Presentation Zen – Slideshare’s Nemesis?

I’ve been thinking a lot about powerpoint styles lately… Fall conference season is soon approaching and I have to build a bunch of presentations. However, I recently read Slide:ology and now I’m tormented:

Do I make it useful or pretty?
Do I go for presentation eye candy or pithy leave behinds?

If you’ve read any of the Powerpoint philosophical treatises (e.g. Presentation Zen or Slide:ology – both great books), you’ve learned that MUCH less is more when it comes to slides. Use lots of images. Use few words (there’s a range of opinion between 5 words and 3 bullet points). If you’ve perused presentations by some of the conference gurus out there, you’ll see that a lot of them are largely just an image with a handful of words at most. Picture of a tree, picture of some birds, picture of a frustrated office worker…

Here’s a slide from a talk by content management guru James Robertson on succeeding at collaboration I found on Slideshare:


This is it for tip #8. Lovely image, but unless you were at the talk, you have no way of knowing what fantastic insight James might have had around gardening in collaboration tools.

Here’s another on taxonomy governance that follows the 3 bullet rule:


I could certainly not use this to help craft my own taxonomy governance model…

I don’t mean to pick on these two…A lot of presentations are like this these days… sure, nice to look at, but how can it be meaningful to someone who wasn’t there?

It’s really a question of the purpose of slides as presentation aids vs. artifacts of thought leadership. I spend a lot of time looking through Slideshare and I come across these highly visual presentations that have little content pretty often. When I do see one, I always think to myself – what was the point of sharing this here? What could I possibly extract from this presentation without having being witness to the original presentation? I have the same reaction at conference presentations… when I see a great speaker with nice slides but notice that the handout is the same glossy, image-rich but text-bare deck, I’m disappointed. I’d like to sit and listen, but now I have to write down (or Twitter) every other thing that is said so that I have materials to reference when I invariably forget the content and need to refer back to it in 8 months.

Doesn’t this style of presentation dilute the whole point of Slideshare? How can we have pretty slides and yet still have good leave-behind materials that can be shared with others to disseminate important ideas?

It’s a matter of balance and context. Clearly, when it comes to client presentations and deliverables, it is definately more about the leave behind material than the presentation (though I try to present as dynamically as possible – no slide reading here). The deliverables live on in perpetuity in clients’ Sharepoint workspaces and stand for my work, so they must represent.

Training materials are an interesting case… I recently had to create a slide deck for training artists and creative planners at a greeting card company on taxonomy principles and terms. Given the audience, the deck had to be attractive, but at the same time the deck was going to be used as leave-behind material, so it couldn’t just be images. I ended up creating a slide deck that was lighter on content & used more visual examples and created a separate manual for the more texty elements like definitions and guidelines.

When it comes to conference materials, well… I’d like to be a guru a-la TED and present glossy slides that make people ooh and ahh and think simultaneously. But, given that I share my materials on our site and in Slideshare, I want the slides to give people enough meat to guide their work and jog their ideas.

So I ask all of you presenters out there: if you’re going to post on Slideshare or give your slides as handouts, keep in mind that we need a bit more than a pretty picture.

Feel free to share your powerpoint dos & don’ts in the comments!

One Response

  1. Hi Stephanie
    My take on this is that slides which are designed as an aid to a live presentation should be very different to stand-alone slides.

    And I also think that the handout for a live presentation should be different to the slide deck. One way of making the handout is to use the “notes” view of PowerPoint. In the Notes pane write in full sentences the textual information which supports the slide. Then print out the slides as Notes, and you’ll have a handout which has both the slides and supporting information.

    Another way of designing slides is to use the Assertion-Evidence format developed by Professor Michael Alley

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