I do a lot of presentations. They come in various forms: class lectures, conference papers, keynote talks, corporate presentations, and business pitches, to name a few.
Often I use slidesÂ and visuals in these talks, and I do so in various ways. In my class lectures I try to use slides as a way to reinforce the key ideas from the material. In conference papers and keynotes, I use slides to interject visual aids and evocative images as I speak. In corporate presentations and business pitches I use slides to show a current or a potential work in progress. I’m pretty good at all of these things by now, and I use slides without relying on PowerPoint in an “evil” way.
In fact, I don’t even use PowerPoint, I use Apple Keynote instead. I do this partly because I don’t want to use Office, but mostly because Keynote makes it easier to create simple, visually effective images. Most of my slides have either one big image or a single sentence, so I could easily create them in any program. I don’t use animations and fancy transitions, since those just distract the audience.
But the truth is, Keynote is no better than PowerPoint. In fact, all presentation software sucks. And the reason they suck is not because such programs make it hard to create presentations. The reason they suck is because they fail to make it easier to give presentations.
Yes, I know that PowerPoint and Keynote both offer “presenter displays” that give a more useful view of the presentation from the speaker’s perspective, including timers, the next slide, and slide notes. I use this feature and appreciate it.
The problem is, that’s not enough, not even close. Presentations entail not only the images on screen and the words that accompany them, but also the context for their presentation. Where is the audience? The speaker? The computer? Is there a lectern? A wireless mic? How much time do I have? Will there be rapid changes between speakers? It goes on and on. One thing’s clear: Microsoft and Apple don’t make software for people who do a lot of speaking.
Here are some of the things I find myself constantly wishing I had in presentation software.
Presentation Screen Bookmarks. Keynote gives me one layout, and changes are permanent. But the situation of a presentation can be very different: a laptop on a lectern, or on a table 20 feet away, or fed into a monitor at stage bottom, or in any number of places. In such circumstances, the size and arrangement of information needs to be different.
Presentation-Wide Note Formatting. For the same reasons described above, I want to be able to change the font size and appearance of slide notes on my display monitor across an entire presentation, rather than per-slide. This is a huge issue for me, as I often have 100+ slides for an hour talk, because I blast through images quickly. Changing each one manually when I discover that my monitor will be 20′ away is impossible. Yes, yes, I could memorize my speech or use cue cards. But this would be so simple to do, why isn’t it supported?
Slide Libraries. Very often, my talks are variations on a theme. The same general subject for different audiences, or different allotted times, or different contexts. Now I have to make copies of presentations and then add, remove, or adjust them. The result: copies everywhere, with partially modified versions scattered everywhere. Instead, I want the ability to collect a family of presentations into one file, with common slides situated individually or in groups, so I can assemble them together into multiple versions of the same general presentation.
Timing Aides. Related to the above, I want to be able to rehearse sections of a presentation and have them timestamped into the section thumbnail. That way, when I go to arrange a presentation together I’ll know how long a section takes to run through.
Conditional Branching. Often I want to go in different directions at key moments in a talk depending on how the audience has reacted to previous material. I’d like to be able to set up branch points that I can take based on circumstances that arise during a talk. Or in another common situation, sometimes it’s necessary to truncate a talk due to previous speakers’ overages or other unforseeable factors.
Embedded Web Controls. I mean, seriously? I have to quit out of the presentation and drag a browser over to show a website? The same goes for YouTube videos and the like. This is rare for my presentations, but when it does come up, it’s always awkward.
Packaging. Sometimes it’s necessary to send a talk ahead of time for installation on a special system. Why can’t I package a talk up so that my slides appear correctly on any machine, whether Mac or PC, with proper fonts and layouts, and with precisely the presenter arrangment I desire? Insanity.
Programmability. More generally, why can’t I write my own software to embed in a slide, or to drive a presentation? I guess PowerPoint supports VisualBasic for Applications macros, but that’s hardly an accessible solution for things like live data, embedded visualizations, or anything else that doesn’t take the form of an image or a video.
That’s a start, anyway. Anybody out there listening? Apple?