can we get the slides from your presentation?

[Updated August 1, 2019]

This is the second most common question I receive, second only to “What do you think of ___ transit technology?” but a little ahead of “How do I become a transit planner?

While it’s usually the client’s decision, my preferred answer is a compassionate no.

In my presentations, most of the content and tone arises from what I say, not what’s on the slides, so releasing the slide deck without my voice attached carries a high risk of misunderstanding.   Slides by their nature do not convey nuance, tone, or feel.  If I prepared slides that were easy to understand without the benefit of what I’m saying, they might be fine for professional contexts but they’d be way too boring to use in a public event.
For example, I will sometimes just put up a picture and a few words that prompt me to tell a story, but I’m not going to put the three-paragraph story on a slide, and even if I wrote out the story in the notes (and even if, more implausibly, the people reviewing the slide read the notes) it wouldn’t convey the effect of me telling the story.
This may be one of those few moments when my past life as a theater director affects me.  I’m very attuned to the difference between a performance and a script or score.  If scripts accurately reflected what happens in a live performance, we wouldn’t need live theatre or live music.  PowerPoint slides are part of the script; they are not the show.
In resisting releasing my slides, I am also cognizant of Edward Tufte’s groundbreaking work on visual presentation, notably The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, in which, among other things, he blames the lazy thinking encouraged by PowerPoint for the Columbia space shuttle disaster.
The other obvious reason, which is that my slides are our intellectual property, is the least important to me, though I obviously dislike seeing my work show up without acknowledgment in things that other people produce.
So when I get this request, my response is:
  • If you are interested in a particular thing I said, there’s probably a quotable article here about that.
  • There may also be a video of my presentation.  You may be able to find it on the event sponsor’s website, and the best of my presentations are also collected here. While it has its own limitations, a good video can capture most of what actually happens in an event.
I hope that helps.

7 Responses to can we get the slides from your presentation?

  1. Alan Robinson January 14, 2015 at 10:43 am #

    Videos of your presentations are wonderful. Thank you.
    Stray slides can easily go wrong.

  2. Georg January 15, 2015 at 2:49 am #

    miniscule nitpick: wasn’t it the Columbia disaster that made NASA question powerpoint?
    Apart from that, yes, so absolutely yes. I teach at University, and there are few things more sad than extremely educated people not understanding that every medium has limitations and ideal ways of using it. And then the students believe they can achieve deep understanding through looking at the slides on some e-learning platform.

  3. Robert Wightman January 15, 2015 at 10:16 am #

    Amen on Power Point. As an educator I have had to sit through some god awful Power Point presentations and the worst offenders where senior administration, though some students ranked right up, or perhaps down, with them. If you are going to write every word on PP then don’t read it to me and don’t use every possible font and fade style going. Keep it short and simple.
    I have seen one of your presentations and the best thing about the power point part was the simplicity and clarity of them. You would probably do the world a favour if you could make some totally generic ones to show good clear design, no topic needed. Perhaps how to shoe a horse

  4. Jim January 16, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    If there are charts and tables in the PowerPoint or references and hyperlinks that are not available in any other supporting material, then yes, I want the PowerPoint. If the PowerPoint is just a bunch of photos with captions, even then, it’s just cool to review. I think your concern is I’m going to show it someone who hasn’t attended your presentation and they will take everything out of context and misinterpret it. I feel those who abuse the system in this way should not make everyone else pay a price. Likewise, I would argue, Cliff Notes are beneficial for those who do read the book because it allows them to review the book and pick up things they didn’t notice, but don’t punish those who read the book because people don’t read the book and rely completely on the Cliff Notes.

  5. Jim January 16, 2015 at 9:18 am #

    As for how to become a transit planner, I would also suggest that you can start with no college degree, begin with an entry level position in a transit planning agency, take bus surveys, file, help with stats, and work your way up and attend transit planning courses (including Jarrett’s), and wait for the old planners to retire. I hate to say this but in most agencies, transit planning is not that intellectually rigorous. (I have a degree in Economics.) You can make it intellectually rigorous, but for the most part, if you give me a high school grad, I could turn him into a highly competent transit planner in a couple years.

  6. Eric January 18, 2015 at 7:04 am #

    “Working your way up” in transit sounds like a very precarious career path to me. A city of a couple million people only needs a small group of people in its transit planning office, but there are far more people in the city who are passionate about transit. So chances are you’ll never have a steady job.

  7. Adam Bockler December 21, 2015 at 4:31 pm #

    Thanks for your article about whether or not to share your slides from a presentation. You make a great point about how it might not be in your best interest to share them with others. One thing to consider is if you used any audio or visual aspects are are copyrighted. If other individuals use these, you can get some serious fines and lawsuits to come your way. You can send specific aspects of a presentation, but handing over the whole thing is usually a bad idea.

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