Is This Ethical? PowerPoint and the Michael Jackson Trial

At Michael Jackson’s manslaughter trial, lawyers opened with PowerPoint slides showing Jackson’s dead body under the word “Homicide”.

At the Forbes.com blog, Carmine Gallo rightly points this out as an example of the power of using pictures to persuade an audience – called the Picture Superiority Effect.

But an important question is this: when is using the Picture Superiority Effect a smart communication tactic, and when does it cross over into manipulation?

Does this image of a dead Michael Jackson really help a jury to make a just and objective decision? Or, instead, does it bias the jury even before it’s had a chance to hear one shred of factual evidence?

In fact, researchers have found that pictures do bias a jury. For instance, one 2006 study at the University of New South Wales found guilty verdicts jumped from 9% to 38% when lawyers showed juries photos of blood-splattered clothing.

That’s a sobering swing in judgment. Did the pictures lead to more accurate jury decisions than the facts alone? Or, did the pictures convict an innocent man?

As communicators, we know the tricks of how to persuade an audience. But at what point are we ethically bound to put the persuasion tactics aside and let the audience decide based on the facts alone? This PowerPoint slide of Michael Jackson is, in my opinion, a disgraceful abuse of the Picture Superiority Effect. What do you think?

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

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4 Responses to Is This Ethical? PowerPoint and the Michael Jackson Trial

  1. Reading the cited materials was very useful. Basically, the stronger the visual image you give a person the more they will be persuaded to your point of view – which has always been my contention. The visual image can be given in languaging and vocal tones etc – my field. The scary thing is that people will believe based on emotion rather than reason at all times. Great if you are a Ghandi – not so great if you are a Hitler!

  2. Anita Lima says:

    I agree with your comments regarding Michael Jackson’s image under the word “Homicide.” That’s pre-judging the MD before the case has even been heard! The Prosecutor certainly can’t be accused of being subtle! Not only that, in my opinion, the presentation was absolute rubbish. If that’s all he can manage in such a high profile case, then he is to be pitied!

    I find the whole episode contrived and utterly disgraceful!

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