Lazy PowerPoint (Working With Text 4)

Lazy PowerPoint (Working With Text 4)

We all know we should bike to work, but sometimes the weather is bad, or we are late, or just feeling lazy, and so we take the car. Similarly, we all know that we shouldn’t use use PowerPoint, or if we do use PowerPoint we shouldn’t stuff them full of text and bullet points but instead use illustrative pictures. But sometimes we are running late, or just feeling lazy, or maybe even have a good reason1 for using text-heavy slides, so today I’m going to show you the quickest, laziest, way to turn a text file into a presentation.

The secret is Markdown. Although Markdown started as a geeky tool for people who wanted a simple way to design webpages, it has since gained popularity for all kinds of writing as more and more text editors and note taking apps make it the default way to style your text. The idea is simple enough: where a rich text editor would show you text in italics or bold using WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), a Markdown editor will display them like this: *italics* or **bold**. At this point most people look confused. Isn’t that a step backwards? Isn’t the whole point of using computers so I don’t need to see the hidden code that styles my text? But if you’ve ever copied text and lost your formatting, or struggled when your word processing seems to think your text should be in a different style than what you expected, you know that computers don’t always behave the way we want. Making the style information visible solves that problem because if something goes wrong, you can immediately see the problem. What is great about Markdown is that the code is so simple and easy to use that (unlike LaTeX) it barely takes any time to learn.

Another advantage of Markdown is that it makes it easy to move text from one app to another, or to transform text into a web page, Microsoft Word Document, PDF, or PowerPoint presentation without too much fuss. So while this post is about an easy way to make PowerPoint presentations, it is really about the power of having your text formatted with Markdown!

Before proceeding, it is important to point out that there are many different flavors of Markdown. The original version, for instance, didn’t support footnotes, while the one used by the WordPress blogging platform that runs this site does. Similarly, there are a number of different apps that support writing presentations in Markdown, but they each use slightly different code. Some might start each new slide wherever they see a header # Which is any line that starts with a pound sign, while other apps use their own divider code. Deckset, the app I’ll be using in this tutorial, uses three dashes, like this: ---.2

For some sample text let’s take the first few lines of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. I’m going to add some basic Markdown formatting so that it has headers (# or ##), lists (*), and block quotations (>), as well as the Deckset slide demarkation code (---). Here’s what it looks like:

# To be, or not to be 
*Hamlet*. Act III, Scene I.
by William Shakespeare

# To be, or not to be, that is the question:

* Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
* The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
* Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
* And by opposing end them: 

# to die, to sleep

> No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
> the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
> that Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
> devoutly to be wished. 

> To die, to sleep,
> To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there's the rub,

> for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
> when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
> must give us pause. 

And here is what it looks like after running through Deckset:

You can, of course, choose from many different themes, insert images, links, and even presenter notes if you like. Nor is Deckset the only app that can do this. Slidium is another macOS app, and Marp is simpler but works on multiple platforms. Other options can be found on this list which seems to get updated regularly.

List of posts in this series

  1. Such as when you are teaching in your second language and want to make sure that nobody has trouble understanding you. 
  2. One excellent feature of the Ulysses app, which I use for most of my writing, is that it allows you to specify different flavors of Markdown for each document.