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Again with the Slide Decks?!

Submitted by Cindi Trainor on October 6, 2010 - 9:04am

The primary argument that I was going to make in this post was that the content of one’s slide decks depends on the delivery method of the accompanying talk.  After seeing Eli Neiburger’s talk at last week’s Ebook Summit, I think I was wrong.  Slides that contain photos are excellent accompaniment to a talk, no matter if that talk is delivered face-to-face or remotely, a point that Eli slam-dunked.  Slides that contain nothing but bullet points are deadly, even if the speaker is scintillating.  At best, they add nothing. At worst, they are (ant)agonizing.

If you follow me on Twitter or have seen me present, you might guess that I am not a fan of speakers who favor text-heavy slide decks.  The fastest way to lose me as an audience member is to put blocks of text before my eyes.  When I’m giving you my time to hear what you have to say, I don’t want to have to read it first—or worse, try not to read ahead as you read aloud.  It’s as if we have been taught that a presentation is not a presentation without the great taste of PowerPoint.  Actually, that’s very apt: slides should be the condiment that gives a talk that little zing.  It’s the Miracle Whip, people, it’s not the bread, and it’s certainly not the meat.  It’s even possible to make and enjoy a fine sandwich without any condiments at all.  Think about that.  

Why are we compelled to write bullet points?  Don’t get me wrong; I used to do it, too, and not that long ago.  We do it because it’s what we know.  Bad slide decks are all around us.  PowerPoint is built for text.  It’s nearly impossible to avoid.  But avoid it we can.  And should.

Part of what fuels the use of text in PowerPoint is its multiple potential uses.  Print Handouts!  Print Notes!  Create PDFs! Post to Slideshare!  Hooray!  But the most effective slide decks cannot be effectively uncoupled from the talks that they accompany without additional work.  For example, beautiful slide decks posted to Slideshare without additional context connecting them to the talk from which they sprang are only that—beautiful slide decks.  They probably hold meaning for people who heard the talk, but that meaning will fade with time.  Slides posted to Slideshare with notes or accompanying audio bring something of that meaning with them.

Which brings me back around to my slightly-adjusted original argument: to each tool its purpose.  Slide decks punctuate a talk; handouts and slidecasts help us remember it.