Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren't the same thing. Attempts to merge them result in what I call the "slideument" (slide + document = slideument). Much death-by-Powerpoint suffering could be eliminated if presenters clearly separated the two in their own minds before they even started planning their talks.
Projected slides should be as visual as possible and support our point quickly, efficiently (good signal-to-noise ratio), and powerfully. The verbal content, the verbal proof, evidence, and appeal/emotion comes mostly from our spoken word. Our handout (takeaway document) is completely different. We aren't there to supply the verbal content and answer questions so we must write in a way that provides at least as much depth and scope as our live presentation. Often, however, even more depth and background information is appropriate since people can read much faster than a person can speak. Sometimes the presentation is on material found in the speaker's book or thesis, etc. In that case, the handout can be quite concise; the book or research paper is where people can go to learn more.
Do conferences encourage "slideumentation"?
By insisting that presenters submit their "PowerPoint slides" for inclusion in a future conference booklet or future download from the conference website, conference organizers force their speakers into a catch-22 situation. The presenter must say to herself: "Do I design visuals that clearly support my live talk or do I create slides that more resemble a document to be read later?" Most presenters compromise and shoot for the middle, resulting in poor supporting visuals for the live talk and a series of document-like slides filled with text and other data that do not read well (and are therefore often not read). These pseudo-documents do not read well because a series of small boxes with text and images on sheets of paper do not a document make. What results from trying to kill two birds with one stone is the "slideument." The slideument isn't effective and it isn't efficient...and it isn't pretty. Based on my trips to the US recently, the slideument appears to be a great burden on corporate America.
Above left: a slide from a presentation on gender and equality issues in Japan. Above right: a single page from the handout. Below: how a typical merging of the two might look in the form of a "slideument."
If possible, make two sets of slides
We can't fight city hall and we can't change the conference presentation guidelines quickly. But if a conference instructs us to "submit PowerPoints" to be used as documentation of our talk, one way to insure that our live presentation visuals are the best they can be is to simply use one set of simple, clear slides for the live performance and a different set for the conference booklet or webpage download. The latter could include more written explanation, helping the slides to stand better on their own. We can include written detail in the notes view of each slide; hopefully the conference will produce PDFs of our PowerPoint slides which reveal the notes along with the slide. This is not ideal, but a work around, perhaps, if the conference requires a copy of our slides.
Example from the 05 WOMMA conference
Here is an example (pdf download) of simple slides (used for the live talk) that are saved with notes to a PDF. This is not as good as a well-written document, but it's better than a typical "slideument." And the simplicity of the visuals for the live talk was preserved. The example is from Troy Young, VP of Interactive Strategy, Organic. See more presentation slides from the WOMMA conference.
Conference guidelines and corporate rules and corporate cultures concerning the "correct way" to make presentations reinforce the legitimacy of the slideument. But the slideument is an illegitimate offspring of the projected slide and the written document. By the end of the decade, let's hope that when a typical knowledge worker in New York or New Delhi asks a colleague for an informal update on the project that she gets a speedy reply in the form of a phone call, a face-to-face conversation, or a clear email message, rather than a 20-page slideument attachment so popular today. The world will be a better place.