publishing slides from your talk

August 6th, 2008

I'm extremely pleased that there are so many talks published online these days. They compose a rich buffet of interesting topics for anyone who can reach google video/youtube. I see it as a big step forward in our global communication that you can not only read what people have to say, but also hear it directly from them. It also raises the value of all these conferences that organize the talks dramatically. Not only their ability of attracting speakers the following year, but also their function in our society as "broadcasters" of knowledge.

Unfortunately, some conferences, even big ones, don't publish the talks. Instead, they sometimes publish the slides. That's too bad, but they have their reasons I suppose. I guess people consider this a second best, you can't see the talk but well you have the slides, so you have the "content". Well, that depends on the slides. I've always been of the opinion that the slides should be able to speak for themselves in case someone didn't see the talk. But speakers have different styles.

OSCON 2008 only published slides, let's see some examples. (Heads up, that page is "sponsored by Microsoft", whatever that means. Perhaps they wrote the html.)

Some use them as a "visual aid" for their talk, and consider the whole thing as more of a performance art. Now, I'm not down on talks like this, because the talks are sometimes quite good. It's just that the slides are fairly worthless on their own. The Mac/Rails crowd seems to be all over this minimalistic slides idea: ruby web frameworks, capistrano. There's very little content in these slides, some of them are just single words on a page. A particularly egregious example is a talk on revision control. What is the point of publishing slides like this?

One guy who both gives good talks and writes good slides is Alex Martelli. Compare his slides on code reviews. Granted, if you don't understand what they mean, there isn't much to do about it, but I think this is pretty much what you can hope to achieve with slides alone. They offer real value even without commentary.

Now, there is a real dilemma about how to write slides effectively. I have agonized over this for a while and I don't have an answer yet. And I'm guilty of writing bad slides. I gave a talk a while back which was quite well received, but the slides are not good: dynamic python. The content is there, but there is no context to it.

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2 Responses to "publishing slides from your talk"

  1. akahn says:

    The minimal slides that you associate with Apple and Ruby on Rails is really an effective presentation style. Too much data/text on slides makes the audience focus almost exclusively on the slides rather than the talk, which is what is important. I think a good solution here, for when the slides are available but not the talk, is using the notes field extensively. The slide can have one word or a few words, but if the presenter used the notes field of their presentation program as an outline for the speech that corresponds to that slide, then people online can get a lot more out of it.

  2. numerodix says:

    I agree, but I think the problem with that is that the "notes" functionality in the software people use to write slides isn't very good, so people never use it.

    But apart from that, you're giving yourself more work, because effectively you have to write two documents, one visually useful and another with the actual content. Unless you use the notes while giving the talk or something, otherwise I don't see why people would bother, it's just more work.

    So from a pragmatic point of view, writing useful slides that are suboptimal as a presentation tool is a reasonable compromise I think.