PowerPoint

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.

60 – Matthew Pearson – A New Era: A Look Inside the First Zoom Jury Trial

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by Matthew Pearson, the plaintiff’s lawyer in the highly publicized first Zoom jury trial in the country. They discuss the trial in detail including how Matthew’s case was selected, how a summary jury trial works, the jury selection process, case presentation, and what (if anything) Matthew would do differently.

The episode begins with a discussion of Matthew’s background and how he became involved in the nation’s first Zoom jury trial. He specializes in first party insurance cases in construction defect from the property owner’s side. Michael notes this is different from most of his other guests, but Matthew identifies some parallels in what he does with other plaintiff’s lawyers.

The case he tried by Zoom involves a commercial building hit by a hailstorm in Collin County, Texas where the insurance company did not want to pay out the claim. As part of Collin County’s ADR process, the parties must hold a summary jury trial before they are allowed a full jury trial. The goal is for a settlement in mediation after the summary jury trial. Matthew’s summary jury trial was originally set for July, but he was asked (or “volun-told”) to move it forward to May 18th and do it virtually. He was a little nervous, but excited overall for the opportunity.

Michael and Matthew then briefly discuss how a summary jury trial is nonbinding and has far less rules than a full jury trial. Each side has an hour and a half to put on their case, then the jury deliberates and comes back with a non-binding verdict. Both sides can then ask the jury questions about the verdict and their deliberation. Matthew finds this approach to be a great opportunity for feedback and to identify areas to improve should the case go to full trial.

Diving right into the jury selection process, Matthew describes how typically in a summary jury trial the mediator will select the jury and only dismiss jurors “on the fringe” of either side. When the court noticed the publicity surrounding this Zoom trial, they decided to give each side 15 minutes to do voir dire (on the Friday evening before the Monday trial no less). Michael asks Matthew how a Zoom jury would do things like raise their hands when asked a group question, a process Matthew describes as “The Brady Bunch on steroids.”

The conversation continues with a look at case presentation. Michael asks if Matthew presented his case differently than he would in an in-person trial. Matthew says he tried to go about it like a regular trial as much as possible. He typically uses PowerPoint for his opening, which worked perfectly for the virtual presentation. He utilized Trial Director software to talk the client though evidence and instructed his expert to use PowerPoint to present key documents as well. The expert also used a digital pen to circle key points and blew up pictures as he presented. Michael notes he typically tries to avoid using too much PowerPoint during trial but agrees it would be necessary when presenting virtually.

The importance of building strong group dynamics in a jury has been discussed in the podcast often. Is it possible to create group bonds when everybody is sitting in their own homes? Matthew notes it wasn’t vital for a one-day non-binding trial but agrees this would be difficult for a week-long trial. He describes how the jurors ate lunch by themselves and when the day is over, they just turn off their computers without interacting with the rest of the jury (it would be improper for them to communicate via phone once the day is over).

Whether a strong group or not, the jury did deliberate for 30 minutes and reached a unanimous verdict. Matthew was pleasantly surprised by the fact they found his expert to be credible, even over Zoom. Leading both to agree on the huge cost savings down the line if trial lawyers no longer needed to pay for experts to travel to a trial.

In Matthew’s case, the damages were all economic. Looking at it from a personal injury perspective, Michael worries about jurors’ ability to assess pain in a virtual trial. He gives an example of people who are more moved by a 30-minute TV show than they are by most trials and sees an opportunity for a new group of consultants to emerge from this. An interesting comparison to Saturday Night Live is mentioned that you have to tune in and hear in order to fully appreciate.

Now for the big question: Would Matthew do a Zoom trial if the result was binding? He’s not so sure if he would. While this experience went very smoothly, it was only a one-day experiment. All the jurors were able to find a quiet place without interruptions and they had no technical issues. If this was a full-blown trial it would go on for much longer. He’s also not confident the results could be replicated for such a large endeavor. And has doubts a jury could go through so much evidence and make a decision based off the evidence virtually. Michael and Matthew discuss possible solutions to this but agree this would be a huge concern.

They close off the episode with Michael asking, “Would you do anything differently?” Matthew replies he would present the same way, with an opening, putting on witnesses, and a modified closing. But he would change his use of technology. He urges listeners to have at least two screens set up and to leave the jury on one screen for the entirety of the trial to monitor their reactions. He would also have his paralegal join to help control documents, like he would in a regular trial. Lastly, they both agree while they are very hesitant to hold a binding trial via Zoom, they may be forced to if this goes into 2021.

This podcast also covers jury engagement, body language, whether Zoom trials can provide a representative jury pool due to the technology involved, the importance of trial consultants, how to share lengthy exhibits with jurors, Matthew’s appearance in Sari de la Motte’s Hostage to Hero Facebook group, and more.

If you’d like to reach Matthew to discuss his virtual trial experience or discuss a case with him, visit his law firm’s website at pearsonlegalpc.com or email him at mpearson@pearsonlegalpc.com.

 

Bio

Matthew Pearson is the founder of Pearson Legal PC based out of San Antonio, Texas.  He has over 25 years of experience litigating matters in federal and state courts throughout Texas and the United States.  He has extensive experience in cases involving insurance law, construction defects, business disputes and employment law, and has earned a reputation for successfully representing his clients in the courtroom.  Mr. Pearson was recognized by Verdict Search for receiving the largest insurance verdict in Texas two years in a row. Verdict Search also recognized Mr. Pearson for receiving the fifth largest contract dispute verdict in Texas and the second largest employment verdict in Texas.

Mr. Pearson is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  Mr. Pearson also writes articles and frequently speaks on insurance and construction law issues.

 

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