How To Build and Publish Your Presentation

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

Okay, finally, without too much further ado, and two plane rides of writing later, I am going to outline all the steps I go through to “build” a presentation. Let me say a few things up front though. First, this again is not an expert thing, this is simply what I have developed to make the task as easy as possible, indeed there are probably better ways to do this, and more importantly depending on your “style” you probably want to change and modify some of this. I am going to try and highlight or frame some tips that will help. Again, not everything will help, use what you want. There are a lot of pedagogical digressions here, but they are necessary as they explain why I do things the way I do. Finally, this seems long and involved, but really once you develop a “flow” it is easy, and requires little extra effort. (The actual creation and syndication of the slides is a pretty easy/fast task.)

You can get info on downloading the presentation here, if you want to follow along.

Step One: Write the Presentation

Okay, this might seem obvious, but I know lots of people who assemble the slides first and then make the presentation. This seems backwards to me. My philosophy is to have the slides supplement the talk not be the talk. For the most part I feel that the talk (the text) should stand alone, but the slides do not speak for themselves. If you look at the slides for my presentation, you would/could think this makes no sense.

As I am writing however I do think of places that a slide would be useful, places where it is far easier to “show” what I mean instead of “tell.” The best example of this would be if I want to talk about a particular painting. Without a slide I would have to describe the composition of the piece, but knowing that the presentation can have images. When I am writing the paper then, I just skip the description part, knowing I am going to add a slide. For the most part I write the piece thinking only of the prose. One of the problems with presentation software is the extent to which it restricts thinking, forcing your presentation into a tidy little box. The only problem is this box is relatively content free in the end. Plug and play presentations are rarely thought provoking. I could add a lot more here, but instead I will merely mention this previous post and direct you to the article it addresses, and finally point to this rather useful example that explains the problem with writing to slides instead of using slide to illustrate a point. (Ohh one more link, this one is to a talk Lessig gave, and it shows how to effectively use slides in a presentation, no images, no bullet points, just presentation poetry.)

Step Two: What Slides to Add

After the presentation is written I get to work making the slides, a bit more on this in a bit, but first these are my guidelines for what needs a slide:

  • Quoted Text: One of the things I find hard to follow is when people quote the work of others in their presentations. The text often has a different rythmn/style than their own, or it gets read too fast, or there is a particular word that needs highlighting, or where the quote stops/starts is ambiguous, or . . .well you get the idea. So, any quote that is a sentence long (as a general rule for me) gets its own slide. This I think is particularly useful in “text” based studies, for it gives the quote the sense of being an object that is analyzed. If it is from a published work I usually throw the page number in there so that those who want to reference it later can find it easily.
  • Any Image: See above, but basically the idea here is to save me having to tell or describe something that I can easily show. Screenshots for talking about computers, displays if I am talking about digital games, or slides from film or television.
  • Web Pages: This could fall under images, but I want to highlight it here separate. Any time I talk about a webpage I try to show a slide of it, as the visual presentation/layout is often key.
  • To Punctuate a Point: If a make a turn in the talk and want to add an exlaimation point to a particular issue, I think of a slide that adds strength to what I am saying. In Lessig’s talk above he does this a great deal, but think mostly of the use of “refrain.” In my example this is the point of the University Gates slide. Everyone knows what a University gate looks like (okay probably not everyone, but everyone in a room at an MLA panel does), but the multiple images added some umpfff to that point, hopefully helping people to recognize this was one of the framing issues of the talk.
  • Create Tension/Conflict Between What I am Saying and the Image: There is not really an example of this in the Wikipedia talk, but the idea here for me is to think of something that visually expands on what I am saying that also might undermine or point in another direction. It is a way of creating a link to some other idea without having to talk about it directly at the time, and gives me something to go back to in the Q&A
  • As a Joke: I think one of the ways speakers struggle is a failure to recognize the need to entertain/hold interest. Now I am not suggesting that one should juggle throughout the talk, but creating a sense of immediacy or enjoyment keeps the audience interested. Perhaps I get this idea from having worked at summer camps, or teaching middle school youth where you had to keep there attention, but I find slides can do this well in a formal set-up. So in the Wikipedia presentation, this is the point of the K-fed slide (some people laughed some didn’t but either way it was better than not having the image, and it did not distract from the point.
  • Transitions: These will be single words or concept slides. Especially in a longer presentation, this gives people a sense that one is moving the discourse, making it easier for them to follow along. In the Wikipedia case there are not really any of these as I had only two parts and the audio covers the transition, but again Lessig does this in his.

What I don’t use:

  • Bullet Points: Please God No! For the love of all that is holly stop using bullet points. Bullet points caused the Space Shuttle to crash (don’t believe me, look it up, its on Wikipedia). Bullet points seem to me to be the presentation version of the five paragraph format, the only use of which is to create plug and play writing that can be easily taught and produced, but that is rhetorically vapid. (I know there are bullet points out to the side here, but that is an html format style for denoting a list, not the same.)
  • Charts/Graphs: Okay so I don’t present on business or economics, but seems to me that there are so many charts and graphs out there in the world that they represent nothing. I would prefer to create a slide that just showed the key number. For example “75%” rather than a line that shows “75% growth.”

Step Three: Making The Slides

This is actually a relatively easy process, although I think it is the one that people see as taking the most time. But again, I think this is a factor of not having a clear idea going in to the slide making process. I use Keynote, but PowerPoint, or Impress the OpenOffice version (which is free) will all work. The key here is to treat these programs as design programs not word processor programs (this is why I like Keynote a little better as it favors this approach). I almost always use a blank slide, never using the pre-given ones. Again this makes me think of the slide as an image the audience will see, even if the image is all text.

For Creating Text Based Slides: These are the easiest to create. All you do is open your presentation, and copy the revlevant text to the clipboard. Go to the presentation software, make a text box, and paste the desired text in. After pasting in the text, manipulate it to look the way you want. A few things I try to keep in mind:

  • Select a Sans-serif font (like Monaco, Helvetica, Trebuchet, etc.) these are easy to read at a distant and easier to read on a screen. I don’t know if this is true but I have been told that serif fonts were designed to make reading on paper easier on the eyes, but it actually has the reverse effect on a screen.
  • Make the text large. You have no idea how large the room will be, and how far back someone will be seated.
  • I think the easiest color to read from a projector is white writing on black slides so I usually go with this.

For Creating Image Slides: The key to doing this is “screencapture.” Almost all of the image slides from my presentation were made this way. I am not going to walk through a long tutorial here on how to do screen capture, because that would take up another few hours, and more importantly there is a good basic rundown at Wikipedia. This one covers the difference between Mac and PC, and points to free software that can make this process even easier. I will make a plug for the program I use, SnapZ’ Pro. It is paid software, and a little on the expensive side, but it is also what I use for making screencasts so the investment is worth it for me. I should also note here that you actually don’t need any software to do this, as both Mac and PC have this functionality built in, but some of the freeware programs make the steps smoother.

Take for example the Wikipedia slides. All I do is open up a browser and take a picture of the Wikipedia page that I want. Now I have the page saved as an image file, ready to drop in a slide. If there is a part of the slide I want to focus more on than I just take another picture of the relevant section at a higher zoom rate. To make this slide:

Main 1.jpg

I took the following two pictures.

piece1 1.jpgpiece2.jpg Dropped the first into Keynote, and put the second over-top. This is what I mean by graphic layout, a matter of collecting the images and positioning them. It is really a simple process once you get a bit of practice at it. All of the Wikipedia slides probably took me 20 minutes (at most) to make.

You can also do a quick google image search to find images you want and just drop them into your presentation. There are probably copyright issues to be aware of here, but most of what I do would be covered by fair use.

Step Four: Making a Title Slide

No trick here, just an important step as later when I syndicate the presentation (make it available to others) I want the presentation to have an opening that says what this is about. I put the name of the presentation, my home url ( in case someone wants to contact me about it later, and a creative commons license. This makes sure that the information stays free (as in free beer), I use the share and share alike, but the Creative Commons site will walk you through the various choices if you want. The nice thing about the Creative Commons site is that it gives you the image you can add to your slides. I actually have the image file saved to my computer so that I can easily add it, but you can always just get it from them every time you want it.

Step Five: Making Sure That You Can Use it Anywhere.

Nothing sucks more than making a presentation and then not being able to show it because the available computer won’t work, doesn’t have the right software etc. So these are the steps I take to make sure it will work (barring the situation where the projector in the room burns out).

  • My first choice is always to run the program off my own laptop. Just remember to take your own video adapter if you have a Mac (I actually just keep one in my bag to avoid having this error). Also remember to modify your power settings so that your computer does not go to sleep in the middle of your talk. Two of the other presentors on the Wikipedia panel pulled off the neat trick of reading the presentation of the screen while showing slides on the main overheard. This requires that you not mirror your displays, but looks really polished, especially if you use a remote to advance the slides. I prefer to read off paper and use the computer solely for the slides, this way if something goes wrong with my computer I still have text to read, and I can use one of the options below.
  • My first back-up plan is to load the slides to SlideShare this site is like Youtube for slides. Basically you create an account, and upload your slides (they accept PowerPoint but not Keynote, if you are using Keynote you will need to export the presentation to .pdf before uploading, see below for more on this). Now any computer that is connected to the internet can see/display the presentation. So if you are in a room where your computer cannot access the projector but the computer in the room can. All you need is a browser, and since just about every computer has a browser no worries. This also insures that you do not need to count on the computer having PowerPoint or whatever presentation software you are using, as this again requires only the web. This also has the advantage of letting the audience see the slides later.
  • But let’s say that there is a computer in the room, but it doesn’t have internet access, and you cannot be assured that it will have the presentation software you need. No worries this is where my third back-up plan comes into play. One of my favorite gadgets, the flashdrive. I always export the presentation when I am done, into two forms: .pdf and .jpg. You do this by selecting Export from the File menu in Keynote, in PowerPoint you select File->Save As, in Openoffice you File->Export. Now all you need is a computer hooked up to a projector, you plug in your flash drive and show the files. The .pdf version should be easily showable through Adobe, the .jpg through any number of viewers. But wait there’s more. I carry on my flashdrive to simple, small programs: jview and Foxitreader. Now, I don’t even need the computer to have anything on it, I can just plug my flashdrive in, and show the slides, because I have both the program, and the slides on the flashdrive. At several conferences others on my panels have run into problems getting their presentations to work for whatever reasons. I have used this as a quick solution several times, I pass them my flashdrive, have them export the presentation as a .jpg or as a .pdf and then they can show the presentation off another computer, which ever one has worked with the projector, or equipment in the room.

Step Five: Syndication

Okay, this is the hardest step and requires the most variation depending on what platform you are using, I will cover what I do on a Mac first, then suggest some ways to make this work on a PC, and finally cover how to make the files available to all.

On a Mac

Doing this on a Mac is actually fairly straight forward if you have on program: ProfCast. All you do is launch ProfCast, and drop the icon for the presentation you want into the ProfCast window, click Record, and start talking. ProfCast handles the rest. Audio quality can be a bit tricky depending on what you have. The internal microphone for a Mac isn’t all that great and I found on my laptop you basically have to be right on top of it to make it work (hence the low sound quality on the MLA presentation). If you use an external microphone make sure you change the settings. It is a good idea to give the presentation a short test run before you try and record the whole thing at twenty minutes and realize you had a setting wrong and have to redo the whole thing. Once I have everything set, a day or two before the conference presentation when I want to give the paper a read-through I fire up ProfCast and record the presentation, and outcomes the presentation as a podcast with slides and audio. If you want to convert this to a different format, you can use Quicktime. (Really if you have a Mac and want to do this often I recommend ProfCast, well worth it.)

What if you do not have ProfCast and you don’t want to spend the $29.95 on ProfCast? (Note they do offer an educational discount allthough you have to email to find out. They also offer a 15 day demo for free, so for the first time you want to do this you can give it a try no charge.) You can always use a screencast program, or record the audio in GarageBand (free on your Mac) and package the slides and audio separate. (Just be clear during your audio which slide the viewer should be seeing.)

On a PC

I don’t know of any software for the PC that makes it as easy as ProfCast does. But what you can do is check out one of these screencapture applications on Wikipedia and use them. What you would do is launch the screencapture program, launch powerpoint, run the presentation and record as you read through and cycle through the slides. The problem with this is that it will create a really large file (unless you record on a low image quality), so distributing this file to others could be an issue. You could just use an audio recording program and record the audio separate from the slides and make both available (this is what I have seen others often do) again just be clear to the audience when they should transition between slides.

Making it Avialable

If you followed the above, the slides by themselves should already be available on SlideShare. This is free and makes them viewable by anyone with a browser. To make the podcast of the presentation available you have several choices. If you know someone with a lot of extra bandwith (like your University) you can always host it there and direct people to download, but given the rise of digital download services like YouSendIt, it is pretty easy to make these available to others. I use RapidShare as it has been reliable and is free, its main disadvantage has been that users can’t download multiple files from them without waiting for a given time period. But since most users only want one file at a time (it’s not like I have 32 presentations people are trying to download) this works fine. If you were going to be syndicating class lectures though, I recommend getting your University to host this.

One last note: Once you have your presentation as a podcast, and if you have it recorded before said presentation, you can export it to your own digital audio player, carry it around with you and listen to it before you present as a form of practice.

Other Resources

If you are looking for more information on making or syndicating your presentations you might consider some of the following links