Mark Lanier

83 – Cliff Atkinson – Beyond Bullet Points: The Art of Visual Storytelling

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with consultant Cliff Atkinson. Cliff has worked with some of the top trial lawyers in the country to help them better tell their clients’ stories. He and Michael discuss his path to success, what he’s found effective for telling stories at trial, how to use the visual medium to help tell a story and where to find good visuals, the creative process, and how Zoom effects our ability to present information.

Cliff and Michael begin the episode with a look at Cliff’s backstory. He shares how he first used PowerPoint for a business school project in the late 90’s, where he added bullet pointed information into the slides like everyone else. A few years later while looking at some blank slides, he realized it could be SO much more than that. As he began writing articles about using PowerPoint as a creative medium, he began receiving attention. After consulting with General Electric’s board, he was approached by Microsoft to write a book about using PowerPoint creatively, which became the bestseller “Beyond Bullet Points”. After Mark Lanier read his book and couldn’t put it down, he was brought in on his first case- Mark’s legendary $253 million verdict against Vioxx, and the rest is history.

Michael then digs deeper into what Cliff has found effective for telling our stories at trial. While Cliff is well-known for his PowerPoint prowess, he insists the story needs to be crafted before you can even THINK about the visuals. Once you have your story, the visuals ride on top of it, magnify it, and make it more powerful.

Michael notes how it can be a challenge to distill the vast number of facts in a case into a story, and asks Cliff for his advice on how to craft a compelling story. He starts with finding the structure using a 3-part story tool template. It’s about making it clear, concise, and powerful. But Cliff insists that it’s NOT about dumbing it down for the jury, it’s about distilling it down. Michael wholeheartedly agrees with this statement and adds that it’s about trusting and respecting the jurors – a recurring theme in this podcast. Cliff then refers to a concept from the book “Made to Stick” called “The Curse of Knowledge.” If you’ve been working on something for a long time and you’re explaining it to someone who hasn’t seen it before, you’re going to have a hard time looking at it like a beginner.

Cliff then begins to elaborate on how to incorporate the visual medium into your story. After sharing an inspiring example of this being done successfully in Mark Lanier’s Vioxx trial, Cliff eloquently explains this verbiage is the infrastructure for the visual. Once you find your engaging thematic element, the visuals are easy to find. He likes to keep images simple and shares an example from a very complex financial case. He used a blue bucket to demonstrate the key facts of the case, and it simplified the case so well the jurors were asking about it after the case and it undoubtedly helped the attorney win. The key is to make the experience fun and entertaining for the jury.

After a brief but insightful discussion of high tech vs. low tech visuals, Cliff highlights some of his favorite ways to find visuals. The largest source would be items you already have, including documents, PDFs, screen captures from Google Earth, and dashcam video. Once you have all of those visuals, you can do custom 3D constructions, or just do a Google image search to see what’s out there. If you find something close to what you’d like, you can easily hire a freelance graphic designer to create the image you want. Michael then shares some of his favorite low-budget visuals he’s created in his career, and urges listeners to think outside of the box before shelling out $20,000 for an elaborate model.

On the topic of creative thinking, Cliff highly recommends setting aside space in your office for a “creative room.” Keep all the courtroom toys in there, and encourage your lawyers to spend time exploring the visceral part of communication they can so easily feel removed from. Michael shares how some lawyers can be scared to get creative and break away from what’s been done in the past. Cliff agrees, and suggests those lawyers focus on wanting the jurors to have fun. Then, have fun with helping THEM have fun.

Lastly, Michael and Cliff discuss how to tell a story effectively over Zoom. Cliff’s main takeaways involve doing the little things to get an edge over the other side. Things like upgrading your webcam, microphone, and lighting can make a massive difference in your ethos and how the jury perceives your story. He likens a messy background in a Zoom meeting to wearing a crappy suit in court, it worsens your credibility.

To take it a step further, Cliff recommends looking into software you can use to enhance the experience even further. He highly recommends ECAMM or Manycam if you’re on a tighter budget. These tools allow you to be your own videographer and can even create a more engaging experience than if you were with them in person.

If you’d like to learn more about or work with Cliff Atkinson, visit his website. He offers full-day private workshops on storytelling and a course to teach you how to implement these techniques yourself, which Cliff believes is the future.

This podcast episode also covers more details on Mark Lanier’s Vioxx trial, how haikus can help you become a better advocate, why the “Rule of 3’s” exists, whether high tech or low tech visuals are more effective, how Zoom can be even better than in-person videography, and so much more.

Guest Bio:

Cliff Atkinson is an acclaimed writer, popular keynote speaker, and an independent communications consultant to leading attorneys and Fortune 500 companies. He crafted the presentation that persuaded a jury to award a $253 million verdict to the plaintiff in the nation’s first Vioxx trial in 2005, which Fortune magazine called “frighteningly powerful.

Cliff’s bestselling book Beyond Bullet Points (published by Microsoft Press) was named a Best Book of 2007 by the editors of Amazon.com, and has been published in four editions and translated into a dozen languages including Chinese, Korean, and Russian.  His work has been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and Fox News.

 

65 – Malorie Peacock – Lessons from a Virtual Seminar: Successful Applications in a Courtroom and Online

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael talks with his law partner Malorie Peacock to discuss his recent virtual seminar, Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp. They draw parallels between the seminar and the courtroom, including utilizing camera angles through Zoom, energy management, and how to use slides and graphics effectively. Michael also shares a sneak peek inside his upcoming Trial Guides book on trucking law.

The episode begins with a brief overview of what Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp looked like in 2020. While it remained a 6-hour trucking seminar, it was done entirely virtually. Michael describes the multitude of tactics he used to keep the audience engaged, which included celebrity appearances and surprising attendees with actor and comedian David Koechner live.

He notes one of the biggest engagement factors was the use of multiple camera angles and a professional AV crew. Through this, he was able to stand for the presentation and use hand gestures naturally. Malorie and Michael draw parallels between this and a Zoom hearing or trial and agree they’d like to find a way to stand while conducting Zoom hearings. Michael goes as far as to say he’d like to set up a Zoom “studio” in the office in the future, and says he would even hire a professional AV crew again if he had a very big hearing or a virtual trial.

Malorie comments on how surprised she was that utilizing multiple camera angles made such a big difference in the presentation engagement. Michael agrees, and explains how he first heard of this concept from Mark Lanier who utilizes a 3-camera setup for his depositions. When showing depo footage in trial, Lanier will only show the same camera angle for 7 seconds. (This is how they do it in the news media to keep the audience engaged.) If virtual trials move forward, these concepts will all need to be considered to effectively produce a dynamic virtual experience which holds the jurors’ attention.

Malorie then asks Michael a question which must be on everyone’s mind, how did you keep your energy up for 6 ½ straight hours of speaking to a camera without a live audience? Michael notes how similar this was to presenting in a courtroom – you can be absolutely exhausted, but as soon as you step in the room, “you’re on.” He also explains how you can’t be high energy the entire time without coming off frantic and stressing your audience out. The key is to have a range of highs and lows, which serves to conserve your energy and make the highs more impactful.

This type of energy management has taken Michael years to master, and he shares an insightful story from a trial 15 years ago where he learned an important lesson – even if you can’t say everything you want to, you need to slow down and make it about the listener.

Michael goes on to explain his mindset change through the teachings of Carl Bettinger in the book “Twelve Heroes, One Voice.” He used to think it was his job to win the case, but now he knows that’s the jury’s job. And by incorporating this mindset, it’s abundantly clear that the jury deeply understanding the case is much more important than you saying everything you want to say. Malorie then describes her own journey through this, when she was told she speaks very loudly when she’s telling a story she’s passionate about. She realized this comes off as abrasive when the jury isn’t there with her yet and has worked to consciously change this.

Another strategy Michael used to manage his energy during the presentation was the strategic use of PowerPoint slides. He incorporated a variety of both “busy” slides filled with information and simple slides with just a topic or phrase. While presenting the information dense slides, he could be lower energy. But when there was a simple slide, he knew he had to be high energy to carry that portion of the presentation.

This leads Michael and Malorie to discuss the larger applicability of these tactics in the courtroom. When presenting in trial, Michael utilizes completely blank slides in his PowerPoints when he wants the jury to be focused on him. While they both agree more visuals will be necessary in a virtual trial, they recognize the need to incorporate film professionals to make those visuals effective.

On the topic of visuals, they shift to the role of graphics in the courtroom. Michael and Malorie agree that often a simpler graphic is much more effective than an intricate, expensive graphic from a courtroom exhibit company. Michael sums this up perfectly by stating, “If we have to explain the graphic, then we’re losing them.” He’s enjoyed working with his firm’s own graphic artist, and also recommends looking at Upwork and hiring an artist on a contract basis. Malorie adds you can even create some very effective graphics yourself in PowerPoint without spending a dime. This all boils down to the fact that you can’t win a complex case, and while intricate and expensive graphics certainly have their place in the courtroom, they are often overused and frankly a waste of money.

Malorie then shifts the conversation to a discussion of Michael’s upcoming book on trucking law, which Michael previewed during the virtual seminar. One of the major aspects of his research focused on electronic logs for truck drivers, and how they cheat on them. Michael explains how even though truck drivers are allowed to work up to 70 hours a week already, they spend so much time on unpaid activities (deliveries, loading, inspections, etc) they need to cheat in order to make a decent living. Trucking companies have been recommended to pay by the hour or a salary, but they almost always choose to pay their drivers by the mile because it’s better for the company economically.

Michael then describes numerous ways these drivers cheat their logs, including driving on “personal conveyance” time, creating a “phantom driver,” and more which are so intricate they need to be heard to be believed.

Michael and Malorie wrap up the episode with some terrifying facts. Michael spent some time researching drug testing protocols for truck drivers, where he was very disappointed by the current system. Through a plethora of methods, drivers successfully cheat on urine tests and stay on the road. One study indicated as many as 310,000 truck drivers on the road today would fail a hair follicle drug test if given one, to which Malorie replies, “What if that number was commercial airline pilots? People don’t think that way, but they should. These things are huge.”

This podcast also covers Sari de la Motte’s teachings, courtroom models and exhibits, how to catch a truck driver who cheated on their electronic logs, raising the minimum insurance limits for trucking companies, and so much more.

If you’d like to attend Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp in 2021 in person or virtually, visit www.BigRigBootCamp.com for live updates.

Scroll to top Secured By miniOrange