Last year, comedian Louis CK delivered a hilarious rant on the Conan O’Brien Show about our modern-day technological expectations (click here to laugh). CK makes his point about how accustomed we’ve become to the luxuries of 21st century life by recounting an interaction with a fellow airplane passenger:
“I was on an airplane and there was internet, high speed internet on the airplane…it’s amazing… then it breaks down and they apologize the internet is not working and the guy next to me goes ‘this is bullsh**.’…Like the world owes him [YouTube clips] he knew existed only 10 seconds ago… Oh really? What happened next? Did you fly through the air incredibly like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight? Wow, you’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going, ‘OH MY GOD!’ ‘WOW!’ …You’re sitting in a chair in the sky!”
Louis CK’s rant went viral through the internet because it rang so true. Technological advancements have completely altered our daily expectations. Think of the first cell phones, the first internet connections, the first automobiles. How would we rate them today? Progress has caused us to judge harshly those who fail to rise to the lofty goals we set. The courtroom is not immune to this phenomenon.
Today’s information-age jurors expect well-crafted presentations that include advanced auditory and visual components which are interwoven with the case story. Moreover, a famous 1963 Weiss and McGrath study demonstrated that there is good reason for this juror preference. They found that information is retained at a remarkably higher rate when it is presented orally and visually (65% retention), rather than orally alone (10% retention) or visually alone (20% retention).1 While many attorneys think that a good opening statement or closing argument does not need the aid of visual dynamics, both research and juror comments beg to differ.
However, there is also the danger of going too far. Presentations should not be so shocking or overwhelming that they serve to drown out supporting evidence that may be key to the foundation of a case. A recent study published in the Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising found that commercials shown between “intense war news” segments had much lower retention rates in audiences. One could see how it would be counterproductive to make key points in a closing argument directly before or after graphic photos were shown.
Interestingly, a similar point was made when researchers tested the efficacy of PowerPoint text animations. A study out of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington found that college students retained less information when presented with animated PowerPoint slides, than when the same topics were presented through static (non-animated) PowerPoint slides.
Still, it should be remembered that a good PowerPoint presentation, demonstrative computer animation or video clip will only go so far. This audio-visual array must also be set in a framework that allows jurors to focus on learning, rather than remembering. Researchers from the University of Amsterdam and Duke University have demonstrated that learning and remembering compete for valuable resources in the brain. As a result of this battle for brain power, jurors who are constantly trying to recall case elements (Who is who? Why does this matter? When did this happen?) are distracted. If this happens, all of the money spent on fancy instructional animations could be wasted. An effective story or narrative framework is essential to making multi-modal presentations stick in jurors’ minds.
Blogger: Matt McCusker
*Image courtesy of the Wake County (N.C.) Bar Awards and Merritt Videoworks. Click Here to see all of the great work the Wake County Bar is doing for their community and see if you can help.
1 (H. Weiss and J.B. McGrath, "Technically Speaking: Oral Communication for Engineers, Scientists and Technical Personnel" (1963).)