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Quick Tips for Preparing Courtroom Graphics and Animations


     By AI2-3D Forensic Animations Forensic Animations, Mapping, Photogrammetry, Virtual Models, Medical Animations Expert Witness

PhoneCall Eugene Liscio, P. Eng. at (416) 704-2695


Far too often, the materials presented in court are just mediocre at best and do not pack the kind of punch required to really get a particular message across to the jury. There are a number of different aspects to preparing courtroom graphics and animations, but by just sticking with some of the more practical tips, better value will be gained from the visuals.
The use of visual aids, coupled with good public speaking skills work hand-in-hand to give credible and convincing courtroom presentations. The style of speaking, amount of preparation, subject and several other factors can all effect how successful the speaker will be with his audience.

Establishing your visual aids might feel a bit frustrating for some and for others might be a very enjoyable event to help get the creative “juices” flowing. In either case, special attention should be paid to how you will deliver a courtroom visual and why you need to show it in the first place.
In today’s world, courtroom graphics are almost always computer generated, except in the case of items such as enlarged photos or other hand-drawn sketches. The fact of the matter is that Jurors expectations have changed. The general acceptance and common knowledge of the internet, computers, software and digital media has completely changed the playing field when it comes to jurors’ expectations for the quality of courtroom graphics and animations.

Far too often, people like to “slap” something together with less than impressive results or without taking the time to hone in on the important part of the visuals. Other times, people display obscure and overcomplicated graphics that may distract a juror’s focus from the point being made.
Graphics and animations in the courtroom need to flow with the presentation and enhance a juror’s understanding of the key facts being offered for the case. Missing details, incorrect spelling, animations that are too fast and text that is too small distract the juror from the key points being made by the presenter. Once this happens a few times in a row, you will most likely notice that the jurors start losing eye contact and eventually reward your efforts with a wide mouthed yawn.

So, here are a number of practical tips to assist with presenting animations and graphics in the courtroom.

1. Purpose and objective?
By far the most important step of any animation or graphic is to establish the objective. Many times people shoot for the “wow” factor without really putting thought into the visual strategy behind the presentation. By establishing your objectives first, you can prepare material that supports each objective in an organized and simplified manner.
An attorney trying to explain how a mechanical device functions would most likely consider a different approach to one who was trying to explain the sequence of chronological events in a court case. Naturally, the types of graphics or animations used will be different such that the style of the graphics will assist in delivering the best means of communication.
Planning is essential to establishing your objectives and finding the best visual strategy.

2. Who is the audience?
Once the objectives have been set, it is important to understand who the jury (or other audience) will be. The objectives need to fit into the needs and expectations of the audience. By considering the nature of your audience, you can more easily determine what you will present and how you will present it. Understanding your audience will allow you to:
Select key points of emphasis
Provide a useful level of detail
Prepare appropriate visual aids
Create a tone that is sensitive to your audience's circumstance

As an example, a jury made up of persons with a strong technical background might expect to see a forensic animation, video footage, electronic records and a PowerPoint presentation. Not having these kinds of modern day graphics available can be a failure to meet an audience’s expectations and hence, lose some credibility.

3. Length and pace of a presentation
Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice I have ever heard about giving presentations is the quote “The mind can only absorb what the butt can endure”. Keep your courtroom presentations to the point! Many people have experienced firsthand how difficult it is to stay attentive after a lengthy presentation that just drags on and on. Once a juror becomes physically uncomfortable or mentally fatigued, it’s very difficult to regain their attention.

Most judges appreciate the use of animations or other graphics that assist in reducing the length of time required for a trial. Lengthy courtroom explanations can often be best summarized with a presentation that combines some key graphics. In many instances, there may be complex topics being discussed and it makes sense to hire a professional animator to convert a complex explanation into an easy to understand animation that is short, concise and memorable. This also frees up the attorney from stumbling over his own words on a topic that may not be very familiar.

Also, beating a key point to death with repetition and a lengthy verbal battery is simply detrimental to keeping a captivated audience. Keep the pace moving and once a point is made, move on. There is no problem with restating or showing the same graphic a bit later in the presentation. In fact, it is a good idea to provide some supporting evidence and then restate the key point.

4. Cliché - Keep it simple!
The graphics used to convey any key points need to be as simple and appealing as possible. Cramming too much information into one graphic or animation means that jurors can have a number of unanswered questions in their mind and may not be following along. Keep a simple mental roadmap for each graphic that you would like the jurors to follow. Point them in the direction you want them to look and follow through with an explanation for the rest of the graphic.

When discussing large or complex matters, ensure that the “big picture” is clear. Then, break down the complex matters into smaller parts that are easier for the jurors to understand and also much simpler for the attorney to present. At the same time, be sure that the “big picture” is always clear.

5. Have a central and cohesive theme
Presenting a large number of graphics that are from many different sources and have no common theme is like throwing all the pieces of a puzzle on the floor and expecting someone to see the final image. Preparing a courtroom presentation means that a common style or “look” should be adopted and carried throughout the presentation.

When considering a style for the theme, think about what materials are being presented and what the juror’s expectations might be. If a medical case is being presented, be sure to do some research into the style and look that one would typically expect from the medical or pharmaceutical industry.

A quick check on the internet will reveal that many medical facilities like to use variations of blue and white for their websites, logos and marketing materials. They also use a very simple Arial or Roman font. So, it would make sense to follow the same type of trend when making a presentation for a medical case. Do not to use something like black and yellow with an overzealous font that you would normally use for a birthday banner!

7. Use colors to your advantage
The general rule of thumb with any visual graphic is “high contrast”. Text needs to stand out to the background as do any sketches, animations or other graphics. Obviously, using a blue background and making text blue, is probably not a wise choice. However, choosing a blue background with yellow text is very effective and often recommended.

A small percentage of the population is colorblind. Most colorblind people are not as sensitive to red and green and can lose sight of small colored details in a photo or graphic. When necessary, circle important pieces of evidence in a photo with a yellow or high contrast circle.

8. Do some research
There are no hard rules to developing a strong set of courtroom graphics. There are many articles and papers available on the internet that deal with the science and psychology of delivering effective graphics and making effective presentations. Consider reviewing some of these articles to learn about the psychology of how graphics, animations and colors can affect jurors in a favorable way.

One thing is certain; planning is a key factor when creating courtroom graphics! Most attorneys do not spend enough time on this most important point. Be sure to spend the time to go over your visuals so that they are checked for accuracy, effectiveness and how they will be used in the courtroom. Also, make sure to see all of the expert witness’ visuals and have someone unfamiliar with the case review the animations and graphics to see if they will be well understood.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eugene Liscio, P. Eng.
Eugene Liscio is the owner of AI2- 3D Animations which specializes in forensic animations for litigation support. AI2 is actively promotes the use of Forensic Animations, 3D Virtual Models and other visual strategies for the courtroom.
Eugene Liscio is a registered engineer in the province of Ontario, Canada.

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While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.
For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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