Tips for Doing Presentations with Apple’s Keynote: General Issues

The lecturer should give the audience full reason to believe that all his powers have been exerted for their pleasure and instruction.
Michael Faraday

I’ve agreed to do a presentation on “Organizing Creativity” at the next MinD-Akademie. It’s a conference organized by students (partly affiliated with the German Mensa) and they do incredible work — as do the participants. Given that a presentation in 2007 about organizing creativity pretty much started this blog (and the book), I’m happy to present there again (about this topic, I did three other presentations there in the meantime — like written, it’s a cool conference, a handful of days cooped up with smart people, yeah :-)).

I had the 2007 presentation still easily accessible in my “Archive Work Projects Full” DEVONthink database, but I decided to start anew first. The way I organize my creativity has changed since, 2007, and my knowledge about tools and methods has skyrocket.

Given the fun I had creating the presentation, I’ve decided to blog about a few things regarding presentations with Keynote here. I’ll split it up into:

  • Some general aspects (this posting)
  • Creating a personalized Keynote Template
  • Some nice Keynote Effects (hello transparent images and videos)

I’ll add the links to the two other postings as soon as they are online.

But first a few general aspects.


It’s strange to begin a posting about presentations with archiving, but it makes perfect sense if you want to reuse what you did. If you really invest in a presentation, in the best sense of the word like the quote above nicely states, well, that’s usually a lot of effort (and sometimes even time). So it makes sense to reuse what you have if that’s possible.

Unfortunately, Keynote went through a few changes (among others, to have it compatible with the iOS — i.e. iPod, iPhone, iPad versions) and some things got lost along the way. If you try to open old keynote files, you might encounter video conversion errors, crashes, or missing images.

The good news is that keynote files are basically compressed folders. Before you try the following out, make a copy of the file and work with the copy! If you display the file ending (Finder => Preferences => Advanced => Show all filename extensions) you can change the .key into .zip. Then you can double-click it to expand/uncompress it. If you look in the folder, you find all your images (in the Data folder). Note that there are usually two versions of an image, an original sized and a scaled down version. You could even search for the text but that’s … inconvenient.

So, what do you do when you want to archive a presentation? Two things: First the no-brainer: Keep the original keynote file. Even if you cannot open it, you can access the images you have used. Second, make two PDFs out of the presentation. First export the keynote presentation to PDF showing only the slides, then export it a second time with the presentation notes (if you use them). Decide on whether you want to export each stage of a built (animation) depending on your use of animation.

This will give you access to the original images and access to the text (via the PDF file). If worst comes to worst and the keynote cannot be opened, you can at least quickly recreate it.

BTW, if opening a keynote file crashes due to a video, look at this posting.

Text Shadows

This is one of the things where you think: “Apple … what the fuck?!?!”. If you have text with shadows you have to realize that there’s shadow and text shadow. When working with text, you sometimes have shadows you cannot get rid off, even after disabling it in the format settings (e.g., removing “drop shadow”). Luckily, there are sites that deal with this problem — which is that the Mac text formatting has its own shadow. Yup. Does not make sense. At the very least Keynote should allow direct access to these settings and display them. But no such luck. You have to press “Cmd + t” to open the Mac Fonts window. It’s the icon I’ve highlighted below.


Click on it to enable/disable the font shadow. Do it once and then update the text Paragraph style.

Presenting on iOS Devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad)

On the one hand, presenting with the keynote app from iOS devices is super-cool. If you’re into fantasy scenarios, you can keep your best/most loved/most general-audience compatible presentations on your iPhone and a projector adapter in your pocket. This way you could do a presentation about the stuff you like at any time! Yeah. But realistically, iOS devices are at best an alternative to carrying around your notebook, and at worst a fall-back strategy if your main device fails (and if you do enough presentations, it will). But before we go to fall-back strategies (below), first some issues regarding the keynote app.

First, it works. It even works well, but its got limitations. The iOS App uses a keynote app but relies on the fonts that are available on that device. And these aren’t many. Unfortunately, while you can add fonts while programming iOS apps, the keynote app simply gives you an error message and replaces the fonts your iOS device does not support.

So stick to the template fonts.

Yes, other fonts might look cool, but if you need to use them and they are not included natively (see this iOS7 list), create an image with these fonts.

And Apple, seriously, do you have no employees who do presentations who can give you some feedback? At the very least, you should highlight fonts that are not supported natively. It’s a simple command. InDesign does this whenever you force fonts into settings that are impossible for that font. Is it so hard to add an “check for iOS compatibility” function? Something akin to InDesigns preflight. Sorry, but that’s why I love Scrivener. You notice when using the application that the programmer is also an author. I guess the keynote people are not presenters.

Fall-Back Strategies when presenting

I only ever did one presentation where I did not have slides. It was during a society dinner where I volunteered to do a talk on psychological fallacies. Loved talking without slides, but only because I knew I had no slides in advance. If you plan to do a presentation and you rely on slides, e.g., to thread you through what you want to say, or to show data, or to illustrate complex issues you do need a backup. This is even more important with keynote. It’s just not that frequently available.

Sure, you can ask a participant with a Mac to use his/her notebook, but that’s a last resort. Better keep fall-back strategies. Personally, I love owning a small battery-powered LED projector which can present presentations independent of a computer. One fall-back for important presentations where (almost) everything fails. But for most presentations, having alternatives to keynote is useful.

At the very least, export your presentation to PDF with “Print each stage of builds” checked and Image Quality Best. Check whether the presentation is at least usable, so you have something in your sleeve in case you cannot use your Mac or there isn’t one available (the usual scenario).  Joachim Scholz argues for exporting to QuickTime and you should do so if some of the effects you require are not supported by PDF. QuickTime is riskier, as Acrobat Reader is usually installed on pretty much every computer, while QuickTime is (likely) installed on less, but it supports effects much better. Check out his settings for QuickTime export. You can also try to expert it to PowerPoint, but personally, I’d rather use PDF. With PDF some effects might not look as fluid as under Keynote, but at least the text is where it is suppose to be. In any case, check the presentation in advance.

For presentations I am really invested in, I have the files available on my computer, an USB stick, and online (with written down passwords to access the presentation). If it was a once-in-a-lifetime presentation, I’d also print it out and think about how to do it without slides. This is always possible — just think about which points you want to get across, how to do it without slides, and where to point the audience for further information later.

But I never had to resort to this. I even did not have to resort to using my iPhone with the Keynote app and an adapter to connect it to a projector. BTW, if you consider this, use an adapter that allows you to connect your USB charging cable to the iPhone and take both the cable and the plug with you.

In the next postings …

To get a consistent layout and hugely facilitate creating a presentation, use templates. The next posting is about templates. Then there is what Keynote natively allows, and there is what is presented when you creatively use transparencies. More on this in a future posting.