Before you read any further, look at the photo above and ask yourself, “What is the message here?”

I can wait . . .

Ready?  Have you got your answer?  OK, let’s get going . . .

Maybe your thought was, “This looks like a pretty place,” or, “It’s weird that their heads are cut off.” But, if your answer was anywhere in the range of “Well, the picture doesn’t really match the words. It shows people running, but it talks about ‘walking and biking.’ Really, it doesn’t even show a trail!”, then you are a living experiment of the presentation error that Mayer [2009]* discusses as a failure of “Contiguity.” When the words compete with the images projected in a multi-media presentation, you have created a distraction for your audience. You have made your audience work on a task that is not productive.  You have jumbled (and diminished) your message.

I know—this is just an ad for a new development. Why is this such a big deal? It probably isn’t. But, what if this photo were in your opening on a construction defect case or a breach of contract case between the developer and the buyers? Put in that different light, what is the message now?

  • Juror #1 thinks:  “They couldn’t find a picture of a bike?”
  • Juror #2 thinks:  “What a pretty place!”
  • Juror #3 thinks:  “Wait, nobody is walking or riding.”
  • Juror #4 thinks:  “That is funny! Didn’t somebody catch that mistake?”
  • Juror #5 thinks:  “Why don’t they show the heads?”
  • Juror #6 thinks:  “They were promised one thing and got something else.”
  • Juror #7 thinks:  “What trail?”
  • Juror #8 thinks:  “I wish I was on my bike right now—not on that non-existent, mythical trail—but on my bike somewhere other than here in Court.”

On the plaintiff’s side, you need 6 out of 8 jurors all thinking alike. On the defendant side, you don’t want the jurors to think you are a liar, disorganized, careless, or inattentive to detail. On both sides, you do not want to give jurors a task that takes away from your message. While all the juror thoughts above are raging on, nobody is listening to you. Your mismatched words and image sent the jurors off to find the meaning of the discrepancy, not the meaning of your position in the case.

Mayer gives us three principles for effective multi-media presentations:

  • Redundancy:  using words AND pictures to make your point [reaching at least two senses at the same time];
  • Contiguity:  consistency between the words and the image and a close placement of those in space and time [don’t make the jurors’ eyes search around for the point you are making];
  • Coherence:  a short, concise message with no extraneous words or images.

Almost all memory and comprehension studies show the power of words AND images TOGETHER to make your case understandable. Use them in a way that facilitates learning, not in a way that is distracting.

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