Stop asking for slides in advance

| 3 min read

I'm giving a talk next month and was asked by the organiser to send my slides to them no later than two weeks before the event. Further to my tweet on the subject, I decided to write a quick post to explain why this is such an anti-pattern.

I'm not a great fan of slides, but am not against them either. I use them sometimes, and on the occasions when I do, each slide will be simple, perhaps with a picture or diagram, or with a few key words.

A slide from one of my talks at SAP Inside Track Oslo in 2019

Sometimes, only when absolutely necessary, some slides will have more detail on them.

A slide deck is not the talk content. A slide deck is there to aid the talk, to enhance it, to provide a bit of context (or light relief) for those attending. They're there to support what's being said, to underpin the message.

That's why, sometimes, I don't use slides at all. I just show stuff on my computer, fumble around and wave my arms about wildly. Anything to get the point across, to help explain what I'm trying to say, to be more effective in landing the concepts that I'm attempting to convey.

I often am modifying (I was going to say "improving" but that is up for debate) the content of my talk right up to the day, the hour of when I'm going to give it. It's all about being as up to date as possible, and maintaining the balance between spontaneity and the solid core of a story. Naturally, I'll adjust any supporting slides as I make such modifications.

So asking for slides in advance is entirely inappropriate. It feels like being asked to submit a speech in written form, verbatim and immutable.

It's an anti-pattern. In these days of, you know, the Internet and the Web, it's not even necessary. We all have the wherewithall to host content and point to it. The technologies required have existed since the early 1990s, at least. In other words, stop trying to gather slide decks as if they still existed on transparent foils that were presented on overhead projectors and then photocopied and distributed via mail after the event.

An overhead projector and screen Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This anti-pattern reminds me of another pre-Web process still extant in today's age of the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I wrote about this, the depressing sight of the requirement to upload one's CV (résumé) to a server on LinkedIn.

The upload form on LinkedIn

To make matters worse, the only filetypes allowed are Word and PDF. Seriously? (See Monday morning thoughts: rethinking like the web for more details on this).

Anyway, this is 2022. I wish event organisers would notice that and stop asking for slides in advance. Why do they do it? I suspect it's because it's just how they've always done it, and have not been told otherwise, and haven't really thought about what a poor process it is with respect to their speakers. So perhaps this blog post will help.

And in the same way that the Word and PDF filetype restriction makes a bad situation even worse in the LinkedIn CV upload anti-pattern, asking your speakers to use a specific PowerPoint template is making a big assumption and also turning a bad situation worse. What if your speaker doesn't have or use PowerPoint? Do you have a template for another slides tool? What about Apple's Keynote? Google Slides? And I know this is niche, but what about terminal-based slide presentation software? It's what I use these days. Are you going to provide your branding on templates for all these tools?

So, dear event organisers, I exhort you. Please stop asking for slides in advance, treat your speakers like grown-ups and respect their content creation process. Thank you.