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September 29, 2020 Articles

Increasing Jurors’ Retention Through Research-Based Presentation Techniques

Four techniques for cutting through recent decreases in collective attention span.

By Chad M. Paulin

The year 2019 marked the first time that the average U.S. adult spent more hours consuming information from mobile devices than from watching television. Mobile devices, social networks, and streaming media platforms inundate jurors with real-time headline alerts, twitter feed updates, and social media posts. The latest studies show that the increasing competition in the immediacy and abundance of information consumption has led to overall decreases in collective attention span. These changing modalities in information consumption have created a critical need for well-designed digital presentations that employ research-based techniques for increasing knowledge retention. The following four basic principles identify methods used to develop presentations catered to juries’ evolving learning styles.

Controlling Informative Change

The human mind has a limited capacity for processing new information. Because of this, presentations must employ tactics that reduce the extraneous cognitive load on the juror. One method of reducing cognitive load involves the correct use of the informative change principle. Informative changes are visual signals used to help organize and process information. As a measure of evolutionary safety, a portion of our brain (the superior colliculus) operates as an attentional reflex that seeks out changes in visual information. The brain automatically attempts to determine if any perceived changes convey relevant information. Similarly, when the brain perceives changes in a visual presentation, it reflexively attempts to determine the meaning of those changes. If those perceived changes are arbitrary, the brain wastes cognitive resources determining relevance. This unnecessary increase in cognitive load can easily overwhelm the ability to digest more complex relevant information. For example, jurors will automatically search for new information in a slide if they perceive changes to the style of bullet points, the typeface of the text, the position of the title, background colors, or stylistic elements. Reducing any unintentional visual change is critical to increasing a juror’s capacity to process the intended information. Therefore, upon finalizing a presentation’s content, it is critically important to review it in slideshow mode to detect and remove any subtle arbitrary changes that involve errors to consistent elements used throughout. Even minor positional changes of the title text from slide to slide can reduce juror retention.

Salience and the Use of Signaling

Similar to the informative change principle, the principles of salience and signaling are based on the fact that the human brain reflexively identifies visual differences and automatically draws our attention to those differences. If a brick is dangerously sticking up in a pathway, we automatically focus our attention on that brick while simultaneously ignoring the details associated with the rest of the path. This automatic reflex of attention is known as salience. In turn, signaling is the process of using visual cues to take advantage of salience and guide or “signal” the juror’s attention to the relevant portion of the slide. Examples of signaling include using distinctive colors to highlight the area of focus, employing graphic devices such as arrows to point to the relevant information, and graying out portions of the slide that are not currently being described. There is some evidence that suggests that signaling has a more significant effect on less-skilled readers. Richard E. Mayer, Multimedia Learning (2d ed. 2009). The use of signaling can have a crucial leveling impact on group learning in a jury setting where education levels are often widely varied. The current body of research suggests that signaling is most effective when used with complex visuals, but presenters should be careful not to overuse signaling. In short, when everything is highlighted, nothing is highlighted.


Common sense dictates that failing to provide enough information in a visual would have a deleterious effect on juror retention. Very few presenters would make the mistake of failing to provide the details they are discussing. However, many presenters fall victim to providing too much information. Jurors are often inundated with slides that contain pictures, photos, and diagrams placed to liven up information that seemed too dry to hold a juror’s attention. This theory of using seductive, loosely related details to capture attention is a graphic design principle that long predates the advent of modern digital presentation software. Marketers have been using this technique for a century to influence shoppers to purchase new products in the store aisle. Because early professional presentation designers typically came from a marketing field, this misguided technique flourished in the presentation design community. An example of providing this type of extraneous information would be placing a dynamic illustration of a heart next to a series of bullet points describing the prevalence of heart attacks in people with diabetes. While the seductive details of the heart image might capture attention, the image does nothing to provide information about heart attack prevalence. Instead, the image primarily distracts the juror while the juror struggles to search for the relevant information secondarily. A seductive detail like this causes an unnecessary increase in cognitive load. Multiple research studies have shown a large effect on improved learning scores when extraneous information is removed.

Perceptual and Spatial Organization

The human mind automatically attempts to organize visual elements into groups that can be attended to and more readily remembered. The noted psychologist and neuroscientist Stephen Kosslyn describes this phenomenon by pointing out that “we see ‘xxx xxx’ as two groups of three each, not six separate x’s.” Stephen M. Kosslyn et al., “PowerPoint Presentation Flaws and Failures: A Psychological Analysis,” 3 Educ. Psychol. article no. 230 (July 2012). Drawing upon the brain’s innate perceptual organization can increase juror retention by employing groupings of text with related visual information such as color, boxes, and lines. These visual elements help divide the space and guide the juror’s eye through the graphic’s intended order. Controlling eye movement through a visual reduces the processing effort required.

Another way to control movement is through the use of spatial organization. Spatial organization ensures that the juror does not waste energy searching for related pieces of information. While this concept seems readily apparent, designers often force a juror to read a key at the bottom of a graph and repeatedly search the remaining portions of the visual for its corresponding element. This type of frequent error reduces juror retention. Proper use of spatial organization dictates that labels should be applied in very close proximity to their corresponding elements so that the juror’s eye is not continually traveling back and forth to discern meaning from a visual key.


Professional litigation consultants consider many more complex and nuanced principles when creating presentations for the courtroom. Color theory, consideration of local biases, advanced animation techniques, reducing redundant narration, and building pre-training are just a few examples of the complex concepts that play an essential role in maximizing juror retention. However, the principles and techniques outlined above will provide the foundational blocks that significantly improve effectiveness and drive favorable results in the deliberation room.

Chad Paulin is senior managing director at Ankura.

Ankura is the Litigation Advisory Services Sponsor of the ABA Section of Litigation. This article should be not construed as an endorsement by the ABA or ABA Entities.

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