No, you won't get a PowerPoint from me!

Posted on Sun 11 December 2022 in blog • 3 min read

Dear conference organizer,

Please do not attempt to foist a slide deck format on me. Please stop asking for a PowerPoint deck, or a Google Slides link, or a PDF. And if these are the only formats you are willing to accept, please do state that clearly and up front in the CFP, because it means I won’t be submitting a proposal to your conference.

I am not doing this to annoy you, or make your life harder. It’s just that the presentation stack I have settled on is far superior to the ones you are suggesting, and I am disinclined to compromise on quality.

I use the reveal.js presentation framework, and publish my slide decks using GitHub Pages. I provide a public URL to my slides ahead of time — always at the beginning of the talk, and also in advance if requested, in case you want to put the link in your conference programme.

This approach allows me to do things that — to the best of my knowledge — neither PowerPoint, nor Google Slides, nor a PDF allow me to do, which I consider essential in the interest of my (that is, your!) audience:

  • I always encourage people who sit at the back of the room, or who have vision acuity issues, to open my slides on their phone or tablet as I start the talk (I provide a full-size QR code for that purpose; here is an example). reveal.js Multiplex then allows me to advance my slides on the big screen or projector, and the slides on people’s personal devices will advance in lockstep. This enables everyone to follow along without having to crane their neck or squint their eyes.

  • My slides always use the reveal.js black-on-white theme (which works best even if lighting conditions in the presentation room are unhelpful), and I include the reveal.js menu plugin with a theme switcher. This enables people who cannot look at bright screens for a long time (migraine patients come to mind) to switch to the dark, white-on-black theme as they follow along on their own device, which tends to make their talk experience more pleasant. To see what this looks like, open this deck, then click the ☰ icon or hit the m key, and go to Themes → Black.
    On a related note, please don’t prescribe a slide template or colour scheme either, unless your template designers have made better accessibility accomodations than I have (at which point I will be more than happy to work those into my slide deck design).

  • reveal.js comes with a magnificently useful and highly flexible pacing timer, which enables me in my delivery to keep time very precisely, and even allows me to make timing changes in a hurry. For example, if my 50-minute talk starts 5 minutes late because of a scheduling issue, I can make a quick change to make up that time without compromising talk quality, and without the talk getting rushed at the end. Good schedule-keeping enhances the quality of your conference, and reduces your stress level as an organizer.

  • The fact that my slides live on GitHub, and are automatically published with a git push command, enables me to make last-minute modifications in relation to other talks previously seen in the conference. This keeps me from sharing information that is outdated, lets me add new information from your conference that is useful, and will thus make my talk (and your conference!) more practically relevant.

  • Immediately after my talk is done, I re-push my slides with inline speaker notes enabled. (To see what this looks like, look at this example.) You always get my talk with my full speaker notes, meaning every single one of my talks comes with a full transcript. This is beneficial to people with attention issues, and also greatly facilitates hallway track conversations — because people can always refer back to something I said, without having to try to remember and discern it from the slides’ contents.

You get all this for the small price of opening one more browser tab on your presentation and A/V production laptop. It might add a small amount of extra work for the people who run your A/V production; I acknowledge that and ask you and them to please accept that extra burden. But I promise you it’ll be a net win for our audience.