Automating the creation of slide shows in OpenOffice.org
Why do you need an article on building slide shows in Impress? You don't, in one sense, because the application is simple enough for anyone who has ever seen a slide show to figure out. If you want, you can just plunge in and learn by doing. However, if you take the time to learn, you'll find that OpenOffice.org has two tools to help you organize and automate the process -- and, ultimately, to help you save time.
These two tools are Writer's Outline to Presentation and Impress' start wizard. But, before you work with either of them, take the time time to supplement Impress' meager collection of templates from some of the many collections available.
You'll find two types of Impress templates available: the self-explanatory Presentation backgrounds (the great majority), and Presentations, which are standardized structures to help you organize your thoughts. You can add both types individually from within OpenOffice.org by selecting File -> Templates -> Save, but, for a large number of templates, you'll want simply to create a Presentation and Presentation Backgrounds folder in ~/.openoffice.org2/usr/template in your home directory, and move all the downloaded templates to there. Alternatively, to share the templates with all users, create the folders in the ~/share/template folder of your system's OpenOffice.org installation.
Writer's Outline to Presentation
This method of starting a presentation is used so seldom that the latest versions of MIcrosoft Office have dropped its equivalent feature. OpenOffice.org, however, has kept the method -- and good thing, too, for those in the know Starting a slide show with a Writer outline is ideal if you are well organized, dislike having to add each slide separately, or find the clutter of panes in the Impress window a distraction when writing. It's also the easiest method of including nested bullet points in your presentations, since it requires no special effort beyond organizing your thoughts.
To use this method, start with a new Writer file and use the top three styles listed in Tools -> Outline Numbering (Headings 1-3, if you haven't modified them) to write your outline. You may find the Navigator a handy tool for rearranging points as you work.
When you are finished, select File -> Send -> Outline to Presentation. This command creates an Impress file that opens in Outline View. Select View -> Normal, and you'll see that each Heading 1 becomes the title for a separate slide, and all the other styles becomes a bullet point, with Heading 3 becoming nested bullets.
Of course, you still need to choose slide backgrounds, layouts and transitions, and maybe add a title page (for some reason, Outline to Presentation doesn't provide one, although Writer has a title style that could be used for the purpose). But the real advantage of this starting point is that it separates out thoughts from design, allowing you to focus on one at a time.
Using the Impress Wizard
The wizard is another feature that recent versions of MS Office have omitted and OpenOffice.org hasn't. The logic of the omission is probably that, by now, everyone knows how to make a presentation. However, against that is the fact that, like the Outline to Presentation feature, the Impress wizard separates content and organization from content. It also serves as a convenient check-list for the design process. It's only real drawback is a somewhat chaotic structure, but, if you follow the wizard from start to end, it does do a thorough job of setting up the presentation for you.
The wizard starts whenever you select File -> New -> Presentation. If you choose, you can bypass it at any point by clicking the Create button. If you really dislike the wizard, you can choose the option Do not show this wizard again.
Should you choose to take advantage of the wizard, the first step is to either select Empty template not to use a structural template, or to choose one by selecting Presentation e (why the name couldn't be clearer, I don't know).
When you select Presentation, a list of the available templates displays, with a preview towards the right. Since you're dealing with structure, the preview is irrelevant and not much use, since it only shows the first page; your only hope is that the template is named clearly enough that you can identify it without any help. If not, you'll need to cancel the wizard and open each file in the Presentations folder until you find the structure you want.
Moving via the Next button to the second window, you get the chance to choose the presentation background -- and now the preview is actually useful. As you will quickly find if you do much design work, the best choices are dark background with light lettering or light backgrounds with dark lettering. Nor should the background be so busy that the lettering is hard to see.
Of course, you can always modify the template by changing the master slides. But since the point of the wizard is to save time and effort, try to choose a background that you won't need to modify.
Note, too, that, while a structural template comes with its own background, you can change its background here if you choose.
For the typical slide show, you won't need to change the medium from Original, so you can move on to the third window. There, you can choose the slide transition type. Several dozen are available, but most are a triumph of style over utility. A simple transition like a Wipe or Fade Smoothly will usually do -- or even no transition at all, if you want to keep your audience focused.
In the third window, you can also set your slide show to be a continuous loop, setting how long each slide displays, and the interval between each slide. Thee options are useful for situations such as a demo at a trade fair; otherwise, you can leave the default unchanged.
If you chose Empty template in the first window, you can now click the Create button to close the wizard and display your presentation. However, if you chose a structural template in the first window, the wizard continues. In the fourth window, you can add the Name of company (that is, the presenter of the slide show), the subject (the title on the first slide) and Further ideas (the titles on other slides). Finally, in the fifth window, you can de-select some of the slides in the structural template to customize your slide choice, and click the Summary box to create a final slide in the show.
When you finally get to Impress' Normal view after clicking the Create button, the advantages of using the wizard becomes obvious: All the design and structural details have been taken care of, and all that remains is to fill in the content.
Better than manually
Nothing stops you, of course, from designing your presentation manually, bypassing automation and making all the decisions as they come up. But, as I used to tell my university composition classes, the trouble with multi-tasking with anything remotely creative is that you tend to do each task poorly. In this case, either you interrupt and possibly lose your train of thought because you've noticed that the slide transition isn't what you expected, or, in the middle of customizing the master pages, you have a sudden thought that distracts you from design decisions. By using Outline to Presentation, or better yet, Impress' wizard, you can focus on one aspect of your presentation at a time -- and that makes all aspects stronger in the end.
Bruce Byfield (nanday)
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