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Presentation Mode

December 19, 2005

That’s it. I’m totally over HTML for slides. Done. Finished. The straw that broke the camel’s back: frantic last minute browser testing on a plane under Virtual PC as my computer’s battery meter inched ever closer to the red zone because after spending two solid weeks creating material and producing my slides, testing in IE6 just somehow slipped in the list of priorities.

I’ve tried out a few management methods for making HTML slides easier to create and work with, including PHP for the individual slides, as well as S5. Anything I use keeps coming back to the same problem though: HTML slides, the way I produce them, require far, far more effort than they’re worth.

Lately I’ve been moving well away from bullet points for my slides, and more toward imagery and low-verbage concepts. I also choose to build cohesive, visually unique slides, and as best I can, try to ensure the audience has a reason to load them up after the talk; I’ve been peppering them with links to external articles as “footnotes” for my presentation, for example.

The theory is nice. Present from the same slides as I hand out, and people can click through the URLs, revisit the examples I gave, etc. etc. Hypertext seems like a good addition to my standard set of slides, from a user’s perspective.

But along with that come issues like navigation, screen resolution, production, and testing. It’s not enough to rely on non user-facing keyboard shortcuts to flip through the slides, I have to expose them somehow for people viewing the slides later. (S5 has an elegant way of dealing with this, but it’s an issue with any other slide management system.) It’s not enough to simply design your slide layout and the component slides, I have to then output images from my graphics editor of choice and produce the HTML. It’s not enough to simply test in the browser I’ll be presenting in, I have to test in the various browsers my audience might be using. Not to mention that if I plan on re-using a presentation more than once, I’ll likely have to account for both 800x600 and 1024x768 projectors (and then the user’s screen resolution on top of that.) That’s about three steps more than I think should be necessary, and there were even more issues that popped up during this last round that I won’t even get into here.

Essentially, for the types of slides I build, producing the material for a one hour talk feels like it requires almost the same amount of work as I’d devote to producing a 40 or 50 page web site, which is simply silly. A web site gets continual traffic from numerous visitors over long periods of time; it’s worth the effort. A presentation is a short, time-limited event with a few hundred people at most, and the only reason any material is necessary afterward is to remind people of what they viewed, and in some cases to provide them further information if they’re interested in following up.

So I bought Keynote. And with the exception of events where I’m forced to present off a computer other than my own, I can’t see myself using much else from this point forward. It has its disadvantages (in that providing supporting material seems a weak spot at the moment) but if I can devote more of my time to the material I’ll be talking about, and less on stupid redundancies like browser testing and navigation, I think the good easily outweighs the bad.

Update: Okay, let me elaborate a bit since I’m getting a bit of response, and I (purposely) left comments off. Based on how I create slides (key words), this is what I’d have to do to build a presentation in S5 or PHP:

  • Design slide template.
  • Design individual slides.
  • Convert slide template to HTML.
  • Figure out how to implement my template in S5/PHP.
  • Implement it.
  • Create navigation. (optional in S5)
  • Test in various browsers.

Here’s my process in Keynote:

  • Design slide template.
  • Design individual slides.
  • Export.

Considering how much extra time and energy are required by the steps that Keynote eliminates, it’s a no-brainer. The disadvantage is yes, I realize the post-presentation materials suffer for it a bit (Keynote’s export options aren’t great) but with all the time I save I can create a few supplementary options that are equal to or better than an HTML version of the slide show. Clickable URL lists, footnotes, etc. etc., which might be better issued in a single-page format, anyway, rather than strewn throughout a slide show.