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Conferences/talks and the benefits of good slides

april 2011

Yesterday I saw an interesting conversation develop over Twitter between @lornajane, @stuherbert and @mgdm (amongst others, they're just the 3 I follow in that discussion). The discussion was centred around slides published after talks have been given - eg on SlideShare or wherever. Lorna kicked proceedings off with this quote:

From there, it spiralled into the benefits of publishing online, and whether to reformat slides specifically for non-attendees, or whether to design your slides so that they work both online & offline. I'm going to sit on the fence here initially (although I may fall off later ;-)) as I can appreciate both sides of things. Although the last two times I presented anything in public (2006 and 2004) I don't think SlideShare existed ;-) so I already feel a bit behind the curve...!

So, I'll be initially playing devil's advocate here. If you're presenting a talk, and as Lorna refers to above (and subsequently) you have written your slides specifically for that talk, then great. They can provide added value to the presentation - everything from humourous cartoons that illustrate a point, to background images that convey a message, to key points referred to and so on. They may even contain the really important chunks of code that you mention, or a list of best practices for whatever at the end. Overall, this contributes to a great talk - personally, I wouldn't want to sit in front of a presenter who turned around and read the slides word for word. I want to hear a presentation from someone who engages with the audience, who presents their talk in an accessible manner and so on.

However, if you're going to publish the slides afterwards, I don't see much value in publishing slides that are the "added value" slides (for want of a better word) mentioned above, that don't really contain that much "offline" content. Sure, for those people who attended, it will make sense, but for those of us who couldn't attend for whatever reason, they serve no purpose aside from making people think "I wonder what the rest of the talk was like". A high-profile PHP framework conference that took place recently had some slide sets published that were exactly this kind. I think I saw one that consisted entirely of images, with the discoverable content being left as an an exercise for the reader. No point publishing that at all. Shame becuase I've seen other slides of that speaker (and seen them present in person) and they've been great. Link to follow when I can find it...

One comment also mentioned about the usefulness of the slides with respect to discussing with colleagues. I'm all for this - one talk by Kris Wallsmith about using Symfony in the cloud I've referenced in a few discussions with work people, and indeed Lorna's web services talk from PHP UK 2010 I've mentioned a lot. These slides contain content that a non-attendee can gleam useful information from. I think I'm falling off the fence here somewhat...

As a side note, I would say that if the conferences are being recorded on video and these clips are made accessible afterwards, this obviously increases the value of the slides. At least I can see the references made to the slides by the presenter, regardless of the amount of content. This is a Good Thing!

To summarise - I think that if you can structure your slides so that they contain some useful content for non-attendees, whilst keeping your attending audience engaged, then do so and these are the slides I'd love to see published. If you're going to keep the slides specifically for the purposes of the talk, and don't include relevant offline content then I don't see the value in publishing. Somewhere in the middle is debatable ground I feel, and it depends on the amount of relevant content included. I have a feeling this post sounds a bit ranty at the moment, which is entirely unintentional. I may edit it slightly at a later date! Regardless, I'd love to hear opinions on this :-)

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Rich Sage

Hello, I'm Rich! Some things I like:

  • High quality code
  • TDD and BDD
  • Payment/e-commerce
  • Climbing
  • Lots of music