Aurélien Gâteau

On presentation tools

written on Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Last week-end I attended Akademy-fr and gave a presentation about Kdenlive.

I don't present very often, and it seems with every presentation I prepare I try a few presentation tools before settling on one. It usually starts with a "Let's give Stage and Impress one more try" thought, where I pretend to act like a normal person preparing a presentation. I then get frustrated by the lack of consistent styling support and start exploring around.

In the past I have used S5, an HTML-based tool, but writing lists in HTML gets old very quickly. I also used Landslide, a command-line tool which can turn Markdown into HTML slides. I am a huge Markdown fan, so writing slides in Markdown suits me well, but for some reason Landslide got into my way too much while writing slides for the Kdenlive presentation: I could not get the appearance I wanted and the many features was getting on my nerves (it feels a bit like each key can trigger an action and I don't always find the way to get out of it) I managed to resist the urge of writing my own tool and went shopping for existing Markdown-enabled presentation tools.

I first tried Reveal.js. It produces impressive presentations, but it felt too fancy for my tastes. I recently read an excellent article by Kathy Sierra titled: "Presentation Skills Considered Harmful" and this quote resonated a lot for me:


My path to coping with heart-stopping stage-fright is to focus NOT on what I do but on what they experience. And since I'm a software developer, I'll think of the audience as my users.

And if they're my users, then this presentation is a user experience.

And if it's a user experience, then what am I?

Ah... now we're at the place where stage fright starts to dissolve.

Because if the presentation is a user experience, then I am just a UI.


And what's a key attribute of a good UI?

It disappears.

It does not draw attention to itself.

It enables the user experience, but is not itself the experience.


(Emphasis mine)

With this approach in mind, I finally settled on Remark.js. It is very simple yet efficient. The way it works is surprising: one creates the presentation slides by writing markdown in a text area!

Once you get over this unusual system, you find out it works very well. Being JavaScript-based means there is no build step: just type your content and hit F5 in the browser window to see the results. Tweaking the appearance of the presentation is easy as the tool does not impose too much CSS structure on you. I was also able to make use of Font Awesome icons to illustrate my slides without any problem.

If you have similar feelings about how presentation tools should work, I highly recommend giving Remark a try.

This post was tagged akademy-fr, presentation and tools