By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.
If there is a complex issue that jurors need to understand, I’m a fan of identifying communication strategies that help jurors understand the issue directly, rather than understanding what the issue is “kind of like.” Visual communication should always be the first resort in this scenario. Graphics can simplify an issue much more effectively than analogies and can often do so in a more persuasive manner, while avoiding the risks that analogies and metaphors present. A graphic is not just a pretty picture; it is visual advocacy. Effective graphics break an issue down into understandable parts, capture the logical flow of the issue, and show jurors how it fits perfectly within the legal framework of the case. This is where the slideshow style of PowerPoint can be particularly helpful. It’s not just one picture but a progressive series of pictures that tie multiple items together in a simple and persuasive manner that both motivates and arms jurors to be effective advocates on complex issues during deliberations.
Bottom line, it’s time to put the brakes on the use of analogies and metaphors by attorneys at trial. My aunt-in-law Josephine’s dancing is amusing because we only have to witness it every few years. The same can be said about attorneys’ use of metaphors and analogies: they are best when used sparingly or not at all. There are many better routes to persuasion that metaphors, and each one starts with visual communication.
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