What tools do you use to give presentations?

I was wondering what tools that people in this field (theoretical computer science) use to create presentations. Since a great deal of computer science is not just writing papers but also giving presentations I thought that this would be an important soft question. This is inspired by the previous question what tools do you use to write papers. The most common that I have seen are as follows.

I was wondering if there are any other tricks that I am missing?

For drawing diagrams, there's tikz in latex, and, if you have a Mac and a bit of cash, Omnigraffle. Both produce high quality diagrams.

• +1 for tikz. Difficult learning curve, but fantastic for including diagrams/figures in paper and being able to reuse them in presentation as if it was native. Aug 17 '11 at 15:21
• be warned if you use tikz: it's horribly slow if you have many figurs. best to use tikz to create PDFs, and then embed them directly. Aug 18 '11 at 4:32
• I've also had problems with tikz interacting badly with other packages. Still a very nice tool though. Aug 25 '11 at 3:35
• How many figures do you need for it to "horribly slow"? Sure, it's not instantaneous, but I find it at least tolerable. Aug 27 '11 at 1:09
• @Suresh: Time to buy a faster computer. Aug 27 '11 at 7:26

Keynote is one of the popular software, though I use PowerPoint

• I use it in combination with LaTeXit to include LaTeX formulas. Pretty happy about it. Aug 17 '11 at 14:31

Two tools I can mention, and I guess it's an answer to both questions (tools for presentations and tools for papers).

The first is Xfig, an ugly yet very powerful program for making figures, available for several platforms. I usually include $\LaTeX$ code and export as Combined PS/PDF/LaTeX, which allows me to compile with (xe)latex or pdflatex without having to change the input for the figures every time. Others may prefer to write code for their figures, but I've found that Xfig is powerful enough, and making figures is quite fast once you are used to the functionalities and the keyboard shortcuts.

The second is the book Trees, maps and theorems, by Jean-luc Doumont. It is not a tool to make or give a presentation, but to make or give a good one. I am all for simplicity when it comes to presentations. We all know, or understand, that a slide full of text might not be the best means of communicating a message or a series of messages, but this book goes beyond that kind of basic, "common sense" advice, giving guidelines on how to write comprehensible text in scientific papers (and slides), how to make figures that visually attractive and easy to understand, and even how to structure a document (you'd be surprised when you realize how "primitive" the intro-content-conclusions structure is). I could say more, but I guess it's better if you read some reviews out there.

• Xfig is great. We really need a new interface for it... Aug 17 '11 at 14:29
• with ipe, there's really no need to ever use Xfig. Combine this with inkscape, and you're set. Aug 18 '11 at 4:32
• @suresh-venkat you could say that of many things. For example, with Xfig there's no need to ever use inkscape. Or: with a professional designer making your presentations for you, there's no need of ever using any tools at all... Aug 18 '11 at 12:05
• fair enough. what I mean is that ipe does latex integration better than xfig, and inkscape provides what I believe to more powerful tools. Aug 18 '11 at 20:45
• Having used xfig exclusively for years, I can say with some confidence that xfig the most clunky, drain-bamaged, convoluted, sadistic graphics program on earth; it's only saving grace is that it actually works, sort of, at least for simple things. I'd honestly rather use PowerPoint than xfig, and I'd rather poke out my eyes with a fork than use PowerPoint. Aug 19 '11 at 6:20

Something that is not well known and used in academia yet is http://prezi.com/

It's a completely online tool to create presentations. Basically it's a cool way to navigate a poster. In my opinion it's ideal for short presentations, such as group meetings or rump sessions. Unfortunately many features, such as LateX support, are still missing. But it's promising and there are free licenses for students and teachers.

• this looks really cool! I haven't seen it used before, did you use at any of your talks? If so, what were the reactions like? Aug 17 '11 at 20:46
• The one time I saw this used in a technical talk everyone complained of seasickness afterwards from all the swooping transitions. Aug 18 '11 at 3:52
• I have seen one conference talk by Maurice Herlihy that used this. The slides look pretty much like this: prezi.com/nea-kgtewxlm/atmcs. I think it was great.
– Danu
Aug 18 '11 at 9:04
• Prezi's presentation model is several views (at different positions, scales, and angles) on a single STATIC document. There's no equivalent of "overlays". For example, you can't show the evolution in place of a data structure or geometric construction in place; you can only swoosh from one frame to the next. Prezi could support this by adding instant transitions, but apparently vertigo is the new black. Aug 19 '11 at 6:14
• Please excuse me while I try not to lose my dinner. Aug 25 '11 at 22:28

Especially in TCS/maths, the good old blackboard can be of good use for proofs and examples. If there is none available or you have to project or record, try software implementations such as Lecturnity.

On the hardware part, get some pointing device as using your hand is bad style. Some people use sticks, others lasers. Note that there are wireless (via USB dongle) gadgets that combine a laser pointer with keys to navigate a slides. I think those are very useful since you do not have to move to your PC for every slide change.

Last but not least, you need a timer/alarm-clock you can easily and inconspicuously read off to check your time.

• Alas, TCS conferences almost never supply blackboards. Also, using your hand to point is great style, if the screen is small enough to reach. The audience will mentally point their hands to the same place, making the target go further into their brains. Laser dots are too hard to ignore if they're moving (think cats), too hard to see if they're not, and too abstract to get past the civilized part of the brain. Aug 19 '11 at 6:01
• Huh, interesting point of view; I have never felt that way about laser pointers. In that case, I think we can agree on a pointing stick. I just think presentators who stretch or even jump to point at something look increadibly silly. Controlling a mouse cursor with a (IR) laser pointer is also possible and maybe desirable, but not widely spread. Aug 19 '11 at 10:02

As I mentioned in the comment, Ipe and/or inkscape gives you really nice figures, and doing overlays is almost trivial. You can either make the entire presentation in ipe/inkscape, or make the figures and embed them in beamer+latex.

What about LibreOffice, the "libre" version of Oracle's OpenOffice?

I'm using that one for all my non-office work (we use MS products at work).

I use Omnigraffle + LatexIt to generate pdf that I read with preview or that I embed using beamer into a larger presentation.

• This looks overly complicated. What are the advantages? Aug 17 '11 at 22:12
• Omnigraffle is doing a better job than any embedded drawing tool of powerpoint or keynote, and is simple to use. The embeddeding in beamer allow to have TOC, pages numbering, progression indicators, etc. Of course, for flat slides (=text and formulas), beamer is enough. Aug 17 '11 at 22:23

I use Slideshow, a programmable slide presentation tool in Racket. Having a real programming language, not just LaTeX, is a huge win.

I don't really recommend this — it's an expensive way to go for what it does, though in my case it came bundled with other software I needed anyway — but I generally use Adobe InDesign to make my slide shows as pdf files, and then use either Adobe Reader or Apple's Preview to present them.

InDesign is a page layout program: its intended purpose is laying out magazine articles, with the text wrapping around the figures etc, but it's easily adapted to a slide-like format. For me it gives a good balance between WYSIWIG placement of content on the page (I don't want to fight with LaTeX about where exactly the figures and the text are placed in relation to each other) and professional content layout (e.g. proper handling of vector graphics rather than just rasterizing everything, and easy snapping of content to alignment lines rather than having to align things by eye and hope it's close enough).

For the images within the slides, I use other software (e.g. Illustrator or Photoshop) and then place the files within InDesign.

What I don't get with this setup is support for mathematical formulas that include anything more complicated than subscripts and superscripts. But I think that in general that sort of thing is best avoided in talk slides anyway.

• FWIW, Keynote also properly handles vector graphics and automatically snaps content to align with key points on the slide and/or other objects. (In principle, so does PowerPoint, but using Microsoft software is like fighting a bear with Asbergers, so no.) In the rare (hopefully) cases where you need more complex math, LaTeXit will generate PDFs that can be pasted into Illustrator, InDesign, or Keynote. (But doing this right requires some clever font matching, else the math won't match the body text.) Aug 19 '11 at 5:57
• David: are there any examples of the InDesign presentations on the web? Also, can you do animations on the slide using InDesign? Aug 19 '11 at 9:04
• My publications page includes links to many of my presentations; here's a recent example: ics.uci.edu/~eppstein/pubs/Epp-CCCG-10.pdf (it's not likely to look very different from a powerpoint — the point is more in the process than the results). As for animations, I tend not to use them much — you can make sequences of slides that show different stages of a construction easily enough, but not true video, at least not that I know how to do. Aug 28 '11 at 6:26

Many times I use /Xournal/ under Linux on a tablet pc "lenovo X61". It allows me to write my slides by hand, yet copy paste the structure from one slide to the other, redo the stuff till I am happy with it, and give it a particular slide.

I was pointed out that in some groups it was perceived as a lack of professionalism or effort (which I feel is not true), for those groups I make some slides in /Beamer/.

On occasion I have used a mere /orgmode/ file under /emacs/, unrolling and rolling the sections as needed: I like how you see the overall structure and then zoom in, a bit like in /prezi/. It can display LaTeX formula, but the size of the fonts sometime is an issue.

Inkscape. You can edit your PDFs with it.

If you're a programmer at heart and a fan of Ruby, you might enjoy rfig.

I use beamer + pdfpcnotes.sty to present with pdfpc which has the following features (according to their website):

• Shows current and next slide
• Support for notes, both as text and on slides (as generated by LaTeX beamer)
• Support for overlays (e.g. as generated by the beamer LaTeX package)
• Timer or countdown showing remaining time in the presentation
• Overview mode for quick switching between slides
• Freezing and turning off the presentation view
• Customizable keybindings, enabling support for different presenter devices
• Video playback support

To make nice figures, I use draw.io which can be used offline as well.

For drawing it is also convenient to use Inkscape instead of tikz: it can embed latex code with the plugin Textext, and you can directly draw what you want instead of starting worrying about coordinates. I use both depending on the particular task at hand.

I think that great addition to mentioned tools is mind-mapping software.

Among other mind-mapping applications, it's great to make presentations rapidly, for example in 15minutes, 1hour presentation.

My favourite mind-mapping software is Freemind (with keyboard shortcuts it's really fast, ergonomic (especially for people with RSI problems).

Asciidoc with it's Slidy extension is a nice alternative to latex based environment, while still using favourite text editor :).

P.S. What I like most in Asciidoc - outside of it's syntax - is , it's plugin interface. It's easy to create scripts that exports data from your research. Each time I compute more results, I need only to put "make" to have presentation with newest data :).

Another powerful option for drawing graphics is Asymptote. It is a language, not a GUI, and LaTeX is baked in. If you are familiar with Knuth's MetaPost then think of it as like that but with the drawing constructs extended to 3D and with a more familiar syntax, in that you usually produce stand-alone graphics that you then import into the document. It is Freely available, under current development, and comes with TeX Live or MiKTeX.

For folks who know TikZ, one contrast is that there you usually include the drawing generation as part of the document, which adds complexity, and here the 3D stuff is arguably more powerful.

There is a great tutorial, and a large number of packages, including an unofficial graph package that I find useful.

nobody has mentioned http://prezi.com/ - innovative tool for presentation. Yet limited on formulas and other scientific stuff, but you can embed images with your graphs.

• Somebody has mentioned it already. Aug 18 '11 at 22:13