Sharing slides is a gesture

Whenever I do a talk, it always surprises me how many people ask about my slides. Some people couldn’t make it to the conference and ask for the slides instead, others want to have the slides as a reminder of the talk and some of them might even use the slides to do a slide karaoke back at the office. Great purposes, and usually I’m more than happy to share them with the world. What surprised me even more however, is that some people seem to get upset whenever a speaker decides to not share his slides – or simply forgets about uploading them, or hasn’t come round to doing it just yet. “Whenever a speaker doesn’t upload his slides to slideshare, God kills a kitten”, seems to be the general thought. I disagree for a number of reasons.

My talk is more than just my slides

Me, talking about pizza at the DPC

Photo by Jeroen van Sluijs

First of all, talks are usually more than just the slides. For example: during the most important part of my last talk, my slides showed a picture of a slice of pizza for about 3 minutes. By browsing through someones slides you might get a general idea on what the talk is about, but you’re missing out on the details – and probably the most important message the speaker is trying to get across. It gets even better when the speaker uses more “Presentation Zen”-like techniques. Thijs Feryn‘s talk “PHP through the eyes of a hoster” is a fantastic talk, but if you would download his slides you would mainly just end up with a bunch of beautiful, but meaningless photographs (and some keywords).

That however is the way slides should look! They should confirm and strengthen what the speaker is telling, not tell the story themselves. Therefore sharing your slides then is not only pointless, but whenever somebody is going to see your slides it’s likely that the viewer will get a crooked view of what you were trying to tell in the first place.

Sharing slides is a gesture
I share them however, and most speakers do. My main reason is that people can browse through the slides again afterwards, and remember what I told them. If I did a good job the pizza-slide will then remind the viewer of the used metaphor and what I was trying to tell when this slide was on the screen. Even people that didn’t see my talk might still get a clue about the contents by looking at the slides. They will probably miss the main clue, but at least they will see a couple of mentioned tools that are worth giving a try – and if that makes you happy that’s just great! In such a case I’m glad you at least found some benefit in the work I’ve done.

Sharing slides is a gesture though. Something extra the speaker does especially for you. Not sharing slides is not “evil”, it’s normal. There are plenty of reasons why a speaker wouldn’t upload his slides. Maybe he thinks the slides themselves shouldn’t be viewed because the viewer would miss out on so much background information and explanations that it makes the talk look plain and stupid. Maybe there’s a reason like copyright restrictions on used photographs, or maybe the speaker doesn’t want to share his slides because he wants to do the same talk somewhere else next month and he doesn’t like it when people in the audience are already reading his slides before he has even started the talk.

Either way, it’s the speaker’s choice and not something that should be taken for granted. Sharing slides is a little bit extra a speaker did for you, and worth saying “thank you” for. Speakers don’t owe you anything, they usually don’t get paid (worse: they often even have to pay for their own expenses just to be at the conference) and they’ve usually put many hours into preparing their talks. All just for you! So next time, be grateful for the efforts they’ve put into it and give them a beer, instead of bitching about speakers that for whatever reason chose not to share their intellectual property with the entire world.

  1. I’ve definitely noticed that the better the talk is, the less useful slides are for people who were not there, hopefully for people who were there it does jog their memory.

    I do disagree wholeheartedly with:”Whenever a speaker doesn’t upload his slides to slideshare, God kills a kitten” for different reasons. Slideshare has terms of service that grant them rights beyond the ability to display your slides. Putting them elsewhere can be disagreement with those terms, as opposed to an attempt to make them harder to find.

  2. Sure you can do whatever you want. I sure hope that the conferences you speak at make you upload your slides. And I hate this trend to stuffing technical talk slides with pretty flickr slideshows.

    A picture can be a thousand words, it can be comic relief or whatever, but overall the slides should be able to stand on their own. I for one start thinking about stuff when I see an interesting talk. If I then ponder that thing through for a few seconds and come back to listening, all I see is a pretty picture and no way to really get into what is currently being talked about.

    Also I generally think its a good idea to keep some notes as part of the slide set and so even if you have pretty pictures instead of text content, then if you publish the slides with those comments everybody wins.

    But anyway, these days speakers at conferences seem to consider themselves professional speakers more so than technical experts. And thats alright, since these pro speakers do put on a great show and I am sure people learn a lot. But these “polished” talks are boring to me. I think I am more an unconference guy these days.

    • if slides tell the entire story, then why even have someone talking?
      Or to put it the other way around, why the hell should a speaker tell a story when the audience is busy reading his slides instead of listening.

      implementations details, syntax and screen dumps of manual pages I can look up online with the help of some links on the last slides. Getting a quick overview of what something does, how I can use it or other non-detail topics. I rather have someone tell me.

      But it will come at no surprise that I’m firmly in the “bullet points must die” camp.

      • you drive home your story twice .. once via the slides and once via the talk. note of course that the talk part therefore shouldnt consist of reading the slides to the audience.

        to me this all sounds very arrogant .. the talk is just an opportunity to give a specific topic a stage and too many speakers think that without them the audience would be helpless. sure its great of the speaker is entertaining and sure he should know more about the topic than the average attendee.

        but in the end the “additional soup” to make the talk worth attending could/should be the actual gathering of people (speaker+audience) in a physical location so that they can have a discussion. and the results of the discussion i usually try to add to the slides before i publish them. because yes being allowed to talk to an audience about a topic you care about is something to be grateful about because if you play things right you will grow at the same time too!

        • hmm. perhaps that is part of the difference then. I live in the Netherlands and on average discussions don’t really happen during talks here. I’ve never been to a conference any where else, so I wouldn’t know the difference, but I’ve heard some speakers comment on the apparent stark difference a few times.

  3. I’d amend your comments with one thing speakers don’t really want to hear – don’t just post slides, post some sort of backup material too. Sure, it’s a bit more of a hassle, but if you want people outside of the 50-100 that are in the session to get any value out of it, you should consider it.

    Some presentations don’t really need it – they’re just outlines anyway. Anyone can pick up those and run with them. Like Paul said, though, sometimes the best talks are the one with the worst slides (for non-attendees). I know it’s not always feasible, but I think it is more helpful than scenery.

    I plan on trying it out on whatever the next talk I happen to give is. It’s simpler for the note-takers out there. :)

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