Reveal.js

For a few years now I’ve been using the JavaScript-based, interoperable presentation platform called Reveal.js - the HTML presentation framework

It’s great for presentations that look different enough to be visually interesting, without hijacking the purpose of the presentation by over-embellishing the slides. The slides are not the point of the presentation. The presentation is the point of the presentation.

I try to only use visual aids when I need to back up the point I’m making with a visual. I often use large, simple, full screen images for this, and little else.

Open standards and open source is important to me. I also run Linux so I don’t have the option of KeyNote or PowerPoint (not that I would actually want to use them anyway)

I guess I could use Libreoffice Impress or something like it, but I’ve found that the editing tools are not that great, especially trying to work out what is going on with a template affecting all your slides. (In Reveal.js you can style everything easily and consistently using CSS/SASS)

LibreOffice is also just a PowerPoint clone, meaning it apes a lot of PowerPoint behaviours that I don’t like and don’t need - including the automatic hierarchy of bullet points that has been criticised for implying semantics that aren’t there.

I quite like Google Slides, but when travelling a lot on trains with decidedly wobbly WiFi, there’s just too much activity on the wire to work with Google Docs, and it can seriously hamper productivity.

So: I now use Reveal.js with a (mostly) offline git-based workflow, which means I can work locally, and then when I want to push to the remote repo, the presentation is hosted by GitHub pages. It also means I can branch the repo and make new changes without changing the live Internet-based version, until I’m ready.

Prerequisites

  • familiarity with git for local and remote work
  • basic HTML and text editing skills
  • basic CSS understanding and skills
  • some idea of how to host pages with GitHub pages. I already have ‘organisation’ level GitHub pages set up on my GitHub username, so new presentations appear as {bawmedical.co.uk}/{presentation-name}

Howto

  1. create a new GitHub repo with the name you want the presentation to be known as (NB: other online git-integrated source control platforms are available :-) )
  2. git clone this repo to a suitable local directory, which should create a subdirectory of the same name as your presentation
  3. Get a blank reveal.js presentation from https://github.com/hakimel/reveal.js/releases - this comes with some ‘placeholder’ or demo slides which are all the introduction you need. I have a blank presentation stored locally that includes all the theming I like to use, and has some of my preferences preset. So I just copy and paste the code
  4. Start adding content to your slides. The Reveal.js documentation is very simple, and very helpful.
  5. Make local commits (eg git commit -am "commit message") as required. Usually I just work in the master branch, and make commits irresponsibly infrequently. So sue me.
  6. To push to GitHub for hosting of the presentation, create a local gh-pages branch (git checkout -b "gh-pages")
  7. When you push this gh-pages branch to GitHub, your’ pages will be hosted as a subdirectory of your main site (in my case http://www.bawmedical.co.uk/ is the base URL, and presentations are hosted at http://www.bawmedical.co.uk/presentation-repo-name)

Upsides

  • All your content is in HTML
  • All your styling in in CSS/SASS and therefore can be applied consistently to all slides, a subset of slides, or individual elements. Global templates therefore behave more predictably than templates do in LibreOffice (awful) or even Google Slides (better than LO but still not great)
  • You can present direct from the Internet, so there’s no hassle with USB keys and local machines, you just fire up Chrome, hit the URL of your presentation, full-screen it with F11 and get going.
  • Because it’s just HTML5, in a browser, you can present via Chromecast to basically anything (see my other blog on this)
  • Your presentations get hosted online for free, and you don’t need to cosy up with the Militiary-Industrial-SlideShare-LinkedIN Complex.
  • Because your presentations are natively web-based, you can easily share URLs of your slides before, during, or after your presentation. Great for tweeting the link at an event.
  • You can embed a presentation in a web page with an iframe (like I have done at the top of this page)

Downsides

  • You can’t easily get other people to work with you collaboratively on these slides, unless they also understand enough about HTML/CSS/Git etc to be able to grok it. In those cases, I guess would recommend Google Slides.
  • Reveal.js seems to be a pretty large library, so initial page loads are sloooowwwww, as well as any fonts, image and other assets you included. Once downloaded, it’s pretty cool.
  • When event organisers ask for your USB key with your presentation on it, and you say ‘don’t worry I only need a browser’, they universally look a little freaked out.