June 01, 2015

TAPAs: Use PowerPoint for Fun and Profit

Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

1. Use PowerPoint in Your Practice!

PowerPoint offers a lot of power in a well-though-out and easy-to-use package. If you have never used PowerPoint, you can probably figure out how to create a decent basic presentation in a few hours. After that, it only gets easier. There are programs that do presentations better and that have more bells and whistles, but the fact remains that PowerPoint has grown into the position of the standard that most people use.

PowerPoint exists on both the Mac and Windows, and the files are effectively interchangeable. If you have Keynote and like it, by all means use it; but if you are working with others and sharing files or using the files in court, you are better off with PowerPoint.

2. Don’t Just Use It: Use It Right!

With appropriate apologies to Nike for paraphrasing their advertising slogan, the fact remains that many people use PowerPoint just because they can, and do not have a plan to make it an effective aid to their work.

The trick here is that PowerPoint should make it easier for you to present information to the audience (judge, jury, arbitrator, client, etc.). It should not be a screen for you to hide behind. If it does not help you present information understandably, you should not be using it at that time, or you should be making better use of it.

3. Keep It Simple!

Too many people try to put too much information on a PowerPoint slide. Remember, the PowerPoint is a graphic presentation to assist you in conveying information, not a book. Generally speaking, the more text you put on a slide, the less likely the audience will read and understand it. If you have a lot of information to convey, use the PowerPoint slide to present bullet points that you talk about and explain. Having the bullet points displayed brings another sense into the information absorption process (think multimedia). Having the bullet points helps the audience understand what you are doing and where you are going. Having nothing but the bullet point pushes the audience toward listening to your explanation of the detail.

Keep only bullet points in your presentation. The bulk of the information you are trying to convey should come directly from you. Image courtesy of morguefile.com.

It also will help you keep your focus on the audience and avoid spending time reading your slides out loud. In addition to keeping it simple, use assertions that you want your audience to remember. You can explain your assertions during the presentation, but keep the takeaway point as a simple bulleted assertion for your audience to see and remember.

4. Lose the Animation!

Too many people use animated slides because they learned how to do it and not because it serves a valid purpose respecting the presentation. Sometimes a bit of animation (such as a call out to emphasize a particular phrase) works well. Having points pop in and out and dance across the display screen will probably create more of a distraction than anything else. Also, there is a greater potential for files not to load or run properly, disrupting your presentation.

5. Try This!

Use PowerPoint in court. It can prove very helpful in providing a displayed outline of an opening statement as well as a closing argument. Because it is so easy to create a PowerPoint presentation and to modify it, it should not get in your way during a trial, and can help you present your case to the court or the jury.

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Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is editor-in-chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo Technology eReport. Recently, he coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today's Lawyer and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com. You may also get updated technology information from his blog: jallenlawtekblog.com. Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She maintains a diverse solo practice on the side. Ashley is the coauthor of the technology overview Making Technology Work for You (A Guide for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys) along with attorney Jeffrey Allen. She has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo Magazine, GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter.  Ashley is an active member of the American Bar Association’s General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division, ABA’s Young Lawyer Division, the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association, the Houston Young Lawyer’s Association, and the Houston Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology and Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport.