Last week I had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by a New York community based around the site LessWrong. The lecture focused on the site’s first core sequence, Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions. The subject matter and the meetup group were great (and highly recommended!), but the presentation suffered from one obvious shortfall: the presenter used someone else’s slide deck.
I happened to be at a party with the presenter the night before the lecture, and he told us how excited he was that an eminent authority on the subject had given him the slide deck he usually uses for the lecture. The presenter went on about how his presentation would be much better now with slides that were literally crafted by an expert.
Unfortunately for him, slide quality on its own doesn’t make a great presentation.
I think a presentation will always be better when you create all your materials yourself because knowing what comes next goes a long way toward making you sound like you know what you’re talking about. When you seem surprised by something in your own slides, you look horribly unprepared and it gives the impression that the slides are driving the lecture, rather than the lecturer leading the discussion. I probably noticed more because I knew they weren’t his slides, but the presenter at this lecture was surprised a few times. Even though he was an expert on the subject himself, when he didn’t know what was coming up in the slide deck, he looked unprepared.
Professors break this rule all the time when they exclusively use the pre-written slides that come with textbooks. It gives the impression that anyone could lead the class and the professor might not really know what they’re talking about (a problem I’ve complained about at length).
There’s nothing wrong with borrowing the occasional expert-designed slide, but if your entire deck was crafted by someone else, you need to practice that presentation until you own it, lest those “better” slides make you look worse.