• Paul Rutherford

NORTH STAR


US defence lawyer Gerry Spence championed underdogs. His clients included the Karen Silkwood estate in its battle with a nuclear power contractor and native American Indians trying to protect their land rights. Big cases, with enough blind alleys to keep juries confused for months. In his book *How to Argue and Win Every Time*, Spence says that one of his biggest challenges was keeping on course through long, protracted trials. After amassing rooms-full of information, he wrote a synopsis of his case, running some 50 pages. Then he boiled it down to 10 pages to get the architecture clear in his head. Then one page, containing the two or three key pillars of his case. And finally, one 6”x4” index card, carrying his raison d'etre - the North Star by which he would navigate while his opposition tried everything in its power to take him off course. Screenwriting guru Robert McKee teaches a similar method when constructing a story: after Scenes become Sequences, and Sequences become Acts, and Acts become a 60-page treatment, it’s all reduced to a single index card. McKee calls it ‘the governing idea’: What is the movie about? In both cases, the single idea comes at the end of a process of research, idea generation, development and structuring. Research, creation, deletion. Research, creation, deletion. How I wish many of the Powerpoint presentations I have sat through in my career had been built in a similar way. It's the essence of compelling communication, to pare down again and again and again until we reach the essence of what this is about. But rather than pare down, we're so tempted to pad out. To show just how busy we've been, just how much work has been done for our client / our boss / our investors. And yet when we pare down, we can arrive at beauty - the concise and the precise. Like Michelangelo's description of how he created one of his great sculptures. Whether in stone or in Powerpoint, simplicity and clarity are in there somewhere. We just have to keep looking.

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