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Public Speaking

Get to the (Power) Point

By Ruth Carter

I have had the pleasure of being part of Ignite Phoenix for the past two years. I spoke at Ignite Phoenix 5 and have volunteered at almost every Ignite event since. Each event features 18 speakers, and each speaker gets five minutes and 20 PowerPoint slides to share one of their passions. The only restriction is that it can’t be a sales pitch.

The variety of topics is vast. We’ve had people talk about everything from paragliding, to raising geek kids, to how to spend 24 hours in a Walmart. But all the speakers share one thing in common: They know how to use PowerPoint effectively.

Avoiding Death by PowerPoint

Too many lawyers think the purpose of PowerPoint is to repeat what they are saying orally. This may make it easier to make the handouts for conferences, but it does nothing for the audience. They can’t read your slides and listen to what you’re saying at the same time. It’s this presentation style that brought us the term “Death by PowerPoint.”

If you’re a lawyer who is a public speaker, let go of the idea that your slides are the outline for your talk. Instead, think of them as a tool for accentuating your message. Your message is the star. Your slides are merely an accessory.

Seth Godin’s rule of thumb is to never use more than six words on a slide. It’s better to use an image that embodies the concept or the feeling you are trying to convey instead of sentences or bulleted lists. Fantastic images are available in the public domain and under creative commons licenses. There’s no excuse for using cheesy images or clipart. Be creative!

Paul Arden said, “The more strikingly visual your presentation is, the more people will remember it. And more importantly, they will remember you.” This is absolutely true. While I barely remember any of the PowerPoint slides I saw during law school lectures, without exerting much mental energy I can remember over a dozen Ignite presentations I’ve seen in the past two years.

If you want an example of these rules in action, check out The Art and Science of Beatbox by Krystofer James and Brandon Willey.

You may think that these tips don’t work in your professional life because serious legal concepts can only be expressed in words, but that’s not true. Recently, I did a 90-minute presentation on the basics of copyright law at an art marketing class. Aside from the title slide, my contact information and photo credits, my slide deck had six words—total. And I didn’t give the students a copy of my slides. Instead, I gave them a one-page handout with all the pertinent information on it.

If you want more information on using PowerPoint effectively, I recommend Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte and Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds.

Known for her daring antics and outgoing personality, Ruth Carter is a 2011 graduate of Arizona State University College of Law and a co-founder of Improv AZ. She plans to open a virtual law office that specializes in intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth blogs weekly at

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Ruth Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at and

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