Presentations and Sharing Slides

Warning: Massive generalizations ahead!

It’s pretty common for conference organizers and attendees to ask presenters to provide their slides after the talk to share/post on the event site. While well-meaning, I’m not sure this is an entirely positive trend.

A slide deck that stands alone is often a sign of a poor presentation. If I can read the slides and get a lot out of them without the presentation they accompany, odds are you could have just written a short post that would have conveyed nearly as much information without the need for people to sit through a presentation. (Much less travel a great distance to see it.)

As a corollary to the above, if the presenter is using slides that convey most of the information, then the attendees are probably spending more time watching the slides and/or checking their phones/laptops than actually paying attention to the speaker. Again, what’s the point of sitting through a presentation if you can just read the slides and get most of the information that way?

Yes, you can have meaningful slides that support a presentation and are useful afterwards. For example, if you’re doing a presentation with a lot of data/charts, having those to refer to after the presentation is a good thing. Having code examples, or follow-along examples is a good thing.

I’m writing this, of course, because I received a request for slides for a presentation I gave recently (at SCALE) and was thinking about how often I’m asked for slides before a presentation even begins. (“Will the slides be available?”) In this case, the presentation has some slides that will be useful for attendees — but a lot of the slides are just enough text to spark my memory for the next topic.

Sometimes I’m tempted to chuck presentation-ware altogether and just give a presentation from notes accompanied (when appropriate) with a demo. A live presentation should be about an experience that is more than a person droning on at the front of the room that adds little or no value to the text on a screen. If it’s not, what’s the point?

This is something I’ve been turning over in my head for a while, and I think one of my goals for 2015 is to raise the bar on my own presentations. Suggestions welcome!

4 thoughts on “Presentations and Sharing Slides

  1. For non-native english (or whichever language the talk is given in) speakers, information rich slides can be very useful.

  2. I agree. The best slides contain a few key points that help keep the audience (and more importantly, the presenter!) on track. Where I’ve found posted slide decks most helpful are to help me review presentations to remember key concepts when reviewing my notes (particularly if I’m summarizing it for my blog). If the slide deck contains details in the notes field, that’s great, too. I’ve always intended to make the notes of a slide deck effectively be a transcript of what I say, but that’s a lot of work and I never get around to it. I really appreciate those who do, though!

  3. I think it’s good to have a lot of content on your slides because people forget what it is that you’ve said, and having info on your slides can be a good reference for people to go back to. However, if you have a lot of information on your slides, you need to be extra engaging as a speaker to draw people away from what is on the slide. You can reference the slide, and then move or step away from the podium and engage the audience with a question, for example.

    I do think it’s largely a waste to share your slides if all you have on them are pictures and maybe a few words. In that case, you’re probably just better off hoping that someone recorded your talk and has posted it on the interwebs somewhere.

  4. Last time I talked I wrote the slides with all headings and bullets, read them lots, then cut-n-paste all the bullets into the notes section and make the headings all that was on the slides.

    I find the quality of my presentation goes up with this technique, really the only things on slides should be quotations, or diagrams.

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