Slide Stress?

When you give a presentation or lecture, do attendees have to scramble for your slides? Do they request/demand a copy of your powerpoint or keynote deck, and do you willingly provide one?  Do you distribute slides before or after your talk? What does the demand-for-slides say about your presentation?

This week I read a student’s review of one of my classes and in response to the question, “What was the most challenging aspect of the course for you?” they commented, “Prof Matrix’s slides are very attractive and zen, but you have to write down everything yourself” — because the slides are very text-light. I confess, I wondered why this student thought it was unreasonable to take notes in class. But the comment is significant insofar as it points to trends in the way we prefer to consume information in the digital age.

It’s true that many (most?) profs and presenters use what Garr Reynolds calls “slideuments” — combination slides and documents. Text heavy and filled with charts, when done well these slides do double duty on the screen and as a useful takeaway or study aid. When they are not done well, this design style inspires the phrase “death by powerpoint.”

But my slides are, to quote my student, very “zen” — inspired by Steve Jobs keynotes and by Garr Reynolds’ book Presentation Zen. In other words, the decks contain mostly mnemonic images instead of bullet points. I mention this because it means my slides do not contain the key content of my talks — in order to get that, you would have to take notes.

I love sharing my slides after presentations, and I am encouraged by the feedback and interest of attendees in my slides. But as a rule, I do not send or distribute slides in advance. Maybe this is because I think spoilers reduce engagement, and I think the concept of release windows has merit (I am a film prof after all!). Unfortunately it causes event managers anxiety because they want to avoid technology meltdowns on the big day (understandable) and because they want to distribute slides to attendees in advance (which I oppose). However I always post my decks online post-event via Slideshare.

Why are we (students, professionals, speakers, event planners) so anxious about/interested in having a copy of each others’ slides? Yesterday I chatted with another professional speaker about this issue and we commiserated a bit and compared notes, but arrived at exactly zero solutions or strategies to calm slide stress that results when decks are not distributed up-front.

I then went looking online for other perspectives and ideas, and ran across this very articulate observation, totally worth sharing:

Sharing slides is a gesture. Something extra the speaker does especially for you. Not sharing slides is not “evil”, it’s normal. There are plenty of reasons why a speaker wouldn’t upload his slides. Maybe he thinks the slides themselves shouldn’t be viewed because the viewer would miss out on so much background information and explanations that it makes the talk look plain and stupid. Maybe there’s a reason like copyright restrictions on used photographs, or maybe the speaker doesn’t want to share his slides because he wants to do the same talk somewhere else next month and he doesn’t like it when people in the audience are already reading his slides before he has even started the talk. ~ Harrie Verveer

I agree with Verveer that distributing slides to attendees should be an optional gesture and not a given. I also agree that attendees do expect a copy of the deck, and if they don’t get it they will be disappointed in the presenter (or prof). The result? Less than stellar performance reviews.

We want the slides before presos, and we want them after. Surely this has everything to do with info-dense slideument design practices, but also because it seems (to borrow an observation from my student) we do not want to take notes. I must admit I feel similarly sometimes.

I wonder what slide dissemination strategy would satisfy attendees, speakers, and event planners?

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About Sidneyeve Matrix

Professor, blogger, trendwatcher. I share research & news about digital culture & commerce on Google+, Pinterest, and Twitter.


  1. Ah, the old dilemma: prepare a slide deck to support your presentation or a slide deck to support learning?

    I prefer that students concentrate on what I am saying rather than scramble to take notes. So, I prepare 2 slides decks: one for the presentation itself and another one to handout. The first one will use images, videos, data, etc… to present the key issues or concepts. Then, I sum up the key points in text heavy slides. I don’t really go through the text slides because we would have covered those points in the previous (image-led) discussion. But they are there to support students’ revision later on. The second set of slides (the handout) us a reduced version of the main slide deck, without the images, videos and, of course, copyright material.

    I find that providing handouts with the detail makes for more relaxed discussions because participants are not worried about taking notes. It also helps non-native English speakers.

    • Ana thanks so much, that is a GREAT strategy. Much appreciated.
      It is obvious you care about your students, as you go the extra mile to support them.
      Very inspiring.
      ~ Sidneyeve

  2. Hi Sidneyeve,

    Yes, there does seem to be this stress around “I need to capture on paper every single word that you put out there or I’ve somehow missed something, but oh, could you do all the work and write it up for me?” when it comes to presentations. I prefer that if there are going to be slides, that they be full of impact to illustrate the point (like a hand gesture) rather than putting a block of “book text” on screen.

    I’m trying an experiment tomorrow for the first time. Going to entirely skip powerpoint in my presentation. Have prepared a page on my website with links to all the research that I used in preparing my talk that might be helpful for others to pull stats and tidbits out of. Planning on handing out a card with my name, contact info and the link to the online resource. We’ll see if it leads to stress or relief and engagement from the audience.


    • Hi Christina,
      Thanks for this comment and sharing your strategy! I think the webpage resource roundup is a great idea.
      And you raise SUCH a good point about the need to “capture everything” to ensure that nothing is missed.


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  2. To my fellow profs & professional speaker friends, do you share powerpoint slides? cc: @markwschaefer @SouthsideAdguy

  3. Slide stress: When you give a presentation, do you share your powerpoint?

  4. RT @sidneyeve: Slide stress: When you give a presentation, do you share your powerpoint?

  5. RT @sidneyeve: Slide stress: When you give a presentation, do you share your powerpoint?

  6. Jack Le Doux says:

    “@sidneyeve: Slide stress: When you give a presentation, do you share your powerpoint?” | goeie vraag!

  7. Slide stress: When you give a presentation, do you share your powerpoint?

  8. Kira Campo says:

    RT @sidneyeve: Slide stress: When you give a presentation, do you share your powerpoint?

  9. Death by #PowerPoint from a professor's perspective. Have slide data-dumps created lazy students? @sidneyeve

  10. Peter Watts says:

    Death by #PowerPoint from a professor's perspective. Have slide data-dumps created lazy students? @sidneyeve

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