By Monte Ferguson
The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. Nowhere is that more true than when giving a presentation. A presentation is usually a lecture or speech that is given before an audience for the purpose of consideration, or education. Most presentations revolve around detailed information and analysis. To help make sense of that data, and to keep the audience focused, good presenters use visual aids like slides to convey key points. In the old days that meant an awful lot of manual labor assembling and creating the materials for the visual aids. As time went by, and computers came to the fore, people turned to them for making presentations. These days you can buy dedicated presentation programs. These programs make very professional looking presentations and spare you much of the work.
Keynote is a presentation program. It is a new comer to this field, and only one of two dedicated programs for the Mac. It was also one of Apple’s best kept secrets, yet shown to millions. The secret was that no one outside of the company was aware that Apple was developing a presentation program. So, when it was announced, almost everyone in the general public was caught off guard. But we had been viewing the program for a while. You see this program had a beta tester of one, Mr. Steve Jobs himself. For over a year he had been testing it, and getting up in front of audiences using this software. By the time it was released it had already been field tested.
Keynote takes many of it’s cues from Apple’s other software. It sports a slick and simplistic interface that belies it’s true power. Before we move further into the review let’s examine Keynote’s interface.
The Keynote window contains three sections—the slide canvas, slide organizer, and the notes field—that let you see detailed views of your slides and slideshow as you work.
The slide canvas is where you design each slide. You can easily drag graphics files, movie files, and even sound files to the canvas to add them to your slideshow. You create a slideshow using a theme , which lets you work with a family of master slides to create a handsome and cohesive look throughout your presentation. Different master slides within each theme make it easy to add titles and bulleted text in effective visual layouts. As you work on designing your slides, you may want to zoom in or out to get a better view at what you are doing.
You can organize the slides in your presentation using the slide organizer at the left side of the Keynote window. The slide organizer allows you to “indent” your slides so that you can group them as you work. You can also choose to hide slides that you don’t want to appear in your slideshow. The slide organizer has two views: navigator view, which is most useful for graphics-intensive presentations, and outline view, best for text-heavy presentations. In navigator view, the slide organizer displays a thumbnail image of each slide in your presentation, which makes it easy to see the flow of graphics-rich presentations. To help you organize your presentation as you work, you can group slides by indenting them, creating a “visual outline” of the entire slideshow. Disclosure triangles allow you to show or hide groups of slides. You can also “skip” slides so that they will not appear when you present your slideshow.
The notes field is an area in which you can type or view notes for each slide. These notes are not visible in the slideshow presentation but they can be viewed on an alternate display or printed as a talking aid to use during your slideshow presentation.
Although it is not a separate work area in Keynote, the Toolbar is also a handy tool and a prominent feature in the interface. The Keynote toolbar gives you one-click access to many of the actions you’ll use when creating presentations in Keynote. As you work in Keynote and get to know which commands you use most often, you can add or remove buttons in the Keynote toolbar to make the most common commands easily available.
Keynote utilizes many technologies in MacOS X to make some very visually appealing presentations. Keynote gives you smooth text and crisp graphics. Keynote lets you add most standard file types to your presentation—including PDF, GIF, TIFF, JPEG, PICT, and QuickTime—with drag-and-drop ease, and displays crisp graphics, smoothed text, and different levels of transparency. Set off your points with formatted text or image bullets. Add shadows and transparency to your images. Alignment guides and position and size tags help you size and position objects precisely and consistently on the slide canvas. Animate your slides with object builds, which draw your tables or other items onto the slide as you talk through them. You can add images with alpha channel masks, say a multilayered Photoshop file, to add a unique visual touch. You can adjust text and image opacity in one of the included inspectors. Keynote can import and save out to Microsoft Powerpoint.
Organizing your presentation is also a snap with the slide organizer, which keeps the entire presentation at your fingertips. You can rearrange slides on the fly, or arrange them into groups to help you organize your thoughts. Or you can use outline view, which provides a list of the bulleted text points in your presentation at a glance. Resize and manipulate graphics with sharp results every time. You can choose from eight different chart types, including pie charts, bar charts, and line charts. Formatting charts, tables, text, graphics, and more is a snap with the inspectors. Type or paste your data into the Chart Data Editor.
Can’t design an attractive presentation to save your life? Apple thought of that. Keynote comes with predesigned themes. Keynote makes it easy to develop compelling presentations with a cohesive look and feel. If you like to do-it-yourself it's easy to create your own custom themes, too. (Or you can look up one of the number of web sites out there offering Keynote themes for downloading.)
I’m one of the worst people to be trying out Keynote. I have never used a presentation program in my life. Having said that Keynote was pretty easy to use. Getting up and running was quick and painless. The included professional themes are a godsend. They made even my initial attempts look beautiful. The built in font handling was smooth and looked great at any resolution. I loved the transitions. Once you get the hang of them it was a piece of cake to add a transition. In fact it was so easy you might be tempted to overdo the transitions. I loved the export options. It’s always hard to tell what equipment someone else might have. The ability to save to PDF or Quicktime alleviate those concerns, and allow you to repurpose your presentation for the web. The built in image library was a very pleasant surprise. They’re high quality images too. So you can print out your presentation without worrying about low quality images marring your print outs. Subtle touches, like transparency, are fun and addicting.
I hope you like inspectors. There are several of them and you need to consult them to tweak settings or image and text parameters. This can quickly lead to a messy, or crowded screen. If you’re someone who thinks all Mac programs should be so drop dead easy that you never need a manual, you might be slightly disappointed with Keynote. I found myself having to refer to the documentation to find out how to perform some of those snazzy options. (Though this might be attributed to my lack of experience with presentation programs.) Several cool features are buried in Inspectors or contextual menu’s. Initial performance of the program was ok, but not spectacular. Apple released an update for Keynote which seems to have taken care of that issue. Some folks have mentioned, with the initial release, mixed results importing their PowerPoint files into Keynote, or exporting their Keynote files to PowerPoint.
You have to give it to Apple. They’ve taken a niche that everyone else had written off, presentation software, and came out with an impressive offering. Keynote follows Apple’s philosophy of simplifying the complicated and making things accessible for the rest of us. The program almost makes it fun to put a presentation together. It doesn’t have every feature of PowerPoint but it covers most of the bases. For most folks Keynote is worth a serious look.
Posted: Thursday, September 1st, 2005