I build software with Python, Django, ReactJS & React-Native. Every day. All day long.

Rethinking Presentations

Why My Current Presentation Stack Needs an Overhaul

I'm currently preparing a long tutorial about Linux essentials. While I really love Apple's Keynote and Github's Speaker Deck, I'm afraid that for this undertaking my usual "presentation stack" is not going to cut it. Here is why:

1. Collaboration

I will team up with Luther Goh Lu Feng. He is a well known Python developer at Hackerspace.SG and always looking for opportunities to spread the knowledge about all things digital.

We will be working on the slides remotely as a team, therefore Keynote is out of question. OK you could argue that we could just share the working file on Dropbox but that is bound to cause tons of file conflicts.

Google Docs would be an option, but it is not the best one because Google's change history is not really helpful. First of all, it saves a million changes, secondly I would have to click at a change and then scroll through the whole file in order to see what has been changed.

A solution based on Git would be better, because, you know, it is just the right tool for remotely collaborating on text-files.

2. Text Files

Text files? Oh yea! I really enjoy blogging with Pelican. Why? Because I don't need to be online (unlike Wordpress) in order to write my posts. I can just open up Vim and start writing. No distractions, just me and the words unfolding.

I want a presentation software that does not obfuscate my content in some proprietary format. If you think about it: Once that goal is reached we would probably just end up with human readable text files again, which means we could edit them using our favourite text editor.

And of course, when we are just dealing with text files, versioning them with Git would be a natural thing to do.

2. Colors

The tutorial will be very long and cover a huge amount of knowledge. I'm afraid that some attendants might give up halfway thinking that they have learnt enough or wondering when this torture is going to end.

Therefore I want to give a brief overview of all topics at the beginning and show why and how they relate to each other. I believe that giving color codes to each topic would be a good way to build a mental map inside the attendant's heads and keep in mind how far we have gotten in the presentation and what we are currently talking about.

Now check out this slide and press right arrow. See how nicely the background color changes? Keynote or Google Docs are not built for this usecase. They force a theme upon me and want me to keep it for the whole talk. Boring!

3. Syntax highlighting

I recently gave a talk at PyCon Singapore about writing reusable Django apps and naturally the slides of my talk contained a lot of code snippets. I'm probably doing it wrong but I painstakingly copied all those snippets into text boxes, changed font, color, background, border and arranged them on the slide. And I don't even have syntax highlighting for them.

This sucks! I want a presentation software that is built for showing code. Guess what: Reveal.js highlights code beautifully.

4. Cross device publishing

Speaker Deck looks quite decent on a mobile device but it's really not very responsive because it takes quite some time to load the whole presentation. Another problem is: You can't select the code snippets and copy and paste them. You would have to download the presentation as a PDF, which no one ever does.

Let's face it, most developers find content via social networks using their smartphones, for example while they are commuting. If someone followed a link to one of my presentations using his smartphone I want him to be able to read my presentation regardless of his device.

I'm also not sure how well Google would index presentations hosted on Speaker Deck. With slides made of pure HTML this should be no issue.

5. Virtual classroom

At PyCon Singapore I also gave a tutorial about hosting Django sites on Webfaction. It was supposed to be a hands on tutorial and I took countless hours to make sure that all code snippets work. However, after two hours we were still at the most basic slides and I had to stop the hands-on session and rush through the rest of the tutorial myself without waiting for the audience to catch up.

The problem was that the audience had to copy the commands via reading them from the projection screen and typing them in manually. I thought that this would be no big deal but you would be amazed about all those subtle little typos people can come up with.

Therefore I want a presentation software which allows me to show the presentation on every attendant's screen. That way they could read everything clearly right in front of their eyes and they could even copy and paste the commands during the hands-on exercises.

Enter Reveal.js

Astoundingly, it took me just about 5 minutes of research to find a solution that solves all my problems single-handedly: Enter Reveal.js.

  • The presentation is just a HTML file. That's a text file.
  • Therefore I can easily collaborate on it using Git
  • I can use Markdown and syntax highlighting in my slides
  • And I can work on it using my favorite text editor
  • I can host it on Github and nicely display it on any device
  • It allows me to easily change the background color of my slides
  • I can use multiplexing to allow my audience to follow the presentation on their own screens

I only found one drawback so far: Reveal.js needs to have the whole presentation in one big index.html file. This contradicts my need for collaboration because once again, merge conflicts would become a major issue.

Luckily I quickly found a pretty cool solution around this and I also figured out a nice way to host my presentation on Github.

How I did that? I will post a little how-to tomorrow. Stay tuned!

 
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