Curse you MacSparky!

California attorney David Sparks has done it again. He’s releasing the latest in his MacSparky Field Guide series, Presentations. As some of you know, proper use of presentation software is a bit of a passion of mine, and I guess in the back of my head I’d hoped I’d write a book like this someday. But David has beat me to it.


In all seriousness, I’m really pleased for David and for everyone else. David does a great job in his Field Guides, and everyone will benefit from his wisdom on this topic. The bad and horrible use of presentation software hasn’t gone the way of the dodo, so we need as many books out there as possible to help make deadly PowerPoint extinct.

I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. I heartily recommend that you do so as well. Even if you don’t give a lot of presentations, you never know when you might be called upon to do one. And if you’re going to have to do one, it’s best to do it right.

[Updated on July 8, 2014 to improve the headline.]

Maybe if we labeled PowerPoint as a lethal weapon

Or at least put a warning label on it.

It seems so innocent, but PowerPoint (or Keynote for us Apple fans) can lead to huge problems. We know that PowerPoint misuse contributed to the 1986 Challenger space shuttle tragedy and the loss of the shuttle Columbia. Columnists have written about “death by PowerPoint.”

Now it looks as though PowerPoint may have contributed to unnecessary deaths involving the Chevrolet Cobalt, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Look, folks, PowerPoint is a tool. It has a specific purpose, just like a screwdriver has a specific purpose. You don’t use a screwdriver to remove a nail from a piece of wood. You don’t use a shovel to cut a hole in drywall. You don’t use PowerPoint to communicate detailed—especially critical—information.

You. Don’t. Do. It.

You tell the person verbally. Then you follow it up with a written document—not a lousy PowerPoint slide or printout of a slide.

I love using Apple’s Keynote, but I don’t use it every time I give a presentation. Some presentations don’t need visuals to reinforce the verbal message. Presentation slides should never, ever be used as a substitute for actual written information.

We lawyers are probably the least likely to use PowerPoint in this way. But we lawyers can tell our clients not to do it. Just think about the potential liabilities some creative lawyer will come up with when she learns your client misused PowerPoint to convey extremely important information.

Let’s end the PowerPoint misuse starting right now. Forward this to your clients and colleagues. Consider it your good deed for the day.

Shameful lawyer behavior

After the cloud computing presentation yesterday at the St. Joseph County Bar Association’s Local Practice Seminar, I took some time today to review materials at a web site discussed during the program.

I’m embarrassed by the behavior of this particular attorney. To avoid problems, I won’t name names, but I’ll describe what I saw.

This attorney (who at least has graduated from law school; whether he is admitted I do not know) does not practice law. Instead, he offers technology consulting services. He presents CLE programs around the country, and as a service (as well as a marketing tool, obviously), he puts his slide presentations on his web site where people can download them at no cost. This attorney is a pretty heavy-hitter in the world of law practice management. He’s co-written books with some of the leaders in the field, and they’ve been published by the American Bar Association.

So, always hoping to pick up a point or two, I downloaded a host of them and started reading them. I didn’t get all the way through them.

First, the things are damn ugly. Ugly ugly ugly. They look amateurish, garish, almost screaming. They have way, way too much text on them. (Dude, go read some Presentation Zen materials and clean up your slides.) The consultant puts a bunch of his awards etc. on one slide (with badges of honor copied from web sites). This bothers me because if you’re presenting, I’m assuming you have the credentials—otherwise the conference organizers would not have brought you in.

But what stopped me cold in my tracks was his use of one photograph on a slide. The subject of the photograph was innocuous, but plainly visible was an watermark. The purpose of is to get royalty-free photographs from photographers to end users. For a modest price (a couple of bucks per image, usually) you get a non-exclusive yet permanent license to use the image. The company that runs, understandably, doesn’t want people ripping off its images, so it uses a simple watermark: two diagonal lines running corner to corner with in the center.

Rather than coughing up the small fee for the image, this lawyer/consultant just ripped it off. And this really bothers me on a number of levels.

  • His use of the image in this fashion infringes the photographer’s copyright. We lawyers are supposed to respect, honor, and follow the law. We ought to set an example for others.
  • His use of the image ignores the licensing arrangements iStockphoto sets up. Really, you couldn’t pay the couple of bucks so you decide to cheat?
  • He publicly displays his behavior by including the image in his CLE presentation.
  • He does this knowing that his audience is going to be a bunch of LAWYERS!
  • He doesn’t bother to fix the problem before making his slides available to the world.

How does he expect to be taken seriously by a group of attorneys when he’s clearly willing to ignore the rules when it suits him? Perhaps he’s hoping the attorneys aren’t tech savvy enough to notice what he’s done. Whether he’s a scofflaw or he thinks his audience isn’t smart doesn’t matter. That behavior is insulting either way.

Perhaps this is an isolated incident, an accident that slipped through the cracks. It happens to the best of us. But before I put something I’ve prepared out on the Internet for my colleagues to download and use, I would hope that I’ve gone through it carefully to make sure there isn’t anything there that will make me look bad. All this lawyer has done is open himself up to a claim for copyright infringement every time someone downloaded a copy of his presentation.

Oy. I hope this attorney/consultant stumbles across this post and realizes what he’s done. It would be even better if a few attorney/consultants wonder “is he talking about me?” and go double-check their materials online. Regardless, all I know is that I’m not going to use this guy’s site as a resource any longer. The ugly slides with spelling errors I can handle. The “I’m too cheap to pay a pittance to use an image” attitude I can’t.