Presentations are one of the most common avenues for lawyers to communicate their expertise and convince potential clients to hire them for legal work. These presentations may be in conference settings or in a client office. After a recent review of ten presentations (with a total of over 450 slides) posted on the web sites of top law firms such as McMillan Binch Mendelsohn, Gowlings, Cassels Brock and Aird & Berlis, some areas for improvement are apparent. By improving the communication of their message to clients and potential clients, lawyers can increase their billings.
The common issues found in the presentations can be separated into two categories. The first are design issues such as templates and use of slide layouts, which can be solved by marketing and administrative staff. The more critical issues are with the content and can only be solved by the lawyers who specify the content and what format it should take. Here are solutions to five problems that were seen over and over in the presentations.
Use less text
Lawyers are so familiar with text on printed documents, that it seems they think that slides should be filled with text as well. There were some instances where points were made using graphics or visuals, but generally few and far between. Prof. Richard Mayer in his book "Multimedia Learning" found that visuals combined with explanatory text increased the understanding of the audience. To have better impact, lawyers should look for more visual ways to present some of the information they have. It will break up the long periods of text that the audience sits through and help the audience remember the topic better.
Make the message clear
In many cases the text on the slides is a statement of relevant law or statute, which is important to support what is being said. But relatively few times did the slide also include text stating the key point, leaving the audience wondering what the message really was. It is necessary to include references to the law, but lawyers must also give the audience an explanation of what that law means to the audience and their business if the audience is expected to act upon the presentation. Meaningful text should also be short and concise, instead of the full sentences and paragraphs observed far too often in legal presentations.
Use diagrams to increase visual impact
One of the easiest ways for lawyers to start replacing text with visual formats is to use simple diagrams. Many times a table could replace a text list. On one slide the lawyer listed examples of two types of documents by creating a long sentence. It would have been more effective to create a simple table listing the two types of documents in columns, which would have better visually differentiated the examples. One good use of tables was shown in a chart that contrasted how a particular law is applied in different jurisdictions. Diagrams are also a better way to show relationships than simply paragraphs of text. A Venn diagram is a good way to show where items overlap and where they are distinct. A decision tree diagram clearly shows the results from making a decision one way or another.
Group ideas instead of continuing ideas over multiple slides
When there are a number of items to be discussed in a section of the presentation, it was good to see that lawyers no longer use the annoying former practice of reducing the font size to squish all the text on a single slide. But what has now happened is that the points are split across multiple slides with each subsequent slide title saying "(continued)". By the last slide in this group, the audience cannot remember how all the points fit together. A better approach would be to consider how the ideas can be grouped into sub-groups and present each sub-group with its appropriate slide title.
Use callouts to highlight scanned documents
Lawyers use scanned documents as examples in their presentations, but too often the scanned image was put on the slide and was virtually unreadable due to the small size of the text on the image. The lawyer is then forced to use a laser pointer or try to explain something the audience can’t really see, leaving the audience frustrated. A better approach is to use callouts that take the salient point of a scanned document and superimpose it on top of the scan in larger readable text, highlighting the key point the lawyer wants to make.
By integrating more visual representations of ideas into their presentations, lawyers can stand out from the barrage of text that usually represents a presentation and clients will be more compelled to act upon the presentation, resulting in higher billings.
Dave Paradi has over twenty years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written nine books and over 100 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don’t overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of less than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel and PowerPoint communities. He regularly presents highly rated sessions at national and regional conferences of financial professionals and is NASBA registered to deliver CPE credit courses to CPAs.