Show and Tell with Powerpoint®

If you speak it and don’t show it; the auditory learners will get it, the kinetic learners might get it, but the visual learners probably won’t.  If you speak it and show it – the positive impact on understanding and retention is dramatic.


The Dual Coding Theory of memory was initially proposed by Paivio (1971). The core idea is  the human mind operates with two distinct classes of mental “codes”:  verbal representations and mental images.  Human memory thus comprises two functionally independent (although interacting) systems: verbal memory and image memory. Imagery potentiates recall of verbal material because when a word evokes an associated image (either spontaneously, or through deliberate effort) two separate but linked memory traces are laid down, one in each of the memory stores. Obviously the chances that a memory will be retained and retrieved are much greater if it is stored in two distinct functional locations rather than in just one.  See, Nigel J.T. Thomas in the Stanford Encyclopdia of Philosophy

To use less scientific terminology:  seeing is believing.

Consider what types of visual aids you will be using and why they will help.  Make sure they match to the presentation.  They should not be too cutsie.  They should add rather than detract from your message.

Do not show visuals filled with words.

Please repeat.

Do not show visuals filled with words.

If you show a visual filled with words, then Paivio’s dual processing channels cross wires.  While you are speaking, the audience will be reading.  They will have to tune you out to read.  Or they will have to ignore the printing to listen to what you are saying.  Comprehension and retention will significantly decrease.  It is actually better to show no visual, than to show one filled with words.

Cliff Atkinson is the author of Beyond Bullet Points:  Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations that Inform, Motivate, and Inspire. © 2005 Cliff Atkinson. Microsoft Press He suggests ways to structure slides so that they are not filled with bullet points.  He recommends dispensing with templates and using blank slide formats.  He has a website filled with free materials and helpful advice.

Here are some suggestions for using Powerpoint® visuals during your presentation:

  1. Check out the courtroom ahead of time and figure out where the screen and projector should go.
  2. Get advance permission from the bailiff for the set up.
  3. Use a projector that's bright enough so you don't have to dim the lights (jurors will fall asleep if you do that)
  4. Use a remote mouse
  5. The mouse should have a "black screen" button
  6. Having the screen black focuses the attention on you and should be used periodically to drive points home.
  7. Situate the laptop screen in front of you off to the side so you can glance at it w/o having to turn your head back to look at the screen
  8. Always have a backup plan.
  9. If it takes longer than two minutes to fix a glitch and a recess isn’t available, go to that other plan.
  10. Don’t talk to the screen.
  11. Some people stand in front of the screen (not obstructing it but in front of it newscaster style) and never look at the screen.  Other people interact with the screen.  There is no rule governing this other than – don’t talk to the screen.
  12. There is a “notes” view that allows you to view your notes on the computer monitor so you don’t need to talk to the screen or shuffler paper notes.
  13. The slides should match up with what you are talking about without using the same words
  14. If you show a document, blow up and highlight the important part of it
  15. Words must be big enough for the audience to read
  16. Don't use all capitals.
  17. The general rule is no more than three to four chunks of data per slide
  18. Avoid more than one photo per slide unless you are comparing pictures
  19. Crop photos
  20. Don’t use templates
  21. Headlines should be short complete sentences
  22. Rarely use headlines
  23. Don't interact with every slide
  24. Interact with some of the slides
  25. Contrast should be bright and clear
  26. If you are trying to color code slides - remember, men in particular may be colorblind
  27. Special effects should rarely be used
  28. Same for clip art
  29. Get photos and images of real things from the case file and from the internet
  30. If it is too cute or basic, it will be seen as condescending
  31. If you modify a photo to make a point, type out a disclaimer at the bottom of the slide, i.e. "This photo has been altered"
  32. Pause before/after presenting a dramatic/humorous slide; or risk the audience forgetting what else you say
  33. Try out the slide show on others before you show it to a judge/jury
  34. Use more than a few, but not too many slides.  A couple per minute.
  35. If the judge requires you to show the other side your slides, then make sure you do so.  There won't be a problem if you are simply showing evidence or things you disclosed prior to trial.  Other images may require a bit of discussion, negotiation, or motion practice.