New ways to look at your presentation

This blog post is about presentations. And this usually means PowerPoint presentations, although some people do well without it1. Edward Tufte argues that PowerPoint can be a really bad tool to create slides2. But it is probably not the software, but rather the people that produce these slides that are responsible for the quality3. The Neurotic Physiology blog published a list of things you shouldn't do during a Powerpoint presentation4. But there are also many tips to create better presentations. A May 2008 Nature Methods editorial5 gives ten such suggestions. Links to some more Powerpoint tips were collected in a Nautilus blog post6 by Maxine Clarke. One positive example is this presentation by Matt Wood from the Science Blogging London conference:

The Nature Network Visualization & Science Forum is a great place for further discussions.

Presentations can also be created online. Google Docs and Zoho Show have been around for a while now, but 280Slides7 is a fairly new offering with a very slick interface. The advantages of these programs: slides can be created by several authors working together and slides can be easily shared. But presentations created with Powerpoint can also be shared online. Slideshare and Scribd are the most popular tools for this, and since last week these presentations can be embedded into Nature Network blog posts. By default, these presentations are public and can be seen by everybody. But they can also be uploaded as private presentations and only those that know the secret URL can see them. Presentations in the life sciences can also be uploaded to Nature Preceedings8. This way the scientific presentation receives a DOI and becomes citable. But Nature Preceedings has still a long way to go with currently only about 50 presentations available. Which is a bit suprising, since it looks like the perfect platform to host conference presentations.

YouTube videos or podcasts are probably the preferred format to share presentations that also include the recorded audio. Having the audio available is especially important for those presentations that have little text on their slides. Many presentations from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference9 have been made available as TEDTalks, including this one by Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor:

If you want to give a presentation remotely (i.e. to one or more people in a different location), you could use that feature in Google Docs10. Or use a full-fledged web conferencing solution such as Dimdin11, which is free for up to 20 users and also is available as Open Source community edition.

fn1. Powerpoint to the People

fn2. Kemp M. PowerPoint presentations and the culture of pitch. Nature 2006; doi:10.1038/442140a

fn3. Don't hate Powerpoint; Hate the Powerpointers

fn4. And Now, a Powerpoint Presentation

fn5. Talking points. Nature Methods 2008; doi:10.1038/nmeth0508-371

fn6. How to give a good presentation

fn7. 280Slides

fn8. Nature Preceedings

fn9. TED

fn10. Google Docs – Now with Presentation

fn11. Dimdim

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35 Responses to New ways to look at your presentation

  1. Heather Etchevers says:

    What I like about a lot of your posts, Martin, is that you make a mighty fine aggregator unto yourself.
    I’d like to add to your list of worthy (general) presentation design tips by “pointing your readers here”:

  2. Martin Fenner says:

    Thanks for the great link, Heather. I found that there are also a lot of helpful blog and forum posts about this topic on Nature Network.
    And I realized how much I still have to learn. After writing this blog post I found my own presentation that I had to give this morning pretty boring. I also realized that with presentations like the one by Matt Wood, laser pointers are no longer needed.

  3. Stephen Curry says:

    How _long_ did it take Matt to get through 110 slides (which do look great, btw)?

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    I was in a parallel session, but I guess around 30 minutes. A week later I listed to his “Genomes on Rails”: talk and that was 123 slides in 30 minutes. But it didn’t feel to fast.

  5. Richard P. Grant says:

    A parallel _universe_, more like.

  6. Stephen Curry says:

    @Martin _that was 123 slides in 30 minutes. But it didn’t feel to fast_
    Methinks I’d like to see one of Matt’s talks for myself – he has a really striking visual style.
    Matt – when’s your next London gig?

  7. Graham Steel says:

    As if by magic, here’s a video of Matt’s talk at sciblog.

  8. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks for that – it’s a bit hard to see what’s on the screen but it does give a flavour.

  9. Graham Steel says:

    Indeed. What ya do of course is start the vid and then scroll back up and sync in with Matt’s slides 😉

  10. Stephen Curry says:

    Genius. (And privately, to self: “Doh!”)

  11. Maxine Clarke says:

    Looks like a big blank space to me!

  12. Graham Steel says:

    _Looks like a big blank space to me!_
    Quite, it’s called TA to us public.

    To be fair to Maxine _(and all UK internet users generally)_, as I did yesterday, run “this test”: from the fortuitous folks at and if you can’t solve your download/upload speed after that, call your internet provider, ask questions, or, give in and make Jam.

  13. Graham Steel says:

    Steel nips in again before he fecks off for the night and leaves a Jam Jar that he made earlier.
    Pearl Jam, Alive (live 2006):-

  14. Cameron Neylon says:

    It appears I can download the video file (flv format) so if anyone is willing to spend the time ripping the audio to do a version synching with the slides then give me a hoy. You wil just have to live with the sound of me typing :-)

  15. Martin Fenner says:

    Cameron and Graham, thanks for the video. I agree with Cameron that the slides synched with the audio would probably work best for this (and most other presentations). For Macintosh users like me, “Garageband”: is probably a good tool to do this.
    There are certainly presentations you don’t want to be recorded or blogged about, e.g. because they contain confidential information. For all other presentations at meetings we probably will see more and more professional audio and video recording equipment to distrubute the information later on. And some of this will be in real time, using tools like Dimdim and “Adobe ConnectNow”:

  16. Maxine Clarke says:

    Is that Garageband any relation to Henry Gee the Garageband monster? That’s what it says on his blog description, not that it means anything to me.

  17. Graham Steel says:
  18. Matt Wood says:

    Thanks for the feedback, one and all.
    Presenting is certainly a skill that can be learnt and refined over time. I think the object is to try and tell a story: photos and big text help, but the goal is really about engaging an audience with that message. Slides are important, but a good story is the key.
    As Martin suggested, Powerpoint isn’t to blame for the poor quality of many presentations, but the New Slide Wizard certainly makes it easy to do the wrong thing.
    @Stephen: nothing lined up at the moment in London, I’m afraid, but I will be speaking at the EBI in November, with a talk entitled ‘Extreme Informatics’. Looking forward to that one!

  19. Martin Fenner says:

    One person conclusion for me: creating a bad presentation can be quick, especially when you use the templates provided. Creating a good presentation just takes more time.

  20. Martin Fenner says:

    I forgot to mention another new online tool to create presentations: “SlideRocket”: Looks as if it can create great-looking presentations, and it also does webcasts.

  21. Stephen Curry says:

    SlideRocket does look pretty snazzy – thanks for the link. For the moment I’m kind of committed to Powerpoint (for teaching) and Keynote (for seminars and talks) but some of these web-based tools are catching up fast!

  22. Stephen Curry says:

    Say Martin – do you know of a program that allows you to write off-line but then synchs when you are online so that the document is available wherever you are? Google Docs works as long as you are online but can’t be used offline.

  23. Martin Fenner says:

    Stephen, that’s a good point. I sometimes work on presentations when offline (e.g. in the train). In theory Google Gears could do that. But it currently only works with a few programs. Alternatively, you could store your presentations in a place like slideshare or, but that involves a few extra steps. Microsoft Office Live is another possibility.
    The online/offline dilemma is also relevant to reference managers. I like an online solution for access from different computers (e.g. work/home or collaborators), but I also like to have all references and PDFs on my hard drive for those offline situations. Mendeley can sync the offline and online references.

  24. Stephen Curry says:

    I see that SlideRocket will let you save and replay your slideshow from your hard-drive – in case you need to present when offline. But, as you say, the ability to edit offline is very useful.
    I would dearly like this facility for word processing (just for simple tasks like creating blog posts – nothing fancy). Have recently come across “Evernote”:, which looks promising since you can get desktop versions (for Mac and PC) and then sign up for a free online account so that you can synchronise across all platforms. Could be a good way out for me since I have just invested in an “eeePC”: (Windows) but have a Mac for heavy-duty stuff. The program is also good for taking web-clippings and managing images. There’s an iPhone version too for those who are blessed.
    Now, if only I can get my lecture notes, created on a Mac in PowerPoint 2004, to display correctly in PowerPoint 2008 on my Mac (symbol font messed up – equations scrambled) _and_ on PCs with the 2003 and 2007 versions… I can see pain and pdfs in my immediate future…

  25. Maxine Clarke says:

    Thanks for all the Garageband pics. I never watch videos on the Internet but I think I get the drift from the shot on the “front page”.
    Stephen, sounds fiendishly complicated but integration definitely a worthy goal. My blog platform keeps telling me I can post by mobile phone (they don’t realise I have the “old age pensioner” special) which would be fine for offline, but I suppose you could not do spellcheck and other editing functions on a phone? Just guessing.
    Martin – on the train? I was quite surprised to see free wireless on one train line in the UK when travelling to Yorkshire a couple of months ago. And apparently it is available on mainline train stations in London and many UK airports though I have not tried it. Of course you can get wireless pretty much anywhere in the USA. Maybe the rest of Europe isn’t so internet-mad. Soon, I imagine, it will be quite hard to find anywhere that *isn’t* online. Sigh. (I quite like a bit of peace to read my book or just to think, now and again.)

  26. Martin Fenner says:

    Stephen, I use Keynote for presentations, and export to PDF when I have to present on a Windows PC. Works much better than switching between Powerpoint Mac and Windows where fonts are regularly messed up. This of course doesn’t work if you also want to edit the file on a PC.
    The Word processor Zoho Writer uses Google Gears for offline use. I also started using Evernote, but currently “Yojimbo”: is my favorite tool for storing snippets of information.

  27. Stephen Curry says:

    Gosh Maxine – if you can manage to get Martin’s “post on Papers”: from _this morning_ into “Nautilus”:, I’m sure you’re capable of anything!
    Martin – am with you once again on _Keynote_ – great piece of software but I haven’t fully gone over to it for teaching since it’s still a bit tricky to integrate equations (I have got hold of “LaTeXit”: but not yet gone back to re-do all my slides…). Do you know of better solutions to this?

  28. Martin Fenner says:

    Stephen, I don’t do Math equations. But I guess you need a good equation editor for the Mac and then save the equation as PDF or JPEG. In addition to the one you mentioned, try
    * “MathMagic”:
    * “LaTex Equation Editor”:
    * “MathType”:
    Alternatively, you can use the Microsoft Equation Editor that comes with Office 2004 or 2008 and copy/paste to Keynote.

  29. Frank Norman says:

    On a related topic, there is an article in _The Scientist_ about “Colin Purrington’s techniques”: for enhancing poster presentations. I liked the suggestion about “wearing clothes that color coordinate with one’s poster” and he says “apparently this has been studied, CMAJ 169:1291, 2003″.

  30. Martin Fenner says:

    Frank, thanks for the link. We had (briefly) discussed the CMAJ study and other poster-related topics in “this blog post”:

  31. Massimo Pinto says:

    A week late almost, and I have just discovered that slideshare can help you make a _slidecast_ on exisiting presentations. Just upload and mp3 file with the author commenting the slides, and it will help you setting the slide transitions.
    One needs a good audio input though. Could do at ScienceBlogging 2009.

  32. Martin Fenner says:

    Massimo, thanks for the tip. The combination of slides and audio is probably a good format for most presentations. Adding video requires a lot of technology but probably provides little extra value.

  33. Maxine Clarke says:

    “I can do anything” – but only on a Friday morning, 6 a.m., Stephen. That’s my window!
    Thanks for all the various presentation tips everyone. The one I understand most intuitively is the one about wearing clothes that colour-coordinate with one’s slides, but I must make myself be more ambitious.