"Slideuments" and the catch-22 for conference speakers
April 05, 2006
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.
How to run a useless conference (Seth Godin)
The sound of one room napping (Presentation Zen)
Resources for scientific presentations
Guy Kawasaki's tips for presenters
Thank you for reminding me I am the cause of my own problems. As a student I keep having presentations with way too many power points, each of them containing way too much content. Of course, making the courses boring and not being efficient as course material afterwards.
On the other hand, I organized a conference for the last 3 years and posted the speakers' slides on the website.
I feel so bad right now. I'll try to do better in the future.
Posted by: Louis-Philippe Huberdeau | April 06, 2006 at 11:22 AM
great article..I`ll try to put it in use by reducing the content of my Power point presentations...
Posted by: Pictures of Dragons | April 06, 2006 at 07:53 PM
Inspired by this site I did a post with two downloads a while ago. One is my presentation and the other is the PDF that I hand out:
How to present the quite technical issue of digital images and how on earth they can be stored as digital data.
Posted by: eirikso | April 07, 2006 at 08:27 PM
So we give these talks on how and what is the best way to do a PPT. Then we include some clever anecdotes on why and when we had to suffer through a terrible presentation, however we do not speak about the who. Not everyone is meant to stand in front of a crowd and speak. Not everyone has the gift of gab. I can teach a T-Rex to fetch with his mouth, but I cannot teach him to be a good painter using his hands.
Long ago, the storyteller in a tribe was the heart and soul of that clan. It did not go to just anyone. It was an art form, and was an important position in that society. It often had important pieces of information involved in that it kept the clan safe, warm, and fed.
Maybe we should teach people that not everyone is a teacher?
Posted by: Onceuponatime | October 13, 2015 at 07:29 AM