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In Lucy Kellaway’s 2012 Golden flannel Award, the Preposition Award is given to a usage of to.

But the winner is the innocuous word “to” as increasingly heard in presentations: “I’ve got some slides to talk to” – the unfortunate implication being that the speaker has to talk to the slides because no one else is listening.

Am I right in thinking that the speaker originally intended to mean some images for projection on a screen? If so, what is the appropriate preposition in this sentence. “About” perhaps? Is this usage of to really often heard?

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    The problem is the choice of phrasing and context. While I can speak to the use of to in this way, the sentence itself certainly sounds irregular and incorrect to me, in the sense that it fails to convey the correct meaning in a direct way. – Kris Jan 14 '13 at 11:55
  • It's an idiom, not too uncommon in business. "Talking to" slides or a chart or some such pretty much means the same as "talking about", save for the implication that the talked-to item will be used as an outline of the talk. (Note that there's a similarity to "dancing to" music -- you wouldn't normally say "I'm going to dance about this tune.") – Hot Licks May 14 '17 at 11:55
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    You can also "sing to a tune". Again, idiom: you're singing along with the tune, just as the person above is giving a talk along with some slides. – ralph.m Jun 14 '18 at 22:21
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While having slides to talk to may be unusual, one does often hear have something to speak to in this usage, yes. It's "bizspeak": Business English.

ODO has:

(speak to) answer (a question) or address (an issue or problem):
we should be disappointed if the report did not speak to the issue of literacy

In a meeting or presentation, one might hear the chairman introduce a topic as "And now we move on to the subject of cows in the car park which Mrs Sidebottom is going to speak to," that is, she is going to address that subject.

Business English seems to undergo change quite rapidly; it's possible to see how having slides to talk to is an evolution of having something to speak to, but as you and Bill Franke point out, it's rather absurd.

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There’s nothing new about this use of to, and I can only suppose that Lucy Kellaway, like so many before her, was suffering from the Recency Ilusion. The OED’s definition 31b of to is ‘in support of; in assertion or acknowledgement of’, illustrated in this citation from 1884 ‘The hon. gentlemen spoke to a resolution congratulating the Government on the passing of the Franchise Bill’.

This clearly doesn’t mean the hon. Gentleman said ‘Good morning, how are you?’ to the resolution any more than talking to slides describes a conversation with them. Only the most perverse would think that.

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Maybe I’m being daft but from context this sounds like the usage of “to” here is a mistake that’s become established. In fact, the quote implies that it clearly is (the follow-up about “unfortunate implication” mocks this usage)1. What the speakers probably actually mean is “through”:

I’ve got some slides to talk through.

talk through” simply means to discuss. I’m assuming that the original quote refers to the fact that lots of people mispronounce this phrase since “talk to” sounds right.


1 Andrew and Barrie argue that Lucy Kellaway might simply be wrong. However, I don’t think that she is since “talk through some slides” is much more common, and thus more probably meant, than the meaning of “talk to” illustrated in those other answers.

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  • "Talk through" has an entirely different meaning. – Hot Licks May 14 '17 at 11:58
  • @HotLicks Right, as my answer explains. – Konrad Rudolph May 14 '17 at 12:11
  • "Slides to talk to" and "slides to talk through", in a corporate boardroom, mean different things. – Hot Licks May 14 '17 at 12:18
  • (Hint: Replace "slides" with "music" and "talk" with "dance".) – Hot Licks May 14 '17 at 12:19
  • @HotLicks I know that. My point is that, even though “slides to talk to” is grammatical and (barely) meaningful, that’s not what most people using this phrase intend. Instead, they mean “slides to talk through”. Your example show-cases why: dancing to a song makes perfect sense as an activity. Talking to slides “makes sense” but emphasises the wholly wrong thing. – Konrad Rudolph May 14 '17 at 13:09
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Do you know the words to this song? Can you sing the words to this song? Can you, instead, speak the words to this song? Can you sing to this music? Can you speak to these slides? I have some music I need to sing to. I have some slides I need to talk to. I have to speak in coordinated accompaniment to this slide-show presentation.

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    A little more explanation and this might be a good answer. (It certainly comes closer than most of the others.) – Hot Licks May 14 '17 at 11:59
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Nobody else has suggested this, so I'll propose the following.
My interpretation of “I’ve got some slides to talk to” is that the subject has to make a presentation involving slides and talking but is not expecting the audience to listen. Therefore, in their opinion, the presentation is the same as literally just talking to the inanimate slides.

This may of course be an exaggeration or attempt at humour by the speaker.

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  • +1 for having the courage to try humor here with only 109 points. Seriously, though, if I ever plan a presentation, I may try this joke during the preparation phase, as an attempt at self-deprecating humor. (Some of us can pull it off successfully. Others wouldn't dare. ;-) ) – Canis Lupus Jan 25 '13 at 21:58
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"Talk to the slides" seems to make more sense if you're giving a one-way keynote style presentation. Seems less appropriate if you're using slides to facilitate a discussion. I most often hear people in business being a bit more specific, saying "I can talk to the slides on [specific subject]", which makes a bit more sense.

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