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10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Keynote

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Mark Wood, author of Apple Pro Training Series: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, offers 10 tips for making effective - maybe even genius! - Keynote presentations.
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Keynote is a powerful presentation application that, even when loaded with media such as HD video and photos, can be relied on not to skip a beat. It’s available on OS X for Mac, iOS for the iPad and iPhone, and via web browsers.

Tip 1: Use Outline view to map out ideas

Keynote has four view options. The default view, Navigator, is ideal for building most presentations, but the Outline view lets you sketch out ideas and sequence your presentation as lists and bullets without any design distractions.

To use Outline view, click the View button on the Keynote toolbar and choose Outline from the pop-up menu. To give this option a try, click next to a slide icon in a blank presentation and type Idea One (see Figure 1). Press Enter/Return to create a new slide. Then press the Tab key. The slide indents become a bullet on the slide.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Use Outline view to sketch out ideas quickly.

Press Shift-Tab if you want to outdent the bullet. Lesson 12 in Apple Pro Training Series: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, “Outlining a Presentation,” explains this topic in more detail. But, Outline is a great way to sketch out presentation ideas.

Tip 2: Develop one slideshow for multiple presentation types

If you need to deliver several presentations on a single topic, each of differing length, create one Keynote that covers the longest presentation time slot, and then skip slides to reduce the presentation length when you need to speak for a shorter time.

Figure 2 shows a presentation with slides 10 through 13 selected in the Navigator. (Notice the yellow border around each thumbnail.) Control-clicking a selected slide opens a shortcut menu; choose Skip Slide. Slides marked with Skip Slide will no longer appear in the slideshow. Remove skipping by using the same process.

Figure 2

Figure 2 When you need to shorten a slideshow, don’t delete slides—skip them instead.

With this approach, you have only one master presentation, so when it’s time to update the content you only have one document to amend.

Tip 3: Build presentations using a variety of master slides

Keynote has several themes, such as Photo Essay, Classic, and Slate. Themes have distinctive styles, and each theme contains master slides for title and subtitles, title and bullets, photos, and so on. By using the available masters to build a presentation, you can easily swap themes, including using any custom designs you create. Consider this real-world example: You’ve built 20 presentations for your company, but now you need to apply a new graphic identity using the new company colors and logo. If you’ve used masters properly, swapping to the new theme will be a breeze; cementing your reputation as a Keynote genius.

The Change Theme button is located in the Document Inspector (see Figure 3). Clicking it will reveal all the themes installed on your system, including any custom themes you’ve created.

Figure 3

Figure 3 When master slides are applied properly, swapping themes takes only a couple of clicks.

Tip 4: Use dingbats and screen shots as graphics

Dingbats used to be known as printer’s ornaments, and you’re likely to have at least one font family of dingbats on your system. Not everyone can draw or create graphics, but when you need icons to illustrate a point, take a look at the character set of a dingbat font.

Here’s how: In the Finder, press Command-Shift-A to go to the Applications folder. Locate and open the Font Book. In Figure 4, the Zapf Dingbats font is chosen, and a hand symbol is selected.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Dingbats are ready-made graphics you can use in presentations. You can even animate them!

Use Command-C to copy the selected symbol to your clipboard, and then swap to Keynote. In Keynote, make sure that you’ve selected the contents of a textbox, and then press Command-V to paste the dingbat (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

Figure 5 Dingbats copied from Font Book need to be pasted into existing textboxes.

Another method for using symbols is to access the Special Characters, found on the Edit menu in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. With the insertion point blinking in the required textbox, double-click the symbol you want to use (see Figure 6).

Figure 6

Figure 6 Accessing special characters provides a great range of ready-made graphics.

In this example, a rocket ship graphic is selected. A final tip: Make your symbols big! They’ll paste at standard text sizes, but don’t hold back when resizing—be bold.

An alternative method for adding graphics is to take screen shots and paste them into Keynote. In Figure 7, three photographs are being selected from a website.

Figure 7

Figure 7 Take selective screen shots to illustrate your presentations.

To take this kind of screen shot, press Command-Shift-4, which causes a crosshair to appear onscreen. Drag to select the area you want to capture. Holding down the Control key while dragging the selection copies the selection to the clipboard. The screen shot on the clipboard can be pasted directly into Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. For more help on screen grabs, open Finder, choose Help > Mac Help, and search for screen shots (see Figure 8).

Figure 8

Figure 8 Mac Help describes how to take different types of screen shots.

Tip 5: Use animations sparingly

Keynote is like a box of chocolates, with a mouthwatering selection of animations that can be applied as transitions between slides; to create builds in and out on page elements; or to move, rotate, and fade objects. You might be tempted to try them all, but too many effects can obscure your message and distract your audience. Decide on a suitable transition and build method, and apply it consistently. Build animations can be copied and pasted to help speed things along; select Format > Copy Animation and then Format > Paste Animation (see Figure 9).

Figure 9

Figure 9 Copy and paste Build and Action animations to speed up your presentation development.

For more information, take a look at Lesson 13, “Making Media-Rich Presentations,” in Apple Pro Training Series: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

Tip 6: Use an iPad or iPhone as a remote control

If you’re playing a presentation from your Mac and you want the freedom to move across the stage (however large that may be), use the Keynote app for iOS as a remote control. You can set the app to display your presenter notes so you’ll always have the elusive facts in the palm of your hand. I describe this process in Lesson 15, “Rehearsing and Delivering a Presentation,” in Apple Pro Training Series: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

Tip 7: Use Light Table view to assess the balance of a presentation

As your presentation develops, it can be useful to see it in a fresh light. Try Keynote’s Light Table view to review your presentation as a series of thumbnails. You might notice sections of heavy statistics bunched together, or perhaps you have too many introductory slides before you get to the first major point. You can also use Light Table view to drag slides around, changing the sequence of the slideshow, as shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10

Figure 10 Light Table view lets you assess the balance of your presentation. Move or skip slides as needed.

Another method for assessing the balance and timing of a presentation is to use Keynote’s rehearsal mode. This feature is also covered in Lesson 15 of Apple Pro Training Series: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

Tip 8: Record slideshows and post them for playback on demand

It may not be desirable or feasible to repeat presentations. If your audience can’t get together for some reason, you may want to make your Keynote slideshow available online. The process for recording a presentation is pretty straightforward. Your Mac is likely to have a built-in microphone, so you already have all the equipment you need, although having a dedicated microphone for narration improves the clarity of vocal recordings.

In Keynote, choose Play > Customize Presenter Display to arrange the layouts of slides, presenter notes, and timers (see Figure 11).

Figure 11

Figure 11 Keynote’s Presenter Display can be configured to suit your needs, keeping your Presenter Notes at hand, and helping you to keep an eye on the time.

Make sure that your microphone is set up (assess it via System Preferences > Sound). Then choose Play > Record Slideshow. Clicking the red recording button starts and stops recording, and pressing the Spacebar advances through the slideshow. (Lesson 15 walks through the process thoroughly.)

Tip 9: Combine Keynote with GarageBand and iMovie for play-on-demand presentations

Keynote slideshows can be exported as HD video. You can also import HD video into Keynote, where you can record a narrated slideshow, as mentioned in Tip 8. However, to move things up a level, why not export a presentation as a movie and open it in iMovie? There you can chop up it up, intersperse video footage, and apply edits using the power of iMovie, as illustrated in Figure 12.

Figure 12

Figure 12 Use iMovie to edit slideshows exported in QuickTime format from Keynote.

Then you can open the movie in GarageBand as a soundtrack, where you can not only narrate it, but add backing music and sound effects (see Figure 13).

Figure 13

Figure 13 Use GarageBand to add simple or sophisticated soundtracks to your Keynote movies.

If you’re looking to make a promotional video or compelling training material, your Mac is already packed with all the tools you need.

Tip 10: Make preflight checks

By default, Keynote presentations embed the photos and videos you place in them, saving the slideshow and its media as a single package. This design makes it easy to transfer Keynote presentations from one Mac to another. However, you need to check several things before showtime, as shown in the following checklists. (If you’re going to give the Keynote presentation using the Mac or iPad on which you developed the presentation, you don’t need to worry about Checklist 1.)

Checklist 1:

  • If you’ve used nonstandard fonts, make sure they’re installed on the Mac you’ll use for giving the presentation. Note that fonts are classed as software; this makes them subject to licensing, which may prohibit their installation on some systems.
  • Save a copy of your presentation to Keynote ’09. Only when trying to open a presentation can you test it reliably. If version 6.5 is too new for the presentation machine you’re using, at least you’ll have the Keynote ’09 (version 5) presentation to fall back on.

The items in Checklist 2 apply to anyone who’s about to take to the stage to make a Keynote presentation.

Checklist 2:

  • Take a range of display adapters with you (for example, Mini DisplayPort to DVI and Mini DisplayPort to VGA).
  • Just before you connect to a second display or projector, use System Preferences to switch off the Screen Saver and Energy Saver. You wouldn’t want the screen saver interrupting your presentation, and if your computer goes to sleep during the slideshow it might cause the external display to go to sleep as well. On reawakening it, you might have to reset screen resolutions. All of those issues are distractions for an audience.
  • In Keynote, choose Preferences; in the Slideshow pane, and check that “Scale slideshow to fit display” is enabled. This setting scales the slideshow to the resolution of the presentation display.


That concludes our brief look at Keynote and the other applications in this series. To learn more about getting the most out of Keynote, Pages, and Numbers, check out Apple Pro Training Series: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

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