By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
We live in an age of wonders, and those wonders are making it into the courtroom. Attorneys can now display, slice, and dice their documents on the fly using sophisticated presentation software, or even their own iPad. They can show demonstrative exhibits created with the kind of cutting edge design tools that used to be reserved for computer game designers. They can create complex animations using the most basic laptop computers, and even invite jurors into 360 degree immersive experiences allowing jurors to "visit" the scene without leaving the jury box. In that setting, it might seem odd for an attorney to pick up a magic marker and walk up to a flip chart on an easel -- a little like a stage coach taking a wrong turn and ending up on the set of the newest Star Wars movie. Some modern attorneys have been critical of the use of such apparently throw-back technology. Taking aim at the attorney using the occasional flip chart, Baltimore lawyer James O'Conor Gentry Jr. says that, "not surprisingly, jurors will look at such unsophisticated courtroom graphics and become impatient, lose interest and disconnect from both the information and the attorney."
My experience has been different. In trial persuasion, or in any other setting for human communication, the maxim is never "Use the latest," or even "Use the best," it is "Use what works in each individual setting." There are definitely situations where the digital wizardry of the newest technology will be what works the best. But there are also many settings where what will work best -- what will be most spontaneous, most interesting, most credible, and most real -- will be that marker and that flip chart. I don't believe there is one mode of visual presentation that wins the competition for attention. Rather, that battle is going to be won through variety, and the very act of switching to something else, switching off the screen and walking up to the flip chart, is going to gain your judge's or jury's attention. In this post, I will share a few thoughts on some of the settings where it is best to make that low-tech shift, along with a few principles for keeping it effective and engaging.