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I've read that LaTeX can be used also for presentation, and that there are tools to make PDF presentations.

But I'm wondering: since LaTeX is a typographic language made to separate content from style, and being PDF a format designed for printing; what are this presentation tools meant for? Maybe i'm thinking to the wrong type of presentation?

What's the reason for using LaTeX for this task?

UPDATE: I'm asking this because I'm about to start making a presentation, and yes, I'd prefer getting out from PowerPoint; I like vector graphics and I was wondering if it's possible to create a sort of vectorial GIF (just to give the idea), or anyway something of platform-independent. But I find PDF too static for this purpose (maybe it's just a personal feeling).

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You can (re)use math and pictures (creates with the likes of TikZ) perfectly. –  Raphael Jan 15 '12 at 0:12
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To expand a bit on Stefan's answer: PDF is a general-purpose vector graphics language. Keeping everything in vector graphics means text, lines, and images are all clear and consistent no matter what resolution the slides are projected at. Some presentations are made in Illustrator for this reason; others just prefer TeX or need beamer's facilities for table of contents and hyperlinks. –  rdhs Jan 15 '12 at 0:29
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The main reason why LaTeX was designed for printing is probably because, at the time, there was no computer presentation (beamer) hardware. The first comparable packages for presentations were based on overhead foils (print em; use em). –  Marc van Dongen Jan 15 '12 at 9:31
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Just a side note that I have to add to the discussion: I always, always always make sure I have a copy of my presentation in PDF form because I will always have access to a PDF reader. Might not have a powerpoint install, or even a web browser (rules out most HTMl5 presentation type things). –  jrg Jan 16 '12 at 0:24
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Another advantage is that with LaTeX you can generate one or several documents from the same source file. E.g. with a package like beamer you can generate a presentation and lecture notes from the same input. Some input may be used only for the presentation, some input may be used only for the notes, and the rest may be shared. Have a look at the last part of the film on csweb.ucc.ie/~dongen/LAF/LAF.html for further information. The last presentation also explains the mechanism. (Alternatively, read the beamer documentation.:-) –  Marc van Dongen Sep 28 '12 at 7:44
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9 Answers

up vote 58 down vote accepted

PDF is not just designed for printing. It is a format for displaying electronic documents, independently of hardware (printer, screen, e-reader, smartphone, projector etc.) and software (such as the operating system). This format is both good for printouts and presentation, so a good choice as output format.

Presentations with technical or scientific content are often based on documents, very often written in LaTeX also because of it's mathematical typesetting capabilities. It's very natural to use the same tool, LaTeX, for the presentation.

The benefits of LaTeX, such as separating the form/style and the content, portability in source, implementation and output, cross-referencing capabilities and typesetting quality, are great for presentations as well.

As I use LaTeX, I can work on the source using Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X, and I can give the presentation away as a PDF for reading or presenting on a conference, the reader or speaker can use Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, a tablet computer, a smartphone - or a printout.

If I would use PowerPoint - well, I would be pretty bound to Windows Version X with PowerPoint Version Y or a suited viewer, which is also a limit for the reader or presenter.

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But i wonder if it offers the flexibility that is often required for presentations, for instance to put images everywhere, and even create small animations; and i wonder if it's just possible to create presentations, or if it's also advisable –  clabacchio Jan 15 '12 at 0:19
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@clabacchio Yes. If you have specific questions, just ask here, post a new question for each topic. Images everywhere, no problem (packages esopic, everyshi, atbegshi, textpos, TikZ), animations are possible (packages multimedia, movie15, animate). –  Stefan Kottwitz Jan 15 '12 at 0:24
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Well, take a look in the beamer documentation (especially the guidelines for preparing presentations). Notice also that "putting images everywhere" might be exactly what is not advisable. The question is: should your presentation be impressive or informative? (La)TeX is well suited to prepare informative documents (including presentations), which happen to be also impressive for people with a bit of artistic/typographic soul. Most "impressive" presentations (irrespective of the tool used) are prepared to show off and not to convey useful information. –  mbork Jan 15 '12 at 0:27
    
@mbork: this is a very good point. I have seen a number of powerpoint presentations that were meant to be informative, and frankly, most were pretty bad. As a consequence, I had very bad opinion about powerpoint. Last year I attended a session where several selected faculty members were presenting for the board of control. I saw there several very very impressive powerpoint presentations. They were not informative, in all cases, the information presented could easily fit on one slide, but they were very impressive. –  Jan Hlavacek Jan 15 '12 at 3:00
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So to summarize the above discussion: If you have something to say, use LaTeX. If you want to hide that you don't have anything to say, use PowerPoint. :-) –  celtschk Jan 15 '12 at 9:01
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There are many similar examples in the history of Computer Science where people tried to stretch and extend tools that were familiar with and use them beyond their original intent rather than inventing or learning new tools. My favorite (being a Unix fun) is sed&awk vs Perl. Even though Perl was designed in part to obsolete those two classical Unix tools and it is definitely far more capable glue (general?) programming language it failed to kill sed&awk. As a mater of fact we even have two extensions of awk (original nawk extension and newer gawk extension).

As pointed before PDF unlike PostScript was designed to displaying electronic documents. It is not a programmable language (at least not by humans) unlike PostScript but it is very good for all sorts of electronic documents. Since you can easily process a TeX document into PDF you are immediately in business. Don't forget that historically TeX presentations were not competing with PowerPoint but with overhead slides. Check out slides LaTeX class for example.

As somebody who is PostScript (read PSTricks) bias I use Powerdot (the final output is also PDF) rather than Beamer (TikZ/PGF). I would also suggest that you look at little helper programs like Impressive which can greatly enhance static/(or with over layers) PDF slides. Including video (I like to use MATLAB to create it) and audio into your presentation is trivial with hyperref package and you are practically limited only by your PDF viewer (I like MuPDF).

Here is a fairly complete comparison of screen presentation tools. Bare in mind that the author of the article is not fully familiar with all listed tools.

As someone who firmly believes that TeX has been successfully stretched beyond its original intent into superb presentation tool I will list an example were TeX due to its design limitations was not so successful.

Many of you frequenting this site are musicians and are well aware of Music TeX and its "failure". I personally use LilyPond to type music. The secret is that TeX produces fairly symmetric output (yes Don talks about liturgies in the TeXbook but notes are much worse than letters). As professional musicians will testify scores do not look nice if they are symmetric hence LilyPond.

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+1 for the mention about Lilypond and MusicTeX, I've always wondered about them. –  LianTze Lim Jan 15 '12 at 6:52
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One of the key benefits of LaTeX as a presentation tool is that it helps one focus on the content of the presentation and promotes consistent formatting. The content is the most important part of any presentation but it often seems as if it gets sidelined to fancy formatting.

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Beamer helps you to plan the structure of the talk in terms of sections and subsections. The structure can be shown to the audience by automatically generating a table of contents slide which highlights where you are in the talk. Powerpoint has nothing like this –  Nick Riches Jan 23 '13 at 18:00
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This is simply a longish comment...

I am having some difficulties in trying to understand why you think that way. Let me briefly enumerate your points

1) since LaTeX is a typographic editor not meant to work on the final aspect of the work,

I am pretty sure that made many eyebrows raise after reading that here :) Actually, apart from the fact that LaTeX not being the editor but rather the "language", many typographical rules apply directly to presentations too. You might have seen some presentations with the Powerpoint's default sans-serif font mixed up with Equation Editor's serif-like fonts. They immediately look bizarre and copy-pasted, devaluing its content. For example, this is a simple typographical mistake that you want to avoid. Hence, having its peculiarities, we are still operating in a typography-aware context.

2) and being PDF a format designed for printing.

This is actually confusing since the abbreviation PDF is for Portable Document Format. As you can see, even its name was coined towards the possibility of document exchange. If you print it, you don't need any compatibility or portability etc. anyway. Hence, it is quite the opposite.

Now, extrapolating what you meant from these points, I think you are questioning why we should ever switch to (La)TeX (and probably using beamer package) to produce a presentation that can be produced by Powerpoint or any other WYSIWYG-enabled software.

My take on this is simply due to the fact that they are much more beautiful (personal!) and typographically pleasing (personal!). A big credit goes to the author of the beamer package Till Tantau who also created PGF/TikZ. Many things are already in the right place and merging graphics with slides are naturally supported.

Also, I don't need to carry a 7.1 MB of .ppt file around hoping for compatibility and trying to get the animations working or making sure that the movies have the proper codecs etc. (combine the presentation with VLC Portable and you are, 99% of the cases, good to go). If you are slightly fluent with the respective packages, this method solves a lot of problems by itself and you can simply concentrate on what you are trying to say. Many things that are seemingly missing from these tools are actually bad for presentations anyway. You really don't need clapping noise or badly scaled clip-arts here and there.

I have actually used only once ever, the slide transitions and other attractions when I was addressing some company's big shots. I wanted to impress them (oh boy, so did I) and I used the Impressive script for the bling-bling part. Just try it; I don't like those things in presentations but it is indeed impressive :). But, surprise surprise, I had to spent 5-10 minutes of precious meeting time on explaining how I did it. So in that perspective, served its purpose? Nope!

Rule of thumb is: Don't try to impress the audience with gadgets etc. if you need their attention drawn to the content.

You might say "Well OK, how about creating slides? It's a pain in the rear bumper to put a single logo over that corner of the page and details like that makes it super difficult, whereas in Powerpoint you just click and it's there."

I think that is a valid point against LaTeX based presentation preparation in general. However, after a few attempts you simply get many things working and most of the stuff is not required anyway other than some logos and a few words here and there.

Obviously, you need to try it out and see it for yourself to decide.

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+1 for mentioning Impressive :) –  Johannes Jan 15 '12 at 9:39
    
@percusse do you have some sample pdf+vlc presentation to show me? or any kind of animated presentation, i'm curious about the result! –  clabacchio Jan 23 '12 at 15:38
    
@clabacchio I've checked some DVDs but there is nothing much after my stolen laptop. Still, you can either use [movie15](tug.ctan.org/pkg/movie15) package to specifically tell Adobe to reach for a plugin or you can call VLC from Acrobat. I will try to find what I have done exactly but not much hope. –  percusse Jan 23 '12 at 21:01
    
@clabacchio By the way here is another topic that we tried our way through under Mac OSX –  percusse Jan 23 '12 at 21:10
    
@percusse but i wanted only to see an example of pdf presentation with some fancy effect, just because I'm curious to see the result of embedding...by the way I'm not a mac user :D –  clabacchio Jan 23 '12 at 21:22
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For me having PDF output is a huge advantage. I've seen many times where PowerPoint presentations did not show up right (mostly font issues), and sometimes the person presenting it getting quite desperate about it. I've never seen a PDF talk have such problems.

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Not all pdf viewers support all festures of pdf. For example, using javascript for stepping through slides, works only with acrobat reader (at least on linux, no other viewer supports these transiions) –  Aditya Jan 15 '12 at 12:09
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There are plenty of good reasons to use LaTeX for presentations.

For me, a key reason that I havn't seen here so far is this:

  • Consistent tools. I use LaTeX for my regular work. I need an easy way to get my "printed" work into the presentation. LaTeX-beamer allows me to do this very easily. All the way to publishing it on my homepage.
    This in particular includes the various functionality ranging from formulas, code excerpts to any other LaTeX extension.

  • Focus. On the contents, not on the presentation. Once you are used to LaTeX presentations, Powerpoint pretty much looks like a drawing program to you, instead of a presentation tool.

  • Quality. Even with "just" screen resolution, LaTeX just looks more polished.

As for PDF. It is designed to give a guaranteed result. I know plenty of people that always keep a PDF version of their presentation around, just in case that PowerPoint again screws up. Heck, I've seen Microsoft engineers do their PowerPoint presentation in edit mode, because switching to presentation mode would screw up the text positions. Plus, the PDF can easily be put online. And even more: pdflatex with the hyperref package will not just create a dumb PDF, but actually a cross-referenced PDF.

As for being static. I never use animations in my presentations. They tend to distract people from what I'm saying. And after all, it's not a slideshow, but a talk.

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I did save my thesis presentation in PDF! :) –  clabacchio Jan 15 '12 at 14:51
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To me it's all about the math. If I'm giving a talk or lecture with a large amount of math in it, I will want to use beamer so I can do it in LaTeX.

Another big advantage to beamer over WYSIWYG presentation apps is the programmability of LaTeX. You can copy-and-paste code or write macros to eliminate repetition. You can produce slides and handouts from the same source file. And so on.

If it's a non-mathematical presentation I will use Keynote, and let me just defend apps of its sort. I think that many of the objections people raise to WYSIWYG apps are the fault of poorly prepared talks using WYSIWYG apps. Gratuitous animations and transitions can be distracting, but these effects can also be used well. So maybe one advantage to LaTeX as a presentation editor is that it makes it harder to make a bad presentation. On the other hand, I have seen several talks prepared with beamer which are just the article on the screen in slightly larger type, so it's not idiot-proof.

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Yes, in fact i was reading some resources about creating presentations, and i was going to do anything but a super-fancy one, but i just had that feeling of 'staticity' of PDFs... –  clabacchio Jan 17 '12 at 19:18
    
@matthew: I widh I could upvote your answer more than once ! IMHO, it's so much more concise than all the others, and still it does contains the exact amount and diversity of information needed to answer the question ! –  Gyom Jan 19 '12 at 18:46
    
@Gyom: thanks, that's very kind of you. –  Matthew Leingang Jan 20 '12 at 15:25
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For me it is one huge advantage and one disadvantage.

I prepared series of lectures about Perl programming. The outcome is I got beautiful, and extremally well-looking slides, but... this took me A LOT of time. A single lecture, which was prepared in OpenOffice Impress was usually done in few hours (with some scripting, because oo is ugly and requires way too much clicking), where the single lecture contained about 50-70 slides. The same thing done in LaTeX took me up to eight times longer. Of course, I'm newbie, and I had to Google for every single thingy.

First lecture which I have prepared was written by me for about a week of daily work. The second one has taken only few days. But even now, after several iterations and more slides, it takes me enormous amount of time, and I just can't do if faster. Of course I'm a beginner, so that's the reason. So for me they are pros and cons.

  • Pros - beautiful slides, just awesome fonts and general good looking, simply kicking ass and so hell nice that I'm amazed.

  • Cons - time! (even with copy/paste it require up to 8x times longer), another one is error-prone, because I usually have to type perl code with much escapes inside... For example even single line like this: $a = "$b{x}\n"; forces me to write ugly latex code similar to \$a = "\$b\{x\}\textbackslash{}n"; - which is just unreadable.

So, I would love to use LaTeX for some less technical slides, with more simple text typing. For programming languages it serves me moderately easy.

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(There are much easier ways to get code into LaTeX documents, including presentations - which partially proves your point: when you know how to do it, it's quick. When you don't know, it's slow.) –  Andrew Stacey Jan 18 '12 at 11:30
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Being a teacher of computer science, I can feel your pain. By now, I actually have completely given up on slides for teaching material. I'm using the chalkboard instead, which is very much more time-efficient as far as preparing the content is concerned, but it is also a bit frustrating. and not very good-looking ! –  Gyom Jan 19 '12 at 18:59
    
@Gyom: I've gone the opposite way. I have actually completely given up on the chalkboard for teaching material. I'm using slides (beamer) instead, which is very much more time-efficient as far as preparing the content is concerned, helps me organise my lectures far more than "chalk and talk" ever did, and is "good looking" (in my ever-so-humble opinion). –  Andrew Stacey Jan 25 '12 at 11:52
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@Gyom, try using minted in beamer. You will never want to go back to presenting code in powerpoint/impress or on the chalkboard. There's nothing better than syntax highlighted code for teaching programming related stuff. –  recluze Dec 5 '12 at 13:36
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The answer to this question depends on your idea of what a presentation should be.

If your presentation is going to be a heads-up version of a mathematical paper -- i.e. mostly text and math -- then obviously Beamer is the right choice. But for me personally, presentations are visual aids that assist in conveying information that I am delivering orally and also perhaps through a handout. They are not "documents". Therefore a document processing language is not the optimal solution.

My usual workflow is to map out what I want to say during the presentation and figure out how much of that is best represented orally, best represented in printed text, and best represented visually. The oral stuff is spoken. The printed text is printed on a handout. Everything else goes into the presentation (for which handouts can be made available).

Under that philosophy of presentations, I find Keynote to be a better tool than Beamer. Any mathematics that I want to include in the presentation in a visual format, I can create using LaTeXiT and pasting into a Keynote slide. And if I have text and graphics to put up, I just drop them in and move them where I want them. Once the presentation is done, just export to PDF.

As Matt Leingang points out, you can make a terrible presentation in Beamer and a great presentation in Keynote -- it's not really about the software but how you use it.

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The converse is also true. I made a presentation in Keynote with LaTeXiT drop-ins and the presentation was a disaster, in no small part due to how easy it is to abuse Keynote (and Powerpoint for that matter) by putting things wherever you like. The benefit of LaTeX is that it makes you think, and if you're good you can still put stuff wherever you like. That slight resistance paid off in a subsequent version of the aforementioned presentation, which included animations. –  qubyte Jan 18 '12 at 11:33
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I would agree in most cases that "a presentation is not a document," my biggest exception being a class lecture. In that case everything I would put on a chalkboard should be in the slides. But for general presentations, I believe strongly that the slides should not be able to stand alone. If everything is in the slides, what value do you add standing in front of it and reading it? PS: First time I've seen you on TeX.SE. Welcome! –  Matthew Leingang Jan 18 '12 at 12:58
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No, a presentation is a document. It is stuff that is to be viewed, and that's all a document is. What's the difference? I find beamer helps me enormously with preparing presentations because whatever is on the beamer slide is what the students/audience can see and therefore the only thing that I know that they are aware of. They won't read the handout until after, they'll forget what I say straight after, but the visual stuff is right there, right in front of them, and therefore the Most Important Part. Get that right, the rest follows. –  Andrew Stacey Jan 25 '12 at 11:54
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