Law Life: Tips for using tech for juries, clients

Elizabeth Millard, The Daily Record Newswire

Thanks to the ubiquity of PowerPoint, digital projectors, online collaboration tools, and cutting-edge apps, client and courtroom presentations have become more technology-rich than ever before. But if used poorly, tech tools become more of a distraction than a benefit. Here are some tips for making the most of technology in a presentation to clients or jurors, without losing your message in the process.

Get collaborative

In a previous column, we covered online collaboration tools that can boost effectiveness for teams made up of associates or employees in different locations. Those same tools can also be harnessed for presentations, because they give clients and attorneys an opportunity to interact during a meeting, rather than sit through a presentation that might feel like a lecture.

Jon Bauer, marketing manager at Moquist Thorvilson Kaufmann, an Edina-based accounting and consulting firm, says that online tools like AdobeConnect and WebEx are helpful for discussion of complex software systems that the firm resells. One of the systems, Intacct, often boasts new features and modules that benefit very specific market niches. Rather than putting together PDF manuals or sending a link to pre-recorded webinars, the company prefers collaborative presentations that can walk customers through the software. “We can immediately discuss what tools we have available from a marketing and sales perspective, and schedule time for Intaact reps to come meet and present seminars for our clients and prospects,” Bauer says.

For attorneys, this collaboration can work well in areas like mediation, which might require a large amount of data such as depositions, charts, documents and spreadsheets to be accessed during the course of the mediation. By having all of that handy, even during a teleconference, the process can be much speedier.

Know your audience
Jim Delaney, CEO at Minneapolis-based Engine for Social Innovation, has tried newer tools like Prezi, an application that offers users a “cinematic and engaging experience,” according to the company’s marketing materials. The software creates a non-linear presentation, where users can zoom in and out on specific ideas, rather than follow thoughts in a slideshow format. This creates a 3D-like effect, designed to show an audience a larger, overall view of a presentation as well as more nuanced details.

But the more Delaney leans on compelling technology like Prezi for presentations, the more he risks losing his audience, he believes. “The challenge is that people are so used to boring PowerPoint that when you use something dynamic, the audience is distracted from the content by the technology,” he says. “That’s a cardinal sin in presenting.”

This can be especially difficult in a courtroom setting, where a jury often comprises individuals who have varying degrees of tech savvy. If the technology used to present pertinent case details is too distracting from the information, some of that detail will get lost.

Another drawback with elaborate systems comes during presentation setup, adds Andreas Pfahnl, general manager at Eden Prairie-based Devicix. Some of the company’s multinational clients use very expensive video conferencing systems with moving cameras and other high-level features, but Pfahnl prefers less tech-heavy presentations because they take significantly less time to set up.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Prezi and other tools will sink a presentation – instead, knowing an audience’s comfort level with technology can be helpful. For example, a room full of app developers will likely appreciate more innovative presentations, while the board of directors for a venerable nonprofit may prefer a more traditional approach.

Don’t be afraid of “fun”
There are certain features in PowerPoint, such as animated words flying onto a slide, that are considered fairly passé, but that doesn’t mean animation and lively elements can’t be used in other ways. Jeff Fritz, CEO of Minneapolis-based Storyworks OnDemand, says video and animation are becoming key tools, especially when illustrating a technical product or establishing credibility through testimonials. “Newer ways to present make sales very impactful and fun,” he says.

Although online collaboration is useful, Fritz believes that in-person presentations are making a major comeback, especially as technology tools lean toward a “conversation-based” approach.
Using more innovative tools along with fresh elements such as video testimonials can be balanced out by having a company rep available in person at a client’s site. “There is strength in the sales rep who has good interpersonal skills supplemented with tech savvy,” Fritz says. “There are struggles with those who think they can replace a meeting with e-communication.”

In many ways, successful client presentations should contain the same elements they’ve boasted for centuries: a strong message, a customized pitch, and consideration for client feedback. With technology, a presentation can be even more powerful and interactive, as long as the presenter remembers not to let the tool take over the meeting.

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Elizabeth Millard writes about technology. Formerly senior editor at ComputerUser, her work has appeared in Business 2.0, eWeek, Linux Magazine and TechNewsWorld.

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