Looking for the 'perfect' presentations' solution (for me)
During the last 10 years I have given a number of talks in various contexts due to my job as a lecturer: either lectures for my students, conferences, workshops or even much more informal events, usually speaking about cities, commons, maps or accessibility. I enjoy it because I love sharing knowledge with others but also because it is when I am preparing presentations (by summarising and highlighting the main topics or thinking of the storytelling) where I reflect and learn the most. It is for that reason that I am always looking for the right software that allows me to create appealing slides in a relatively fast way. In this post, I will be sharing some of the decisions I have made and the results I got regarding that matter.
In order to prepare my presentations I have used and tested several presentation softwares and services, such as the classic Powerpoint, LibreOffice Impress (View example), Google Slides or, Prezi (Example, Example). All of them are really good pieces of software and you can create great presentations with them. However, as time goes by, I have become more concerned with techno-politics and data autonomy on the one hand, and with efficiency on the other. As a result, I have come to outline the following list of requirements that my software of choice should have:
- It must allow me to own my (own) data and to easily reuse and share it with others for any purpose.
- It should be opensource.
- It must allow offline editing and displaying.
- It must allow adding content without having to worry about formatting it. Ideally, I should be able to write in plain text or markdown (or the like) which will later be formatted and converted into a final good-looking format. I want to focus on adding content very fast for scaffolding it: I want to edit it in plain text or markdown.
- It should look good (uh!)
So, with those requirements in mind, I started to look for candidates that would fit in those selection criteria. After a while, I ended up with the following shortlist1:
- LibreOffice Impress: a conventional desktop software for presentations. It is opensource and multiplatform and it is part of the LibreOffice suite.
- Impress.js: a presentation framework based on the power of
CSS3transforms and transitions in modern browsers and inspired by the idea behind prezi.com. It allows moving through an infinite canvas, like the former, but also in 3D!
- Reveal.js: an HTML presentation framework. Halfway between the two others, as it creates slides' decks that can be opened with any web browser with a two-axis' navigation (unlike regular presentation software that only allows linear navigation).
Let’s see how the competitors behave regarding each of my requirements:
|# 1: Own data||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|# 2: FLOSS||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|# 3: Offline||Yes (ODP or PDF)||Yes (Local html)||Yes (Local html file or PDF)|
|# 4: Format-hassle-free||No (although using styles makes things easier and are almost as valid workaround)||Yes, using hovercraft||Yes (multiple approaches)|
|# 5: Appealing||With effort||Somewhat||Yes!|
And now, let me further elaborate this summary table.
LibreOffice is a traditional desktop software that could be considered as the opensource replacement for Powerpoint. It creates regular slides' deck and offers several templates with designs and layouts. Although I acknowledge that from LO foundation have put an effort into designing new templates and the stock defaults have improved dramatically, I cannot but help to consider that they still look somewhat oldies/traditional. However, I also admit that this is a completely subjective matter and can be fixed by either dowloading one of the many available templates or by creating our own. After all, and to be completely honest, I have done so for many years.
Since it is a regular desktop software that means that it has to be installed in your computer if you want to edit your presentation. But if you do not have it installed, you can use any of the many softwares capable of reading ODP format, which is an open ISO standard or you can bring your own Portable Edition that can be run from a USB stick or the like without installing it in the computer. But if you only want to visualize the presentation, you can always export to PDF using the built-in feature (just one click), which is always an insurance that your presentation will always look the way you wanted it to be (custom fonts, I am looking at you!).
In order to add content you need to create text boxes, insert images, tables… add transitions, slides… using its GUI. This may seem a good thing, as it allows you to easily align objects and modify them on the fly. However, in my experience I found that approach to be very time consuming, as it often requires resizing objects, changing text-sizes, aligning, changing image properties… The good news is that LibreOffice’s styles are a really powerful tool when used correctly. Styles allow customizing anything we want, starting from layouts but also paragraph styles, lists, images, tables… It may take some time to customize every style, but once you’re done, it pays the effort: all your objects will look consistently and exactly the way you want without doing anything else. And if you ever change your mind… they will update automatically, preserving their consistency. Great, isn’t it?!
Another inconvenient for me is that it is not easy to work with media other than images (like videos, websites, maps…), especially if they are not stored locally or require some interaction.
- ✅ Ease of use
- ✅ Compatibility (in terms of format an collaboration)
- ✅ Customization
- ✅ Risk-free: export to PDF for your peace of mind
- ✅ Presenter’s console
- ❌ Content editing is time consuming
- ❌ No GIFs! or other interactive media
- ❌ Outdated (default) appearance from the 90s
- ❌ Only linear presentations