“Hey, Great Talk! Can I Have Your Notes and PowerPoint Slides?” (Revised Version)

UPDATE: Apparently some friends have misunderstood what I was trying to say here, and I can see why they would, so I’ve rewritten it. The comments that follow are, of course, to the original, more belligerent, version. So: “Can I Have Your Notes and Slides?”

Um, no. No, you probably can’t. Here’s why.

I’m reacting to repeated requests I’ve received from people who clearly want to take shortcuts. They like what they’ve heard me say on a topic that they now have to address, so they’d like to take my stuff and basically use it as a substitute for their own research, reflection, and formulation. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

If the talk was good enough that you want the notes and slides, you recognize that it took hard work, and a lot of it, to prepare. It took years of training and experience to decide what to include and what not to include and then how to arrange it optimally for this audience. For most talks, it took hours on the Internet scouting for effective graphics and then hours more entering them into the presentation appropriately. In many cases, this isn’t the first time I’m giving the talk, so what you have enjoyed is the result of writing, re-writing, consulting with audiences, responding to criticisms, and sometimes drastically reformulating the presentation.

So to just hand it over to you is to save you an awful lot of work. Why would you expect to get it for free? (And people are expecting it for free.)

People who ask me for slides and notes sometimes do so for good reasons, of course. They had trouble keeping up with the slides, perhaps, and want to get down all the points.

But I hope you’ll understand when I’m very, very reluctant to just release these materials to people I don’t know very well. Asking for a professional speaker’s slides and notes to prepare your own presentation can be like asking Jerry Seinfeld if you can have a script of his best stand-up routine so you can use his jokes in your own act. It can be like asking Danny Elfman if you can have a copy of his orchestral score so you can use motifs and arrangements in your own soundtrack.

Worse, once it’s in your hands, who knows what happens to it after that, in this age of digital reproduction and fuzzy consciences (to put it kindly) about pirating and plagiarism?

Don’t get me wrong. Of course I’m not in the line of work I’m in simply to make money, let alone to make the most money possible. (Now here’s a set of stupid career choices, if I were trying to get rich!) At the same time, I do have to earn a living and people pay me because they think what I do is worth paying for. So it makes no sense to give away the heart of what I’m doing for free to just anyone who asks, and particularly not to another presenter who’s looking for a quick route to what is otherwise produced only as the fruit of expertise applied over considerable time.

If you were to offer to pay me for the notes and slides either on the basis of the work I put into this presentation or on the basis of the fees I have since gotten out of it, my notes and slides would cost you thousands of dollars. Still interested? Then let’s negotiate! But if instead you’re now horrified by all this talk of time and work and property and payment–I mean, come on, man, why are you making such a big deal about it?–well, then, you must think the presentation in fact wasn’t all that impressive and you’ll do just fine without the slides and notes after all.

You can’t have it both ways, however. If it’s that good, then of course I’m not giving it away, just like my fellow professional presenters and performers don’t give away their hard-won work, either.

“But didn’t Jesus just teach for free and freely give away his wisdom?” Yes, he did. And if you’d like to support me, as some of Jesus’ followers covered all of his expenses, then I can consider doing the same. I’d be thrilled to do the same. So far, however, no one has stepped up and volunteered to support my work like that.

And let’s be clear: I’m delighted when people take notes at my presentations, tell their friends what they’ve learned, and improve on what I’ve said in their own work. All I’m against is other presenters wanting to use my stuff for free. When people approach me afterward because they have missed some points in my presentation, I routinely open up the laptop, scroll to what they need, and let them write it down. No problem: glad you’re interested in what I’ve said–just not in making it your own!

0 Responses to ““Hey, Great Talk! Can I Have Your Notes and PowerPoint Slides?” (Revised Version)”

  1. Spencer Capier

    Yes, BUT: I’m with you when it comes to sharing my expertise in the music part of my career, but I’m all about sharing and stealing when it comes to my teaching career. Experienced teachers handed over to me 30 years of notes and powerpoints and spent hours mentoring me so that I could become a better teacher quicker. I will spend hours crafting a lesson or unit plan and gladly hand it over to anyone who wants it, so long as they don’t take credit for it.

    On the other hand I get pretty chippy when people expect me to perform or record for free because it’s a ‘ministry.’ BTW loved the Chris Tomlin lyric evisceration. Spot on.

  2. Linda Wightman

    Right on, indeed. It is one thing to freely give away one’s work and quite another to be expected to. Worse, to be considered unchristian because you ask for payment.

    It’s still a sore point between me and a former church over their treatment of a musician friend. Because it was her church, she freely gave many hours of her performance time. But for the big occasions (Christmas and Easter), when the church would hire an ensemble of other professional musicians, she asked to be paid as well, albeit at half the going rate. Such occasions are when musicians put food on the table, and she preferred to play at her own church rather than take a job elsewhere for those festive days.

    But the church said no — we don’t pay members.

    Well, yes, they did. They paid members for child care and for janitorial services — but not, apparently, for music.

    Ironically, as soon as she left the church she was eagerly hired at the full going rate.

    “Freely ye have received, freely give” does not abrogate “Thou shalt not steal.”

  3. D.J. Brown

    Even at my lowly level of occasionally leading small church groups, people ask if I could send them copies of something I quoted, as if it wasn’t enough of a gift to them that they are benefitting from my hours of research and preparation, all of which I do gladly, for free.
    As a person lacking in confidence and self-motivation I am fascinated to observe how far some people’s chutzpah takes them, often on the backs of others.

  4. Stacey Gleddiesmith

    Well said, John. My question is: have you found a way to refuse these individuals without completely alienating them? (Can you share this with me, or should I pay you for your preparation and research into kind words of refusal?) 😉

    • John Stackhouse

      Well, I’m writing this weblog for free, aren’t I? So you’re perfectly correct to ask!

      I usually smile and say, “I’m sorry, but the material is copyright.” Most people don’t know beans about copyright law, of course, so this is usually the friendly end of it. If they happen to persist, I’ll say something about publishing this material in the future, so I can’t give it away now– “publishing,” of course, can mean putting it in a book, but it can also mean just “giving the talk again”–and that does it.

      If someone really knows enough about copyright law and publishing to push back on these friendly evasions, then he knows better than to ask for the stuff for free!

  5. D C Cramer

    I’ll usually happily forward along class lecture Power Points and sermon Power Points / manuscripts, because:

    (a) for class lecture notes, I assume a certain level of collegial sharing, where I would hope the one asking would also share his/her Poiwer Points with me too. We are all prepping for classes, and saving time by not duplicating work sometimes just makes sense. And,

    (b) for sermons, I assume that those asking aren’t going to actually reuse the material in a similar format but just want more time to digest what I’ve said personally or in a small group.

    But I’m not yet to the level of giving the kind of talks you’re describing, so I suppose that would be a different matter.

    • John Stackhouse

      Yes, I’m not talking about class lecture notes nor am I talking about sermons. I’m talking about formal lectures given to conferences, special events, etc.

  6. Jordan

    While you are perfectly within your rights to say no when someone asks, what about the non-professional / non-competitor who attended your talk and wanted a copy of the notes, since their’s weren’t complete? They just missed something or want to line up their own notes against your structure to get the full benefit of your talk. Perhaps you listed a source or url that they couldn’t copy down fast enough but wanted to look into. Most people probably don’t want to re-present it formally. I’ve certainly attended a lot of presentations where the presenter made this available. So much so, that I can certainly see how people would ask for it and expect it for free.

    On a technical note, you don’t necessarily have to give them the full powerpoint slides, but perhaps a .pdf file or a view of the slides 6 to a page. You can always place a simple caveat that the slides are copyrighted, cannot be used in a presentation and are for personal study only, the way DVDs can’t be used to run your own movie theatre.

    You of course, can have whatever policy you want since it is your material, and I think you’ve clearly expressed your policy and provided good justification for it. However, I think you may be being too hard on some of those people that ask, and that may leave an unnecessarily negative impression. You may actually get more opportunities to get paid to share if people can get more out of your talks and present you to their friends and colleagues more clearly.

    • John Stackhouse

      Again, please attend to what I’m talking about and not what I’m not talking about. I have often been glad to give people references to quotations, or to remind them of points of a lecture they didn’t get down in their notes, etc. What I’m not glad to do is hand over materials for someone else’s own use as a lecturer, letting him or her pass off as his or her own work what was done by someone else and reflects someone else’s mind, not his or hers.

  7. Paul

    I’ve found that most of the time, when someone asks for my presentation, they are rarely interested in using it in their own presentations.

    Rather, it’s because they were truly paying attention during my presentation and did not take notes. Or that I went through some parts quickly, and they didn’t have time to write everything down (a very common case of affairs because my presentations are full of equations).

    Having a copy of the presentation allows them to review them at their own pace at home. I personally think that that is a very legitimate reason for asking for the PDF of my presentation.

    If they want to copy my graphics or my material, well, they will have to deal with their own lack of academic integrity, which will bite them in the behind later on in their careers. It is no skin off my nose.

    I’m not sure how it works in other fields, but in the sciences, most professors freely put up their presentations on the web for all to download. And some of them get a measure of fame from that…. especially if their presentation has great didactic value.

  8. Robert

    As a general rule I don’t hand out or email presentations of formal or significant talks. However, I am happy to provide outlines and the significant portions of the text in various venues. As a pastor I am already hoping (often seeing) people take notes I’m not that averse to sharing my points or even illustrations if they take notes. Often I post up outlines on our church website or a service like youversion.com.

    But I do understand about PowerPoint slides as a whole. I do think offering a PDF of the slides is a good solution. Yet how different is this then just offering a written outline?

    Good thoughts in the post.

  9. Patricia Paddey

    It’s worth a mention that all those hours spent scouting the Internet for “effective graphics” are spent looking only for copyright-cleared graphics. Too many folks are still unaware that “borrowing” photographs and images from the Internet to use in their own personal publications is also a form of intellectual/creative theft.

    • Dave King

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to think that. I do release most of my photos under the CC but even that has terms that people seem to have problems following.

      – Peace

  10. chuck

    This whole post stinks of anti-Christian pride and selfishness. Withholding Christian communication because you worked hard on it? And you think they are going to sell it or compete with you down the line and put you out of a job? Seriously?? Hiding behind a secular copyright law? Only God knows what the church would look like (if at all) if Paul had this attitude and rewrote 2 Cor. 6. Or demanded billions of dollars for one of his epistles. “I sat in a Roman prison with nothing but a pen and Torah. I was hungry, tired, dirty and yet I labored over this letter for your benefit. This epistle will benefit countless numbers of people for thousands of years and you have the gall to ask for it for free?? No, no, it’s going to cost you.”

  11. Spencer Capier

    Well Chuck, before you write us all off, how do you earn a living? I’ll bet you Paul charged for his flippin’ tents.

    • John Stackhouse

      And as soon as Brother Chuck steps up and supports me in my work the way Paul told Christians to support him in his (he didn’t rely only on tent-making, and clearly expected the churches he was blessing to support him financially), then, as my original post says, I’ll be glad to reconsider my policy.

  12. Rob

    “Paul charged for his flippin’ tents”… love it :).

    First let me say that I’m with you on this issue. You have a right to be compensated for your intellectual material. The world and Christ is better served by you spending your time thinking and writing, without divided attention. I deal in my own intellectual capital as well, though in a different field. Please let me help make your argument a little more sound.

    First, the thing you’ve articulated is not preventing intellectual theft. You just want to make it (a little) more difficult for a thief, and prevent the “accidental thief”. Second, the notion that those notes/presentations are worth thousands of dollars to an individual “buyer” is a bit absurd. How much effort goes in to one of your books? If only one person asked to buy it would you charge him or her thousands of dollars? I’m sure the effort you put in to the thing is significant, and I don’t want to minimize that effort.
    First point first. There are ways to make content available that places the same protection around it without denying it’s distribution entirely. As an aside, it is in your interest to distribute this material (properly cited, of course) to a wide audience. One could make a selfish AND a Christ-centered argument for why this is true, but I’m sure you’ve already guessed it. Also, are these people paying to hear your presentation? The reason I ask is that if they are then maybe you don’t have to charge for what I’m about to suggest, but if they’re not then maybe you should charge.
    Making the content available is as simple as publishing it in an uneditable form (pdf) with caveats (on every page if you like) that say something like “This is the intellectual property of the venerable Professor John Stackhouse. It is not approved for copying or retransmission in any form beyond limited and properly cited quotation and reference. Thank you.” Of course this doesn’t prevent the thief, because he can “screenshot” it or just re-type what you’ve done. We can get over this by saying that what you do now doesn’t prevent him or her either, really. It does, however, prevent the well-meaning people from copying your work in a way that is unjust.
    As for the second point, I think it stands as stated. Hopefully it wasn’t offensively made. I’ll end by saying that in this digital age of information you can accomplish both a reasonable safeguard of your intellectual property and a wider distribution. I’m sure you know people much smarter than I am who could help you make it possible. For Pete’s sake, you blog. 🙂
    In Him,


  13. Rob

    BTW, the “AND” above should have been an “OR”. We must obey the law of noncontradiction :).

    • John Stackhouse

      Yes, I’ve already got all that, Brother Rob. And occasionally I have indeed made PDFs of the slides, etc., for conferees or for friends or whomever has asked as a favour. What I’m writing about here is the expectation that I should just hand over to another lecturer my lecture materials for his or her own use, as in “I have to give a lecture on X; you just gave a nice lecture on that; please let me take your stuff and use it instead of working it up on my own.”

  14. Jono

    Thanks Jon,

    It amazes me how many people ask for material for free. I’m all for helping them out. In fact, I would love to sit down with them, and help show them how to do the research and where to find the information themselves, or even sit down and discuss it with them. However, I find it difficult to grasp why someone would want me to give them someone I have spent countless hours of work (and pleasure) preparing so they can hopefully enjoy it, or be engage by the content, or even challenged by it.

    • John Stackhouse

      Um, is this supposed to be clever sarcasm, Brother Jono? Whether it is or not, I’m not sure what point you’re making. Care to try again?

  15. Michael

    You’re all stingy. Just give it away. It might help this catastrophe we call culture ultimately.

  16. Linda Wightman

    I don’t understand the mentality that says we should give away our labor instead of being paid for it. Where is the scriptural basis? Isn’t the laborer worthy of his hire? Do we expect the grocery stores to put steaks in our carts and wave away our money? Policemen to put their lives on the line for our safety and receive no compensation? Teachers to work in our schools without pay?

    I speak as a volunteer who has put in many times more hours gratis than I was ever paid for. It’s a privilege to be able to do so. But I don’t see how it is stingy or unchristian to earn one’s daily bread.

  17. Michael

    Ok ok. Everyone calm down. I am only halfway serious. I have had two professors provide me no small amount of their personal research.

    As a rule, I do not think that the Church (let the reader understand) should charge for intellectual property.

    However, neither would I recommend Prof. Stackhouse throw his pearls of lifelong research into the undergrad swine.

    • John Stackhouse

      What the heck are you talking about, Brother Michael? I’m not talking about teaching my students. I’m talking about another would-be lecturer asking for materials of mine to use in his or her own presentations. And why shouldn’t a Christian charge for intellectual property–like, say, authors or speakers or apostles? The worker is worthy of his wages, everyone has bills to pay, money bespeaks what matters to us, and so on, and so on. It’s flatly unbiblical to say that those in religious work shouldn’t expect recompense for what they do–from Levites under the old covenant to preachers under the new.

  18. Paul Park

    I haven’t gone through all the comments, but I do ‘sense’ as much as one can from reading, a tinge of negativity in the post. Yet I still agree with Dr Stackhouse in the overall thrust of the post.

    Compensation and intellectual property inside the church aside, I believe it is better to withhold such extensive research notes and ppt for the sake of the requester. I think scholastic teaching, research, and especially writing is a form of art, and as all art does, it holds a certain level of beauty. There is anticipation and excitement in the process as well as the product. Consider abstract art, reason most laypeople do not understand is because the process is part of the end piece. I believe it no different with research and writing as an art. For the student to desire a presenter’s materials without the understanding AND the enjoyment of not just the toil but the artistic activity behind the product, is to diminish the activity as a whole and it also diminishes the ability for the student to enjoy such scholastic activity. If he/she does so desires, they can record or take notes, but to go further and request the extensive research behind the presentation is to take a shortcut and become an unappreciative apprentice. Maybe it is our instant gratification culture that appreciates the product without the process, but such a perspective is detrimental to the development of an apprentice in any discipline.

  19. Dave King

    I’m a software developer and 99% of the tech talks I’ve been to the slides/notes are either given to me as part of the conference kit or made available by the speaker via a URL. And yes that include most professional speakers.

    Most presentations the goods aren’t in the slide notes/text but in the presenters skill and ability to interact. Take Matthew McCullough as an example: http://www.slideshare.net/matthewmccullough/presentations

    I think that’s most of the presentations he’s done. Having those out there raises his profile. Just something to think about.

    – Peace

    • Dave King

      And on that point, just fount this tweet from Matthew in my stream: “Wow! So all my #Git @GitHub training at SL is sold out. Hope you made it.” So slide sharing doesn’t seem to hurting him.

      – Peace

      • John Stackhouse

        I can’t speak to your professional situation, Dave, but in my world (history, sociology, ethics, philosophy, theology) people do pay for new insights, new arrangements of familiar materials, new expositions of familiar problems, and new data, as well as powerful presentation styles. So I wrote what I wrote.

        • Dave King

          As they do in software development, that’s why I posted the tweet from Matthew, I’m just not sure holding onto your slides is the best way to maximize your return.

          – Peace

  20. Paul

    Manually reproducing content (whether via written or spoken) affords others an opportunity to re-learn, if you will, in their own terms what is heard or seen from a presentation. Therefore, I do not pass along my PPTs/notes from any of my philosophy or world religion classses. It’s kin to stealing from the student an important aspect of learning, viz., reproduction.

  21. rob Haskell

    I always give away my full notes and power point slides to anyone who asks. Here’s why:

    1. It makes people feel good.
    2. Reality: 90% of them will do nothing whatsoever with the info.
    3. The 10% who do use it will probably mention that it came from me.
    4. No one can reproduce my presentation. That’s me and that’s why I’m unique and why I’m asked to present. It’s not because of my power point presentation.
    5. Making fuss about this looks bad. Sorry, but that’s the truth. This is not a question of rights, but of perception. Deal with it. :0)

    One caution, however, Make sure you have a good anti-virus if on your laptop if you are going to transfer files to random USB pens.

    • John Stackhouse

      We clearly prepare different sorts of presentations, Brother Rob. And we clearly are doing different kinds of speaking. So I’m sure your advice works for you. Doesn’t work for me, even if you’re convinced that your sensibility is identical with “the truth.”

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  23. Carlos Bott

    I have found my materials online at one of the slideshow places one week after giving them to my students. Materials are for in-class use only, not to help some lazy bloke professor at another school/ university do his lecture. Do the textbook publishers freely give away the faculty slides/ materials to anyone? No. Neither will I.

  24. Dan

    I kinda have a general rule of refusing payment for speaking at conferences (if at all possible — if I can’t afford the travel expenses myself, I may ask for assistance with that, otherwise, I’ve turned down a number of cheques over the years). I also have another general rule of giving away not only lecture notes, but full transcripts of my presentations (footnotes and all — I also try to make it a condition of my speaking that the conference organizers will not charge for the audio recording of my portion of the speaking).

    I like the idea of giving away labour as a gift. Granted, I don’t do that with all my labour (although I’m trying to always move further in that direction), and, granted, sometimes that means struggling by with not a lot, but if we’re going to move towards the sort of gift-based economy recommended by the good ol’ b.i.b.l.e. then we’ve got to start somewhere. Speaking about matters related to “the gospel” seem like a particular apt starting point.

    BTW, in relation to such a gift-based economy, our friends the “righteous dopefiends” (cf. http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520254985 ) might be able to teach us a thing our two.

    Also, I should probably note that I don’t really believe much in private property or copy right laws (in general) and am especially skeptical about intellectual property rights (you know, the sort of thing that permits drug companies to allow millions of people die from treatable diseases around the world, and so on and so forth). I’ll play that game when I have to (i.e. if I want to get a degree, publish a text, whatever) but I think it’s mostly BS and I don’t see much space for it in the Christian scriptures (and before somebody quotes “thou shalt not steal” in response to that statement, it’s worth pointing out the wisdom in Proudhon’s saying that property is theft).


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