• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

“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!