General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine



Preparing for Smooth Computer Presentations

By Ann E. Brenden and John D. Goodhue

All lawyers who give computer presentations need to understand the diverse dynamics that occur during the process. Learning how to deal with the basic issues involving your surroundings, your equipment, and your personal presentation techniques will help you improve your communications skills and deliver effective computer presentations.
Room research. While you may not always be able to exercise as much control over a room's environment as you would like, there are ways that the room's setup can enhance the effectiveness of the communication. Always visit or at least inquire in detail about the room you will use, preferably well in advance. Then plan your setup.
Some rooms are set up with a podium or table and lectern at the front, placing a great deal of distance between the speaker and the audience. In many instances, people shy away from front-row seating. Moving yourself closer, or even moving about the audience, helps keep the audience's attention focused. Be sure, though, to position yourself away from entrance and exit doors to minimize interruptions created by people coming and going.
Use both a projector and a screen. Too often, images are projected onto white walls; a properly selected screen makes displayed images clearer and sharper. The best way to ensure that projected images are visible to the audience is to test in advance.
Place the screen high enough off the ground to provide the audience with an unobstructed view. Typically, a height of four feet is sufficient, if the screen is placed on a raised platform, or the audience is elevated, as with raised jury boxes. It is better for the audience to look straight ahead or slightly up than down.
In addition, because the screen should not occupy the audience's entire field of vision, the distance between the screen and the audience should be at least twice the width of the screen. This placement can also reduce or eliminate the "keystone effect," which produces a rhomboid (skewed) instead of square image. Generally, a digital or video projector should be placed at a distance one and one-half to two times the width of the screen.
The ambient light from a window on a sunny day can change the nature of room lighting, and an alternately cloudy-then-clear day changes the "viewability" of your program and can be a major distraction. You can preempt this problem by covering windows or closing any drapes. Also be aware of doors with windows. The back of the screen should face natural light. Keeping natural light behind the screen makes the on-screen image brighter. However, if the back of the screen is white, too much light can seep through. In that case, bring black material to cover the screen back. Lights directly above the screen will cause light to shine directly onto the screen. Track lights, recessed lights that are pointed in a certain direction, or small spotlights in the vicinity can have the same effect. If these lights are on a different switch, be sure you know where that switch is so you can turn them off when projecting images.
Presentation day is not the time to locate power sources for your expensive equipment. Determine where the electrical outlets are, and test them in advance. If there are insufficient outlets in the room, bring a power strip. In addition, no one wants to have a notebook computer fried because of a faulty outlet or a power surge, so make sure you bring a surge protector. You may also need to bring extension cords and an adapter for outlets that do not directly support three-prong plugs.
Delivery dynamics. The dynamics of delivering a computer presentation are somewhat different from those involved in more traditional presentations. You will be shifting attention between yourself and the screen, moving your physical position, and operating high-tech gadgetry. Rehearse your presentation until you can do these actions smoothly.
When drawing attention to images on a screen, stand next to it; this allows the audience to watch both you and the screen. Stand to the left of the screen, which allows the audience to see you clearly as their eyes move left to right across the on-screen image. (Of course, if the audience sits to the left of the screen, adjust and stand on the right so the audience's view is unobstructed.)
It is easy for a presenter to succumb to constantly looking back at the screen or the computer. Obviously, you will glance at the images to make certain everything is working. To keep participants' attention and gauge their responses, however, look at them. Ideally, your laptop will be facing you, simultaneously displaying the projected image as it appears on the projection screen, serving as a sort of teleprompter.
A number of different remote mice are now on the market; find one that works for you and learn how to use it competently before your presentation. Some remotes include built-in laser pointers, but they can be extremely difficult-even for the most calm and collected lawyer-to use smoothly. You can achieve emphasis with other methods. Prepared call-out boxes, changes in font size or color, animation of text, or encirclement are probably better options than the on-the-fly drawing or pointing functions offered by lasers or pen-based tools.
A fairly common mistake for new presenters is to display too many slides in rapid succession, reading a little bit from each slide. Remember that slides are supposed to augment your presentation-you should gain your "cues" from the slide and expand on the bulleted points, unless the slide absolutely speaks for itself (as with a gripping picture).
You must give an audience an opportunity to read and digest each slide. The average minimum amount of time is 15 to 20 seconds for a simple slide; you should spend much longer on each slide. Several minutes per slide may be appropriate. When a slide displaying demonstrative evidence is used at trial, the display time can exceed several minutes. This is not necessarily a negative, but be certain that you really want the jury to see the slide for that long. Unless you are constantly referring back to the slide in your speech, you may want to blacken the screen instead.
If your computer presentation includes an audio component, make sure the audience can hear the sounds. Test and adjust the volume before the presentation begins. If you are using a microphone as well as sound from a multimedia system, be certain that the sound outputs are balanced so that your voice is not significantly louder or softer than the computer's audio. When playing sound clips or video with sound, make sure you do not try to speak over the sound.
A final caution: Do not use prepackaged audio sounds. They can be tiresome, silly, and distracting.
Plan ahead to achieve the best end. Preparation is the key to a successful computer presentation. It does not end when you are done constructing the slides for your program. You need to prepare yourself, the equipment, and the surroundings. Thorough preparation will help you achieve the best possible outcome for your presentation.

Ann E. Brenden is an assistant attorney general in the Prosecuting Attorney's Training Coordinator Division of the Iowa Attorney General's office. John D. Goodhue is a patent attorney and associate at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC, in Des Moines, Iowa.

This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 34 of Law Practice Management, September 2001 (27:6).

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