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The Beamer manual claims, under "Guidelines for Creating Presentations":

Do not use subsubsections, they are evil.

Why? There's no further explanation. Is it simply because subsubsections are considered too granular for a presentation?

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I believe you are right about the granularity. I don't think there are technical issues surrounding their usage. They just don't make a very good presentation. –  Timtro Jun 10 '13 at 14:35
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If you have subsubsections, you must have at least two of them in a subsection; you must have at least two subsections and, of course, at least two sections. Draw the tree and you'll understand. –  egreg Jun 10 '13 at 14:50
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In addition to egreg: For each subsubsection you need some slides, each slide needs some minutes to explain - How long will your presentation be? –  knut Jun 10 '13 at 15:17
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@knut 16 minutes seems reasonable. –  Tim N Jun 10 '13 at 15:20
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@SarinKostas You go too deep; your audience can't nest too many PUSH and POP in their head. –  egreg Jun 10 '13 at 15:35
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4 Answers

A set of slides is not a reference material hence needs no index. It doesn't even have to have an outline for a 15 minutes long talk, contrary to the average conference practice. (Who cares? It's gonna be over in 15 mins.)

A set of slides is supposed to supplement you. You are the presentation not the slides. If one needs structure to present the material that specific, it's very probable that the presenter is not ready to present the material in a coherent manner.

A slide is a real-time material, it has an optional title and if the slide is too long, a subtitle to divide it into more pieces. The moment you move to the next frame the audience discards that info. So you will be bombarding the audience with useless info that does not play any role. And it will be wasting space on your slides with fancy miniframes etc.


Assuming that you are using the sections and subsections to pause and let the audience digest the covered material:

Sections are OK and sometimes even helpful. Intro, Outline, Main results, Numerical Example

Subsections are not OK but acceptable: Main Results: A theorem for this, a lemma for that, sales of 2012, Pareto optimality of chocolade vs. milk....

Subsubsections are evil (I agree).


EDIT: Being on both sides of the teaching/presenting academic stuff etc. my conclusion is that having slides as standalone sources of information is very bad. I mean very very very bad.

  1. It forces the slides to be loaded with weights that they cannot carry otherwise content is missing.
  2. The creator of the slides truncates a big nonnegligible portion of the content because there is no way to fit every detail. Also the receiver of the slides don't get every detail on the slides because the context is truncated. Hence at best the efficiency is 50%.
  3. A very brief but powerful result doesn't fit on one page whereas on normal article format you need only a paragraph to convey the message. I've seen so many slaughtered theorems spread out to 5-6 slides with the innocent (ctd.) on every slide full of terrible math typesetting. Doesn't have to be math-related, other fields such as industrial design, has even bigger problems but I'll skip here.

I can understand the motivation behind the 80 pages of slides as lecture notes but so does T.Tantau and thus created the article mode in beamer. Not that share every view he has on this matter but going all the way to include the article mode should tell something about how the workflow is (in my opinion should) extrapolated.

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I agree with what you are saying here but in this emerging era of slideshare, figshare, etc... having slides that can stand independent of the presenter on some level is an asset. Thus, the slides are not the presentation may no longer be a good rule of thumb. –  KennyPeanuts Jun 10 '13 at 18:46
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I would say that nowadays the slides should be standalone as there are people who don't have resources (time, money, information about) to attend the presentation. It's nothing more annoying to find that only relevant material about topic is presentation slides which are incomprehensible without the context. (Videos are slight improvement but a) they can take 15 minutes to find out if they are relevant and b) if I do find something interesting it is not possible o easily jump back to moment when they mentioned something). –  Maciej Piechotka Jun 10 '13 at 18:58
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Responding to edit - yes, yes it is. However searching for various things I encountered it too often. If something is not a research but presented on technical conference the author doesn't have any initiative to do an extra effort and prepare slides and article. Worst - I found slides as a replacement for documentation. So while slides are very bad there is too often choice between them and nothing. –  Maciej Piechotka Jun 10 '13 at 23:04
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Percusse seems to have a strong opinion on the matter. However, in my opinion the answer simply is: It depends!

I totally agree that for a 15 minutes presentation, subsubsections (even subsections!) would just be over-structuring the content. However, for a complete course of 13 lectures (90 minutes each), I end up with around 600 slides (containing lots of cross-references, a carefully crafted structuring of content, and so on). At this scale, a subsubsection level sometimes just does make sense.

However, I should say that I also do not consider beamer's article mode as an extremely useful concept. In my opinion, slides are a visual medium and should be used accordingly. They are the "video track" of your presentation and the audience remembers them visually. (The words are transmitted on the "audio track", that is, your speech). So for my slides, the visual layout of the content often carries important information – most of which is simply lost in article mode. The only thing article mode is good for is to provide extra pieces of information. However, for that purpose I simply insert extra handout-only slides (that, as they are only printed and never shown on screen, may also make use of smaller fonts if necessary).

To me, the main point of beamer (compared to PowerPoint, OpenOffice, and so on) is: It does scale! You can use it for a 10-slide sales pitch as well as for a 600-slide lecture note. The "right" number of sectioning levels simply depends on the scale. Using them wisely is a question of common sense.

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No it doesn't!! :P –  percusse Jun 10 '13 at 21:00
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There are some good books that focus on "Creating (Good) Presentations":

  1. Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery, 2nd Ed., New Riders, 2012
  2. Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations, New Riders, 2010
  3. Jerry Weissman, Presentations in Action: 80 memorable presentation lessons from the masters, Pearson, 2011
  4. Alexei Karterev, Presentation Secrets: do what you never thought possible with your presentations, John Wiley, 2011
  5. Carmine Gallo, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, McGraw-Hill, 2010
  6. Martha Davis, Scientific Papers and Presentations, Academic Press, 2005
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I would always avoid subsubsections in presentations. The reason is based on the following principles which I believe to be generally true, whether for academic or business presentations:

  • 1 slide per minute is a good reference speed. If you can go much faster without loosing your audience, then probably your slides lack content: remove the repetitive ones, enrich the important ones and reduce the noise. If you go much slower, your slides are probably too complex and you might think about breaking them up.
  • A sectioning element should have either none, or 3 or more sub-divisions. Two is acceptable but shouldn't be the norm (in most such case, you can simply remove the sub-divisions). One (e.g. a section with a unique subsection) means you have a problem with your structure / logic...

If you put those 2 principles together, the need for subsubsections disappear naturally. For a 45 min presentation, with 3 sections and 3 subsections, you already have on average only 5 slides per subsection. Why divide them further?

Regarding the point about self-suffiency that has come up, I would definitely encourage your presentation to be understandable standalone. I am not saying you shouldn't add value as a presenter (you definitely should!), but whether you like it or not, presentations have become a standard way of communication, especially in the business world. You can argue that a well-written 30-page report contains much more material compared to 20 slides, but the reality is that when you go up the corporate ladder, very few people will clear their agenda to read a long report. I can hear the negative comments about how sad this is, but look at it this way: it's called delegation: if you are on my team and you need me to make a decision, I don't need all the details: I trust you did your job properly. If I do go through all the details, either I don't trust you, or I am a bad manager (usually both, because if I'm good, you're not on my team if I don't trust you).

But at the same time, I might want to have another look at your presentation when you're not there (because I am in a hurry now, because I want to spend time to be sure I understand the implications, potentially outside your scope, and I don't want to waste your time, because I want to discuss it with my own boss, ...). So your presentation should better be standalone, at least from the point of view of someone who has listened to you once (and quickly) but wants time to dig deeper into it.

Additionally, it has become more or less the norm in the corporate world to send presentations in advance, so people can prepare and the meeting can be focused on the critical points. That's just not possible if your presentation is not self-sufficient. Appendices are also common.

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