Some Notes on the Lessig Method

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As previously noted, I used the occasion of my talk at the Zend Conference to experiment with what has come to be known as the Lessig Method with the slides (ODF, PPT) accompanying my presentation. I make no claims to having adapted his method with any degree of success – I’m just not that creative when it comes to this sort of thing, but it was certainly an interesting exercise. Given that it’s an increasingly popular approach – used with startling effectiveness here (link via Raible) – I thought I’d share a quick post mortem:

  1. The Lessig Method is Hard:
    I don’t know how any of you have approached the creation of slides in the past, but my typical MO was to consider the topic, put together a list of high level concepts to discuss, then break those high level concepts down into bulleted lists and a graphic or two. You can see this approach at work in my Bottom Up Marketing deck (ODF, PPT) that I delivered to the Eclipse folks. The advantage to this approach is that it’s tremendously low effort from a speaker’s perspective: your talking notes are the slides themselves. I think it’s also reasonably useful from an audience perspective because it makes note taking somewhat easier.

    The Lessig Method does away with much of that, and shifts the burden of presentation from the deck to the speaker. With only a couple of words or a phrase on each slide, there are no talking points to cover except what you’ve written down before, or as in my case last week, have in your head. So either you write out your whole talk ahead of time – which can be hugely time consuming, or you practice it enough that you can remember all the references, transitions, etc. In simple terms, designing a minimalist deck, paradoxically, takes me a lot more time than it would to generate a conventional one.

  2. The Lessig Method Makes the Standalone Deck Less Relevant:
    One of the most common criticisms of my presentation was that the slides were more or less useless without the speaker’s notes. Given that there were no speaker’s notes, there’s not much I can provide them. But if you’re going to present a minimalist deck with the intent of redistribution, some thought should go into providing the accompanying audio. In our case, I’m not sure how we’d work this since we typically don’t control those sorts of logistics, but it’s a consideration.

  3. The Lessig Method May Make You More Creative:
    One of the things I had only been peripherally aware of is the degree to which the medium of slides tends to frame your arguments. For example, while designing slides it’s natural to think in terms of bulleted lists – even if that’s not the most compelling way to make your argument. This is, I would guess, one of the reasons that Adam Bosworth has made the conscious decision to not use slides. Slides can, if you let them, restrict discourse and creativity. The Lessig Method doesn’t entirely solve that problem, but it give you more of a blank slate to work from than your typical Powerpoint template.

Ultimately, of course, the decision as to whether or not to use this type of approach depends on your particular experience and approach, but most importantly your audience. What are they expecting? How can you deliver that in as lively a fashion as possible?

Personally, I find the Lessig/minimalist presentation style far more engaging than a set of bulleted lists, but I’d be very interested in your opinions on presentation styles and what does or doesn’t work for you.

P.S. A couple of you have asked about the bug slide in Zend deck, and what the story is behind it: here it is. Thanks again to Ryan for allowing me to relate it – it was a great way to open the talk. And BTW Ryan, if you want to post them on lesscode.org or want me to, feel free or let me know.


  1. I think that a good idea might be to create a second set of slides that are more like a regular style with your talking points and what not on them.

    Then, you can print those out, use them during your presentation and then, later, interpolate the two stacks so that the original slides get their context.

  2. These days, I rarely use slides with many words on them and, personally, I think that this is usually a far better way to present. The downside, as you say, is that they're mostly useless as take-aways, so (if you care) there need to be speaker notes or (probably better) some sort of written document that covers some of the same material. I have to admit that I don't worry much about the take-away angle. However, it's certainly an issue for companies giving product presentations and the like (often given by people who may not really know the material). That's one reason you end up with all these densely-bulleted slides. It's just easier to record all the information on the slides.

  3. Love the bug story. Just del.icio.us'ed it. Thanks.

  4. Friday Roundup: On IBM, Microsoft, SaaS and filmloop.com

    We knew IBM liked Firefox but this is pretty cool all the same. Check out the link to a toolbar for developerworks search, on the new Workplace developer site.Oh yeah, while we’re on the subject of developerworks, how about this for IBM…

  5. Danno: would that i could, but there just isn't enough time in the day to generate two decks. the only thing that'll work is picking one style and going from there.

    Gordon: yup, that's the same dynamic i'm working towards at the moment. based on the feedback i'm getting i'm less concerned about the take away angle than i once was, i have to admit.

    Claire: isn't that a classic? Ryan's the man

  6. Possible Two Deck Solution ~ Here's what I've been thinking. Haven't had a chance to try it yet.

    I can design the "single/simple word or image content" for the slides as mind map topics using MindManager. (http://www.mindjet.com)

    I can type formatted text (as narration or notes) for each topic in the MindManager topic notes pane.

    MindManager will (at a click) convert the mind map topics to PowerPoint slides (which I can edit while still in MindManager before exporting to PowerPoint).

    I can chose to export topics only or topics with notes. The topic content can be exported directly into the middle of my slides, if that's where I want it, instead of as a title.

    Topics notes are automatically placed in the PowerPoint Notes Body Area. That would give me slide + notes as a handout through PPT or, as an export for different formatting, through Word.

    A MindManager mind map can also be exported directly to Word as an RTF outline. The topic notes appear under their respective topics. This material could be reformatted as a more formal document.

    MindJet provides a fully-functional three week free trial. You may get to this before I do.


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