Well the “big presentation” was today, the one I thought would be a good canditate for trying out iA Presenter. And after spending the last couple of weeks preparing for it, I’d thought it would be good time to give my thoughts on how it worked for me.

First, I must say that I can appreciate using an app that is opinionated. This is not a drop-in replacement for Keynote1: the app really does try and steer you towards a particular presenting style. They’re quite upfront with this: the example shown on first launch outlines how to prepare the slides and why writing out the entire presentation in full, while leaving slides as the role of accenting your points, makes for better presentation.

I knew this going in, so it wasn’t a big shock to me. Plus it’s easy to like an opinionated piece of software when you share that opinion yourself.

This flows naturally into the second thing that I like about iA Presentation, which is the Markdown support. Using Markdown to prepare the slides is wonderful, especially when you compare it to the point-and-click content-by-bullet-point interaction style you’d find in Keynote. That WYSIWYG styles is not for me, particularly when it comes to correcting style and alignment issues that only affects one slide that sticks out like a sore thumb when giving the presentation. Markdown only means iA Presenter is left to handle the layout, and that’s fine with me.

Now, it would be nice to have even more control over the slide layout and styling. iA Presentation has very limited support for this, and while I was preparing the slides, I kept finding myself wishing that I could do more of the finer things, like adjust the font size of a code block to avoid line-wraps.

There are some things you can do, such as choose whether elements should appear below or beside each other. This is done through the use of new-lines — or lack there-of — which is a style that didn’t really gel with me. It seemed like a concept that was a little undercooked. It also didn’t help that there wa no way to actually force a new line, to do something like space out content vertically.

I don’t know how this could be improved. Maybe having a way to specify a layout or styling that is separate from the implicit styling from the Markdown, sort of like slide-specific front-matter, maybe? If done in such a way as to avoid complicating things too much, it’ll probably be welcomed.

One other thing that would be good is to have more control over separating the layout of the slides from that of the exported speaker notes. You’re essentially writing long-form content, complete with headers that’ll appear on the slide. But putting a H2 header over a H1 header to start a section would look strange in a PDF export. It’ll look fine on the slide, but that’s becasue you’re stuck using header levels (h1, h2) to control text size. Because the content on the slide is interleaved with the speech itself, the order of elements that make sense on the presentation may note for the exported PDFs.

Although I guess the solution there would be just to open the presentation in a regular Markdown editor and export to PDF. But having a one-stop solution to that would be nice. So, I don’t know: having a way to separate the symantics of the header from the size they appear on the slide would work? (Maybe all I want is just HTML, 🤷)

So, what’s the verdect? Would I use iA Presenter again? Hmm, maybe. If I’m working on a presentation with a small number of slides containing simple visual elements designed to emphasise something, such things you’d find at TED talks or an Apple keynote, then yeah, I’d probably use it again. It’s a style of presentation that the app is clearly optimised for, and it does a good job for that. If I needed slides that were a little more informative in their own right, I’d probably consider something else. Probably not Keynote, but I’d consider one of the JS+HTML options.

But it’s a really nice app2 and a pleasure to use, so it’s probably worth checking out for your next presentation.

  1. Not to single out Keynote here. You can easily use Powerpoint or Google Slides as a drop-in replacement for this post. ↩︎

  2. I didn’t talk about the UI as I wanted to focus on the preparation aspects, but the UI is delightful. They put a lot of care into it, and despite being “just a text editor”, seeing the little things like having the highlight or carrat colour match the slide background colour is a really nice touch. Dare I say, almost whimsical. ↩︎