United States: Every Picture Tells a Story - Doesn’t It?

Last Updated: February 6 2013
Article by Stephen W. Groo

"The eyes are better witnesses than the ears." —Heraclitus, circa 500 BC

"Things seen are mightier than things heard." —Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1864

More than 2,300 years separated the lives of Greek philosopher Heraclitus and English poet Lord Tennyson, yet they both understood one thing:

When it comes to how people absorb, process and retain information, the eyes have it.

Heraclitus and Tennyson "got it"—and, thank goodness, almost everyone involved in modern day litigation has "gotten it," too. It really wasn't all that long ago that many attorneys blanched at the idea of organizing their opening and closing arguments or key witness examinations around an integrated visual presentation.

But not anymore. Today, in the year 2012, it is hard to imagine a trial of any kind without the substantial use of visual presentations. Whether it is timelines, graphic illustrations, patent process animations, document presentation systems or the ubiquitous PowerPoint slide show, trial lawyers increasingly are more dependent on, and confident in, the visual presentation of their cases.

It's about time because the truth is that we live in a visual world. We wake up in the morning and turn on CNN, beaming video and graphics to us from around the globe. We find USA Today outside our hotel room doors, giving us the news via graphic illustration and photographs as much as through the printed word. We log onto the Internet, a streamingvideo, graphics-saturated banquet of visual information, and we feed on it whenever and wherever we please. On the highways, billboards tell us what to buy, bumper stickers tell us what to think and road signs tell us where to go. And when we get to our destination, the nightly newspeople tell us of the day's events, all with a combination of graphic images, animation, video and photographs strategically perched over the anchor's left shoulder.

We are visual creatures living in a visual world. We think visually, we communicate visually and—most important, when it comes to the juror who must absorb, deliberate and decide—we learn visually. Skeptical? Consider the following:

-- Studies by educational researchers suggest that 83 percent of human learning occurs visually, and the remaining 17 percent through the other senses.

-- Retention studies show that three days after an event, people retain 10 percent of what they hear from an oral presentation, 35 percent from a visual presentation, and 65 percent from an oral and visual presentation.

-- Research indicates a 70 percent increase in retention after three months when information is presented visually.

How many trials last three months, you say? Not very many but enough. And juries often deliberate for three days or longer, weighing the evidence they've heard—and seen—over the course of a trial no matter how long it has been in session.

So let's just admit the obvious: The use of visual communications tools in the courtroom has not only become the norm in litigation today, it is, dare I say, mandatory. The stale objections of the past have been overruled by extremely positive experience with media tools; the jury no longer is out, the verdict is in and the case is closed.

The exception now is the norm—visual presentations are not only readily accepted, but they often are encouraged by the courts as a way to simplify complex testimony, speed up the pace of trial, and ease the learning curve of both the judges sitting on the bench and the people occupying the jury box. So, as the saying goes, "What's not to like?" Judges get speedier trials; jurors get information in an understandable, enlightening and often entertaining way; and litigators get a variety of powerful tools to present their case in a compelling and persuasive manner. Everybody wins, right? Well, maybe...

Because there is one problem that has evolved as trial visual presentations have come of age. And that is, with the ever-growing smorgasbord of delights available to the trial lawyer of today—the increasingly flexible and facile trial presentation systems, the medley of commanding and persuasive media—there, regrettably, is a tendency to overeat.

A little bit of this, a dollop of that, a pinch of the other, a taste of everything. And soon enough, the plate is filled to overflowing, everything runs together and nothing stands out. And by the time you're finished eating, you wish you'd never started.

Unfortunately, this too often happens in the courtroom. Trial teams become so enamored with varying forms of media that some type of visual, it seems, is used for every point, every witness, every thing. And over the course of a trial—as the jury is bombarded with image after image, day after day—use becomes overuse and, ultimately, abuse of these great tools. Everything runs together, nothing stands out and the jury ends up wishing it had never started.

Here's the problem: To paraphrase the legendary Marshall McLuhan, the danger is letting the medium become the message. We have become so good at using the tools available to us—graphics, synchronized video depositions, 2D and 3D animations, PowerPoint slides—that we begin by focusing on how we're going to say something rather than what it is we want to say.

And as we increasingly rely on these wonderful tools in the modern era of litigation, we run the risk of losing the most potent tool of all. And that is the tool of good storytelling.

With all due respect to Mr. McLuhan, the medium is NOT the message. The message is the story that ultimately must be told to the jury in a way that enrolls them, engages them, moves them and, finally, persuades them.

The story is the case. It is not the voluminous testimony, thousands of datapoints, multiple fact patterns and continuous expert witnesses. Obviously, they all are necessary and, at times, critical to the trying of the case. But, in the end, all these details form the skeleton on which the body of the case is shaped, the chapters in which the story of the case is told.

A good story told competently coupled with a well-designed presentation of the facts, issues and evidence is an unbeatable combination. Chances are, you probably are familiar with developing a presentation of your case; but what about telling your story? In more than 20 years as a litigation consultant, I have come to the conclusion that a good story in the courtroom is no different than it was back in grade school: It has a beginning, a middle and an end. Let's take a brief look at each one of these:

Beginning – How does a great story begin?

Simple: It grabs your attention. It makes you want to keep turning the pages to find out how the story will develop and what will happen. The opening statement in a trial serves the same purpose—it should make the jurors want to stay with you as the case unfolds. Here are some ways to make this happen:

-- Begin with a compelling statement, something that appeals to the jurors' innate sense of curiosity: "I am going to tell you things about Acme Corporation that you have never read in any newspaper"; "By the time this trial is over, your view of chemical companies will be completely different"; "In this case, you are going to learn facts that will challenge you—here are just a few of them."

-- Incorporate convincing visual exhibits, rehearse the opening, revise it, rehearse it again, revise it again, etc., until the images on the screen seamlessly appear on cue to punctuate the key elements of the opening.

-- If possible, with authenticity, blend in humor—it gives the jury permission to relax and provides them a reason to like you and to listen to you.

-- Try to resurrect brevity as it is a dying art. Yes, I know that each fact and every word are important but probably not to the everyday people sitting in the jury box.

Middle – What's makes a good middle of a story? Once again, it's simple: It moves the story along. As you progress from fact witness to fact witness and expert to expert, your story must unfold in a meaningful manner, and, above all, the jury must feel that headway is being made. Consider doing the following:

-- Truncate complex testimony with visually enhanced tutorial style exhibits; give the jurors not just the facts they need but the vocabulary required to understand the facts.

-- Develop your story in a logical fashion but also in a way that keeps jurors' interest piqued; know the temperament and "presence" of your witnesses and try to feel how the jury will react to them. Dry testimony by a stiff (but necessary) witness does not need to be followed by more of the same; remember, a good story usually has a roster of well-developed characters.

-- Mix up the media as well as the testimony. I had a case where videotaped depositions were to comprise the first 10 days of trial; after the first day or so, no one was paying attention, and a few jurors were catching up on their sleep. Graphics, video, document treatments, Elmo, flip charts, animation, PowerPoints —there's plenty out there. Not all need to be used but think how each can be used to create variety.

End – Ah, the end! After X weeks of trial, we're finally at the finish line. Just like the close of a 300-page book, the closing summation must be logical, satisfying and persuasive in pulling together the evidence. Think along these lines:

-- Do not laboriously repeat all the evidence presented during trial; take key themes the jury received favorably, dress them back up (now you can use additional evidence presented during trial) and refresh the jury's recollection—and their appreciation

-- Develop visuals based on trial testimony (see above): How many stories have you read where a secondary character comes back at the end to play a major role? Tip:

Have your trial consultant and/or team member take notes on possible closing exhibits from the opening onward—you won't regret it.

-- Don't forget that jurors are people, too; appeal to their emotions, their sense of loyalty, dedication, fairness, responsibility and integrity. Close your case the way a good book ends: making you think and demanding that you care even after the last page has been turned and the story has been told.

Beginning, middle, end – tell your story, use the visual tools to your advantage and remember: The goal isn't to impress or entertain—but to persuade.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FTI Consulting, Inc. or its other professionals. (c)FTI Consulting, Inc., 2011. All rights reserved.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.