(Rant) Difference between good and useful slides

Fortunately or unfortunately the presentations tend to be more and more popular sources of information. Be it a new library, language or future direction of a project the only possible way is either attend some presentation or watch it later.

At the same time people learn how to make good presentation. By good presentation it is usually meant a presentation that keeps people engaged and interested. While the advice often vary from person to person some rules usually have similar direction.

  • Avoid reading slides, use short sentences (or even not full sentences)
  • Avoid too many slides
  • Avoid too many data on one slide (in effect speak a lot more then there is on slides)

Later on the presentation may be published on the internet for anyone to view, or even published as main or only documentation. Since bandwidth can be far from unlimited often only the slides will be uploaded… leading to situation when no one who hasn’t attended the original one has no chance of decrypting what the person meant. Yeah, sure it might have nice pictures and supplemented presentation well, keeping audience focused and entertained, but guessing what does a picture of a baby with title “Happy user of program X” actually mean is well beyond of my ability. If the slides are published the game changes – it is no longer the case that slides are supplemental but they become primary source and the presentation primary context is missing from “good presentation”.

Another popular method, which is used if allowed by bandwidth, is to upload video from presentation. If the presentation was “good” then it might have a better chance of being understood then slides alone. However this method is not without it’s own drawbacks as well. During search for something (be it a library, existing research etc.) the skim reading through slides takes 1 minute and gives at which point it can be decided if it is useful or not – task which is much longer during 2h presentation. Similarly listening is much longer tasks then reading, which makes it much more time wasting (it might also depend if someone is oriented on hearing or seeing). Finally the videos are not searchable with current technology. If I know that something was mentioned in the article searching is as easy as pressing Ctrl+F – this is not the case with videos which depend on remembering structure and searching for right moment. Even if the videos was divided into chapters, which is a rare case, this will not help find anything that was say a side remark (say how to set up the environment if it wasn’t mentioned in introduction).

It looks like that the problem is that the rules are meant to be used during good presentation and later on the slides are reused on a web. Given that they become de-facto documents it might be better to have slightly worse presentations if it means better documentation.

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