No legal presentation is ever like another.
Sometimes we handle dry, complicated intellectual property matters; other times, emotional personal injury cases.
But I have learned in many years of making slides for all kinds of hearings and audiences that there are a few important steps to making sure your slides have the weight and power they deserve.
1. Don’t Be Generic
Ugh. You know that jurors have seen a standard-issue template like this one a bazillion times.
When using generic templates with little personality, you risk losing your audience’s attention. Instead, try some simple customization and color to make them stand out and hold attention. Some simple customization including curved edges, color contrast, gradients, and better fonts for more readable slides.
…Don’t Worry, You Can Still Print Them
I know what you may be thinking- if you’re worried about printing slides with a dark background, PowerPoint does let you print in pure black & white, which is great for markups and saves on toner.
2. Make Images That Stand Out
If you’re not sure whether to go with a dark or light background, consider your content. For example, photos stand out more on a dark background.
In a bright room, text tends to be easier to read on a light background.
And if your content varies throughout the presentation and includes both text and images, consider using what I call an “accent box” – basically a block of white on a darker background – but only on the text-heavy slides.
3. It Starts With a Great Title
Another important consideration for templates is the slide title. Aligning titles to the left margin ensures that they will start in the same spot every time, which makes them much easier to follow for readers than center aligning. Try to keep titles on one line, but if you must go onto a second line, make sure the top line is shorter than the bottom. Putting a soft return (shift+return) where you want the title to break onto the next line makes a big difference in readability.
4. Better Typography = More Readable
A presentation full of text slides can definitely get boring for audiences. But even the best presenters need the occasional bulleted list slide.
To keep your bullet point slides readable, be as concise as possible. One line per bullet is preferable, but if you must go onto two lines, it helps to have proper line spacing (leading) set up so that your ideas do not blur into a mass of text. Also be sure to avoid leaving a single word on the second line (we call that a widow).
Keep your font size large enough to read, but not too large. A good rule to follow is 46-52 characters per line (1.5 to 2 full alphabets). If you only have a couple bullet slides, consider using icons instead of plain circle or square bullets for additional visual impact.
5. No More Boring Icons and Stock Photos!
If you are struggling to find imagery for your presentation, don’t default to using cheesy clipart! Websites like thenounproject.com, compfight.com, www.flickr.com/creativecommons, and brandsoftheworld.com can help you find great icons, stock photos and logos without licensing fees (pay attention to licensing, some icons and photos may require attribution).
6. Test the Equipment
Our last, but perhaps most important tip – take a test run. It’s devastating to slave away on a presentation only to see it completely washed out and unreadable on the courtroom projector. Try to get into the courtroom during set up to test your slides on the equipment that will be used during your presentation.
If you can’t use the actual machine, test it on the worst projector or monitor you can find, just to be safe. This is especially true if your usual computer has a high quality monitor. I work on a Macbook and there is always a big difference between what I see on screen and what will be seen on a typical projector screen.
Most of these are simple tips, but taken together, they deliver professional, polished presentations that make sure your audience hears what you’re trying to tell them. And, as discussed last week, there is a science to making your content memorable.