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Mediation Opening Statement: More Considerations: More Thoughts On Powerpoint

November 18, 2011

If you simply feel you must use Powerpoint in your opening statement in mediation, at least plan, construct and use it properly.

Increasingly, I am questioning the value of any opening statement in mediation (versus more effort in proper preparation and timely exchange and using your already t00-limited time for wise negotiation).  Or, at the very least, an opening statement that is highly limited and carefully directed.

However, I know that likely I will remain in a minority holding  such a controversial opinion on such a fundamental subject to most attorneys.  Advocates are not likely going to concede their historical trial or hearing role of “making their points” any time soon.

But if a mediation opening statement seems required of you and you further believe that Powerpoint is also necessary to make the points you deem so critical to your ensuing negotiation, then the proper use of Powerpoint in your opening statement is critical.  (And, particularly, if you then want to complain that your total mediation process “took too long”!)

You already know my general feelings on the use of Powerpoint in/for mediation opening statements.  See, “Mediation Opening Statement:  More Considerations: Powerpoint “ May 16, 2011.

And, hopefully, I need not, again, explain my firm belief that ANY Powerpoint you plan to use at mediation needs to be provided to the “decision-makers”, not just to opposing counsel, at least thirty days in advance of your planned use to the same or similar audience.

And, clearly you know I believe Powerpoint (and now an apparent competitor,” Prezi”) is a powerful and useful demonstrative aid.  In the right setting, i.e. trial and for the right use, i.e. directed attention, it may be one of the most valuable modern tools for advocates to include, with other valuable aids, to make their selected points.

However, for any presentation use, and particularly for mediation, Powerpoint, or any such technological tool, requires proper and thoughtful construction.  And, then it requires proper use.

And, if used in any public setting with any audience, Powerpoint also requires someone who can actually operate the program so as to not have it become more a distraction than a tool.

(Among other things, it needs to be turned off when the speaker is trying to elaborate on a point that demands you listen to the speaker rather than stare at a screen!  And, like having a movie stop just as you were beginning to get the plot, having repeated malfunctions during your Powerpoint is an audience-killer every time.  You are far better off maintaining eye contact with a singular thought than losing your entire audience with the wrong slide!)

I just recently attended an ADR seminar presented locally by the new ADR committee of the Orange County Bar Association , inclusive of a presentation by local Attorney C. Todd Smith, of Earle and Smith, on the proper preparation and use of Powerpoint. Todd, a local Plaintiffs’ attorney,  is also the co-chairman of the new Technology Committee of the Orange County Bar Association.

In less than thirty minutes, Mr. Smith, showed some really interesting snippets of the best and worst of Powerpoint in demonstrating some of his suggestions upon proper construction of any Powerpoint presentation.

The worst looked all too familiar.  Too much text, too much distraction.  In general, too much.  (Did you know there is even a Wikipedia term for  bad use of Powerpoint?  It is called,  “Death by Powerpoint”!)

The best, you already know, was to make specific defined points to complement a speaker, not to supplant him.

But, best of all, Mr. Smith gave some clear substantive pointers on how , with just a bit more thought and planning, Powerpoint can be constructed so much better and used with so much more effectiveness.  I suspect a longer program is available to any attorney or other interested group and I highly recommend it be seen, as soon as possible, for those of you who intend to use this product.  And, especially for those of you who intend to create your own product.  (Yes, there are those who can/will do it for you.)

Another competing demonstrative aid product used at the same seminar and which you may want to also consider, “Prezi”, has its advocates as well.  (For a quick in-depth overview, Google, “prezi”.)  Defense Attorney, Robert L. Dietz, of Zimmerman, Kiser and Sutcliffe, is the man to speak to for this newer product. (And, a great ADR program, by the way, on cultural diversity!  Robert took a mediator-CLE required, but usually boring-to-the-point-of-death, subject, and made it actually quite entertaining and informative, for a change. )

Although I remain “old school” and tend to wish Powerpoint (or Prezi) was not used at all for most mediations, (I prefer fewer, more pointed, alternative demonstrative aids that you can remove totally from view as you are speaking) one of the points of this presentation and the  OCBA’s new Technology committee is that with the lightning progress of technology, it is likely mediators will have to contend with more, not less, technology in the future. Like the disappearing law books (and now books in general), whether one likes it or not, we are living in an increasingly techy world.

Accordingly, as long as technology is coming strong and likely only increasing, we all might just as well learn how to BEST use the new technology to maximize its usefulness.

I highly recommend seeing Mr. Smith’s  (or Mr. Dietz’ s) presentation, or at least calling either one of them for a brief chat and advice or assistance, as you go forward with your own Powerpoint, Prezi or other technical demonstrative aid presentation.

If opening statement technology for mediation is something you feel you must use, these are just a few more thoughts for you to consider.

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