Business appraisers who serve as expert witnesses in court face two daunting tasks: They must capture the attention of a judge or jury and make complex financial analyses easy to understand. That’s easier said than done after the trier of fact already has listened to hours of testimony in commercial litigation. Impactful visual aids can help break up the monotony and drive home key points in an expert’s oral testimony and written reports.
Tips for maximum impact
Many people are visual learners, so oral testimony alone may not be enough to enable them to understand complex issues, such as discounted cash flow analyses or profit trends. Experts who supplement their analyses with pictures often leave a lasting impression.
Today, most courtrooms are equipped with technology that allows experts to display visual aids from a computer directly to a pull-down or pop-up screen. But technology is known to fail, so experts should always come to court with a hardcopy or transparency back-up plan. Other tips to get more from visual aids in court include the following:
Limit the number. Experts shouldn’t use visual aids as a crutch or a replacement for verbal testimony. Instead, they should reinforce the expert’s oral testimony. As a general rule of thumb, select five or fewer graphics that illustrate key strategic points. During deposition or direct examination, ask the expert to explain each graphic in detail, rather than leaving judges and jurors to interpret the pictures themselves.
Use the appropriate visual tool. Pick a layout that matches the data you’re trying to explain. For example, a line graph might be appropriate to demonstrate a relationship between two variables, such as price and earnings or sales trends over time. A pie graph can be used to show product or customer mix. Tables can be used to highlight lists of important facts. Formulas can be written out to explain how an appraiser arrived at a particular conclusion.
Keep it simple. Avoid visual aids that are cluttered with too many colors and symbols or make too many points. They can be confusing and do more damage than good. Each graph or image should emphasize one key point — maybe two — but no more.
Some judges and jurors could be color-blind, so stick with primary colors or black-and-white images. And make sure that any fonts used are large enough for people with 20/60 vision to read from the bench or juror box without their glasses.
Visual aids in written reports
Another important placement for visual aids is inside the written appraisal report. During deliberations, judges and jurors may refer back to an expert’s report to jog their memories. The same guidelines apply for visual aids in written reports as during oral testimony. However, appraisers may decide to include more visual aids in their reports than they would present during trial.
Some experts reserve pictures for the appendixes to their reports. But increasingly valuators insert visual aids throughout their reports to break up multiple pages of complicated financial explanations.
Request for more visual aids
Before heading to trial, it’s important for attorneys to talk to expert witnesses about direct examination questions, key points and potential sources of confusion. If your expert isn’t planning to use visual aids, you might consider requesting a few to bolster the effectiveness of his or her oral testimony and written reports.
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