The Gift of Google Slides for Shared Conference Presentations

Rethinking how we make our decks.

October 13, 2016

Google Slides may be one of those rare examples of an unambiguous technological win.  A technology with only upsides.  A technology that allows us to work not only in a different way - but in a better way.

That better way is collaboration.  Google Slides is a terrific tool for creating shared presentations.  

Last week I participated in a presentation at the Learning with MOOCS III conference.  We had 6 presenters from 4 different schools. You can check out our Google Slides deck here if you are curious.  

Normally, getting 6 different people (from 4 different institutions) to agree on a single presentation theme, tempo, style, and content is basically impossible. Academics are particularly bad at long-distance presentation collaboration.  We create and present so many PowerPoint decks that we have developed very strong ideas about what makes for a good presentation. These ideas seldom match those of our colleagues.

The normal method of shared presentation creation is for one person to “own” the deck. They will create the PowerPoint and then e-mail the thing around to everyone else. Chaos ensues.  Versions multiply.  It is never really clear where the final deck stands.

To get around the problem of shared presentation creation, many co-presenters choose to use separate decks.  They will create their own PowerPoint, and then switch between the decks during the presentation.

The problem with that approach is that a joint presentation becomes a serial presentation.  Rather than new ideas being developed through a collaborative creation process, the presentations come to closely mimic the last presentation that the speaker gave.

What Google Slides enables is for everyone on the presentation team to work on the same set of slides in real-time.  The slide content can evolve (and sometimes change radically) as the team creating the presentation discusses the arguments that they want to make.

In our case for the LWMOOCS III conference, our team of 6 presenters met 3 times (online, by BlueJeans) to discuss and build the presentation.  We developed the deck together while we talked.  All of us were then able to tweak the deck on our own schedule, not worrying about versions or the need to send the latest changes around.

What we found with Google Slides is that our deck evolved up until the last minute before the presentation.  The ability of all of us to update the slides - without negotiating the logistics of sharing - encouraged us to keep messing with them.  We updated based on the discussions that we heard at the conference, as well as our evolving ideas as we had hallway conversations.

A group of presenters updating their slides until the last minute might sound like a recipe for disaster.  In reality, the tool encouraged the sort of messy and interesting collaboration that you hope for when you do a joint presentation.

My hope is that tools like Google Slides (is anyone doing this with the online PowerPoint version?) will enable more cross-institution collaboration for presentations.

What if we made a rule that conference presentations must be cross-institutional?   We gave a nudge for schools to work together on presentations - with the idea that cross-institutional knowledge sharing should occur in the production/planning stages of every academic conference.

The folks that benefit most from a cross-institutional presentation are those that created the presentation.  We hope that the people attending the session got something out of it - and we worked hard to ensure a quality interactive session.  But we know that the real benefits of the session came in the knowledge that was shared and the bonds that were built in planning the presentation.  Google Slides made the collaboration seamless and productive.

Have you moved to Google Slides for your presentations (or teaching)?

Are there other collaborative presentation tools that we should know about?

What do you think of my idea that conference organizers nudge session submissions towards cross-institutional presentations?

What if all conference presentations had to be on Google Slides - and it was expected that each presenter would provide a link to the deck for all conference goers?


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