Saturday, October 3, 2009

YAPC presentation styles

One personal comment I got from the YAPC::EU::09 Survey results was : "Split slides so they contain less text". Well, while attending several talks, I felt exactly the reverse : I wished the speaker had condensed slides so they contain more text !

Finding the right balance is really a difficult question. It is true that I have a tendency to fill slides with a lot of material, in order to exploit complementary channels : while my voice gives the general idea, or emphasizes a particular point, the slide can convey more detailed information, and people in the audience can grab more content if they are especially interested in one particular aspect.

Probably I like this style because it corresponds to my own way of learning. When I was at school, at a time where beamers were rare and expensive, most teachers used physical transparencies. Some of them had the habit of putting the transparency and immediately hiding it with a piece of paper; then they would progressively uncover the slide, one point at a time. I hated that habit, because I was forced to think at the same speed as the teacher. If I see the global picture at once, I can immediately choose which points seem more important to me, and focus on them, maybe already preparing a question, or think back at what was said before, or anticipate what is probably going to be said next. But if the teacher dictates the rhythm, and decides to pause for 5 minutes on a point which is important to him, but not to me, or decides to quickly skip over a detail which I need to elaborate in my head, then I'm in trouble.

The modern way of uncovering slides one point at a time is the Takahashi style (lots of slides, very few words, huge font), which seems much praised in the Perl community. I must admit that I was quite impressed the first time I saw a presentation in this style : it is quite efficient for a lightning talk, or to create some suspense at a particular point in a presentation. However, if many speakers adopt this style just out of fashion, without deliberate thinking about which effect they want to achieve, then at the end of the day it becomes quite boring, and I feel like having watched several hours of videoclips. After such a day I don't really remember what were the highlights.


  1. This reminds me how many writers try to turn everything into a story. Yes - I advised to tell stories myself - but it is not something automatic, it might be useful for inspiring people and motivating them - but on other occasions it only adds drivel you need to wade through to get to the point. Professionals are the worst in that respect.

  2. I like takahashi because it helps me to focus on what I talk about, I ramble less, I don't digress, I don't get stuck reading my own slides, etc.

    One of the comments I got was that the it seemed like I was "just reading off my slides". It might look like I am being lazy or something to an audience member but I spent just as much time thinking about the slides, editing them, timing them, etc.

    A good flow is the best thing to keeping people interested and having a story, or concise slides, having an engaged audience that steers the talk, or just being a talented performer are all things that can contribute to this, but could also make the flow worse if they are unnatural.

    I know that if I were to present with long content rich slides I would get lost in my own slides (I read slowly and presenting doesn't come naturally for me), and the end result would be a disasterous talk with useful slides, instead of a slightly boring but otherwise OK talk.

    There will always be someone who is unhappy with your presentation style because it doesn't suit their taste. But there's also a long tail of audience members who did not complain ;-)