The Advantage Blog

Making Your Expert More Memorable and Understandable Through Visuals

August 5, 2017 | By |

I remember when I made the transition from student to teacher how excited I was to have the opportunity to instruct students the way I thought they really wanted to be taught – by presenting interesting lectures from which they could learn. How did I know that students wanted to learn that way? Because that is how I liked to learn, and I figured everyone else was the same.

After my first quarter, I mentioned to my wife-to-be the struggles I was having connecting with students. I told her my theory about how (I thought) students wanted to learn. Since she was taking education classes to become a grade school teacher (a requirement not placed upon graduate teaching assistants, or professors, for that matter), she shared that not all students learn the same way; some students do not enjoy lectures and some learn visually rather than through language only.

I took her advice (as I always do) and began presenting my material in more varied formats and styles, and not surprisingly my students learned more and rated me better as an instructor. The moral of the story (besides the fact that my wife is always right) is that not everybody learns information in the same way and varied approaches to presentations are needed when presenting an audience of students, or jurors, with new information you would like them to understand.

Among many benefits, graphics help jurors stay interested in the information that is being presented. There has been much written about how to use graphics in all phases of trial. My focus here will be on the use of visuals by expert witnesses, who are frequently serving in the role of “teacher” in a trial involving complex information.

Jurors sometimes dismiss testimony from experts because they believe they will say whatever they are paid to say by their client. However, my experience in interviewing jurors after trials tells me that experts who do a better job of helping jurors understand complex information will be given more credibility than those who present dull lectures to the audience.

So how do you get your expert witness to have greater success at teaching jurors about a complex subject? The use of visuals will increase the likelihood of success. Dr. John J. Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, argues for the importance of visuals in increasing memory. “We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.” If the jurors remember the information that has been shared, it is obviously more likely to be relevant in deliberations.

Using graphics will also help jurors understand and absorb the information being presented. Research indicates that 65% of individuals are primarily visual learners. They need images to help them understand information, not just words. They must see it to learn it. Some strategies to help visual learners include[1]:

  1. Use any of the following: flip boards, photos, diagrams, power point presentations, charts, maps, timelines, mnemonics.
  2. Construct mind maps or webbing of the material.
  3. Use concept maps with key points, boxes, circles, and arrows showing the connections of information.
  4. Underline, highlight, or circle printed material.

These strategies will enhance jurors’ understanding and retention of information, as well as improve jurors’ perception of a witness. Visual information can also help differentiate one expert from another in the minds of jurors, which will address the perception that experts “just cancel each other out.” Additionally, graphics can help jurors to learn the more complex ideas they need to make an informed decision in a case, which can be helpful to your client.

Finally, remember that your jury is not likely to be made up of people who learn concepts in similar ways. Tailoring your presentations and your witnesses’ testimony to address these different approaches can increase the likelihood that jurors will understand, and hopefully agree with, the arguments being advanced by your side.

[1] http://www.phschool.com/eteach/social_studies/2003_05/essay.html.

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