Don't Give Out Your Slides When Speaking

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"Can I have your slides?" is probably the most common question a presenter gets asked. Here’s why you should never give them out…

If there is one rule of presenting that I constantly see broken, it’s the one where a presenter gives out their slides whenever they are asked. There are two very valid reasons why this is a bad idea:

  1. It means your slides had too much content on them. Lots and lots of headings, sub-headings and way too many bullet-points. This can only mean one thing: you wrote a document in PowerPoint and were reading your slides. Your slides aren’t really slides at this point: it’s a document. Your "slides" had so much content on them, that people would like a copy for future reference – the same way they refer back to a good white paper or article from a magazine.
  2. It means that people will misinterpret what you meant. If your slides follow more of the Presentation Zen and Slide:ology model – great images and beautiful design – then odds are that people want it, but will have a very difficult time being able to recall the true context of your slides.

Here’s one way to make everybody happy:

Never give out your slides. It’s not socially acceptable to do this, but – in the end – you are doing your audience a favour. What you should do is prepare and be comfortable handing out Speaking Notes. Speaking Notes is a document that walks people through your presentation (it can be done as a written document or in note form), and it has all of the content that you presented (the quotes, the stats, links to websites, Blogs, books mentioned, etc…). Speaking Notes can be as extensive or brief as you see fit. It should include the presentation name, date of presentation, your contact information and everything that you spoke about. It’s a document that will add value to your presentation, and it’s a document that frees you from presenting everything in bullet-point form or having to respond to emails weeks after your presentation about what you meant when you used a cute dog eating flowers to explain the power of Twitter.

Personally, creating Speaking Notes prior to even building the PowerPoint deck has always been a great way to organize my thoughts, play with the flow and figure out if the content I am presenting is worth the slide, or is best left to just being said live. Finally, it also allows to me structure the content and define a style.

Never give out your slides. Always give out robust and complete speaking notes.


  1. Mitch,
    I really like the idea of creating “Speaking Notes” before jumping into your slide-deck for a presentation. To be honest, I kinda build my presentation, make notes in PowerPoint, then revisit and make changes.
    I usually offer hand-outs in lieu of offering the full-on powerpoint. It makes it easier for people to follow along, at least in my opinion.

  2. Great advice Mitch. I’ve recently begun doing this for my last three speaking engagements and the difference has been incredibly evident. Not only are people more engaged with the presentation, but the follow up questions are more informed and in depth, rather than trying to clarify what the bullet points are alluding to.
    Think back to any time you’ve been to a presentation. How often have you gone back to read over horrendously vague pages of PowerPoint slides. My guess is never.
    Do your audience a favour, and share your knowledge in multiple formats. I preface my talk by saying: “what you have in your hands are essentially my speaking notes. Photocopy them, distribute them, use them as needed. If you are so passionate and knowledgeable after what you are about to hear that you can give this talk yourself, then I’ve done my job well.”

  3. You’ve given me something to think about, Mitch. So, what about slides that have been uploaded to SlideShare? Should I delete them, or are those already a write off? And in the case of SlideShare, if we shouldn’t give our slides, is the real potential of this service more like a YouTube where you craft a presentation just for that medium in the hopes that it goes viral?
    I’d be interested to know your thoughts on these…

  4. Very clear simple thinking on sharing slides. Indeed the best presenters use slides as cues to capture the emotional context of what is being presented, not the information per say.
    Also, the relevance of the information on a slide can be out of context when taken out of the room / conference or be completely out of date and irrelevant just a few weeks later.
    Just consider the value of most blog posts even a month after they are written. Many become stale, as do presentations.
    The idea of protecting my information isn’t even the remotest consideration. Rather one of the most important considerations conference planners need to make is how can I get this information beyond these walls Now. Keeping data reserved for attendees is a big mis-step as the value of any event is meeting people and enjoying conversations away from the stage.
    By sharing/streaming content, attendees can always go back to the trough to get your presentation once again.
    Thank you for re-emphasizing these great resources too.

  5. Another good reason not to share your slides: You may not have the right to. If you’ve used stock photography in your presentation, you have likely licenced it for your own presentation use only, not for distributing freely to others.
    And if you’re going to hand out notes, do it AFTER you speak, not before or during. You want the audience focused on your message and its pacing and surprises, not your notes.
    See you at CAPS next month, Mitch.

  6. Funny you should mention SlideShare, because I started off my Blog post writing about them and then deleting it after going to their site and seeing this copy:
    “Upload and share your PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and Adobe PDF Portfolios on SlideShare. Share publicly or privately. Add audio to make a webinar.”
    So, if all you’re doing is uploading the slides, then I’ve said my peace in the Blog post above. If you’re using SlideShare as they describe it, then it is one of the coolest/best presentation supplements out there 🙂

  7. I actually disagree with this (sorry!).
    I not only give my slides out post-presentation, I post them on I also craft my presentations so that they will not only show well during the talk, but transmogrify onto slideshare as well (without me speaking). Sure, this may not meet to the slide:ology standards (however to note, Gore’s famous presentation done by Duarte does translate onto slideshare…it’s filled with stats and great charts), but it gets me a huge number of gigs, mentions, sells books and drives traffic to my site. In fact, I get MORE referrals for business and speaking gigs from my slideshows on Slideshare than I do from my blog, Twitter, WOM or otherwise.
    I’ve gotten great reviews from my transferrable slides (a small number of nay-sayers exist, but they are all cult of Presentation Zen ;)). I’ve tried both. I used to do the nice photos only, which worked well in front of audiences (people would comment on how beautiful the photos were), but got zero response when I posted them. Now I mix it up. I use gorgeous photos to display concepts PLUS I put some bullet points, quotes, charts and verbage in to keep the online audience engaged. This has been super successful for me.
    I don’t think there is ONE way to do anything. Personal style is personal style. Some people will hate the way I present because they have an idea of what a presenter should be like and slideshows should look like. Other people will love my presentations because they learn something and align with my personal style. I’m not Seth Godin or Lawrence Lessig (both dynamic presenters), but I have elements of both of their styles in my presentations.
    The only rules I have in presentations is to figure out ‘what is the story here?’ and make sure I craft the message/case studies to the audience I’m speaking to. Otherwise, Slide:ology and Presentation Zen are lovely guidelines, but not the rules I live by. 😉

  8. It sounds like you figured out a good enough hybrid where the slides ARE the notes too Tara… you’re lucky. You’re right, there are no rules, but there are guidelines and I believe that if you’re presenting by reading bullet-points, it’s not much of a presentation. And, if you’re presenting by using images so people remember stories, that too is great, but the audience will need/want some notes/info post presentation (the extra meat) – so don’t send them a PDF of pictures when you can give them speaking notes that have both substance and links.
    As for SlideShare… my thoughts are above in response to CT’s comment.

  9. I suppose it depends on your style.
    If your slides are the cool/trendy style that help the flow of your arguments without spelling out your arguments, then the speaking notes are necessary.
    If your slides include the important points of your content, I don’t see why you shouldn’t share the presentation.
    I understand your argument about too many bullet points but I think it boils down the the presenter’s skills. If you can engage the audience without them sticking to reading and writing down all these numerous bullets and have them hanging to your words, then you’re doing a great job whatever the number of bullets you are using.

  10. I personaly use SlideShare sometimes private, sometimes public but always in view mode only, (in some cases I made a Quicktime movie of the presentation used in a training setting using Screenflow)

  11. My business partner and I are just entering the world of presentations and workshops, so this is valuable and timely advice. When I hear someone’s presentation, it’s much more enjoyable if I don’t have to scramble to take notes while they’re presenting, but as you said, just getting the PPT copy is often useless. Letting your audience know you will provide them with Speaking Notes so they can sit back, enjoy and actually listen, is a great idea.
    Julie Thompson

  12. You continue to be my hero, Mitch. I can not stand “slideuments” as Garr Reynolds calls them in Presentation Zen. What’s the point of presenting if your audience can just read slides?
    And I totally agree that when posting slides there are 2 parts — the slides (visuals) themselves and then the speakers notes that help give the visuals some context. Nothing, however, can replace the actual speaker’s delivery — it’s this “performance” that enhances the value of the presentation (if the speaker is good at presenting).

  13. I always give out both slides and lecture notes, and post them for the whole world on my Web site, because I encourage other teachers to use them to teach their own classes. And I see students who like to study from the PowerPoints on a computer.
    I agree about lecture notes being much better than printing out PowerPoint slides as a handout. But that’s not why people want my slides–they want them to re-use them in later presentations of their own.

  14. 80% of my slides are photographs I have personally taken to emphasis specific points. I create a word document (with text and some accompanying photographs), then convert and post a PDF version on my website for attendees of my public seminars. Look under resources at for an example. For corporate clients, i customize and email the PDF as a service followip.

  15. I couldn’t agree more, Mitch…
    Too many people use the “people will want the slides after the presentation and I don’t want them to get confused” line to give them license to add bulletpoints and overly annotated charts.
    The reality is that few are doing this for their audience takeaway – they’re doing it to ensure their slides perform as a teleprompter. Sneeky and of no value to either the presenter or the audience.
    We’re recommend creating a “Slideument” (horrible phrase but it says what it does” as a handout or, even better, a download from your website afterwards.

  16. Hey there Mitch,
    Humbled by the shout out, thanks! This is the exact same advice I give. Speakers should never distribute their native file but should PDF the notes view. That way they have the visual mnemonic device they’ll remember from the presentation and have the notes of what you said. Another reason to PDF it and not send slides out is that if you licensed images, they’re only yours to use. The people receiving your file should technically re-license the images but instead our files procreate so quickly no one knows who owns the rights.
    More food for thought.

  17. Thanks for your thoughts on this topic, Mitch. I definitely agree that if someone can figure out 90% of your presentation just by reading your bullet points, you’re not doing it right.
    What I’ve started doing in the last year is be sparse with text on the slides, and use CC images to help tell the story. Then, I add my notes (what would have been my bullet points, in years past) in the PPT notes pane. When I upload my slides to SlideShare, people can see my presentation and also have benefit of my notes for it. I’ve also created slidecasts for a few presentations, uploading the audio as well. (See

  18. I completely agree with Tod Maffin and Mitch that you shouldn’t give out slides, for a wide range of reasons. Speakers’ Notes or a handout are the best approach, and I agree, only after you’re done. It’s a great way to get business cards from people after a speech.
    Now, let me throw a hand grenade.
    Who says you need to have slides when you give a talk?
    There’s a lot to be said for NOT having slides, and keeping them focused on you.
    If you have to show something, what about show-and-tell? Use a live Internet connection and one of the cloud resources to hold your bookmarks, and then use the web interactively but sparingly to illustrate your talk. The audience will appreciate that you didn’t use PPT.

  19. I would cringe when someone (and they always do…) asked me for my slides after a talk. For one, I’ve gotten burned in the past with having that person distribute them regardless of the copyright message on every slide. When a person in an organization freely passes around my slides within their organization, that pretty much kills any chance of getting hired to do a seminar/talk for them. As far as they are concerned they have the info already, for free. Not the case since my slides are more background filler than information.
    What I’ve done now is take some of the higher level ideas, tweak the slides, and turn it into webinars/videos available at my website (or via private link for companies that have paid for me to speak) – complete with my audio. This way they are still getting the slides, but I’m also getting my ideas across in the context I intended them.
    For seminars, I prepare workbooks that have any important bullet points and references from the slides, but also include a lot more. It makes a great reference point for after the class, and my slides don’t get too cluttered.

  20. [disclaimer: i’m an investor in slideshare]
    i tend to agree with tara… i just use one version, and my slides are full of too much content, wild colors, too many fonts, crappy graphics, etc. but that said, usually most people find them useful whether i’m talking or not.
    this is actually my design goal, since the majority of people who see my presentations on slideshare — over 250,000 and counting — are way more than i could ever reach in person. while i think it’s always important to speak & present something in addition to your slide materials, i also think it’s important to realize that your slides live on far after the single event of your talk. and even if you’re on the talk circuit regularly, unless you are one of a very small and extremely famous group of speakers, your slides will likely be more famous than you are.
    still, i think your idea of slide notes (or maybe a workbook perhaps?) is a great one, and i’ll now add that to the list of ideas for enhancing my bag of tricks. so thanks!

  21. I believe you should never distribute your handouts before you speak. People are there to see and hear you. Give them you handouts at the beginning and some will leave while others will read ahead and not pay attention to you.
    What you hand out is a much debated topic. From my experiences, your handouts must represent your presentation as best as possible in your (the speaker’s) absence. Thus, using the Notes version is a great way to use the full effect of visuals and get your written message across so there is no misinterpretation. That is the key – avoid all possibilities of misinterpretation.
    When preparing your notes version, prepare them in a way such that the most important person who was to be in the audience could not make it and all they get is your speaker notes version. You would definitely want them to completely understand your message. A notes version is a great way to do that.
    An alternative is slideshare with narration. Or alternatively, you can narrate your presentation, attach the MP3 files to the appropriate slides and then convert the PowerPoint to an MP4 and post it on a video sharing site and send everyone the link. (It is an environmentally friendly way to do it and kills less trees.) You can link the video to your website and get a little SEO mileage out of it and the viewer listens to your message with the full effect of the visuals.

  22. I am also glad to see SlideShare mentioned. You can disable downloading if you want, and adding audio (which I do whenever I can) you can add the original context without worrying about how “Zen” your slides are.
    Interesting point about not giving your slides away period, though, Mitch. I hadn’t given that much thought

  23. I’ve likewise refused to give out my slides, and not because I had too much info on them. Instead of creating speaking notes, I transformed my presentation into a series of blog posts where I was able to incorporate my points along with some of the good feedback q/a from the seminars. This worked out well for the requesters, and netted me some solid traffic too.

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