OpenOffice.org: The many views of Impress

Presentation software isn't complicated compared to a word processor or spreadsheet. It doesn't need to be. Maybe that's why OpenOffice.org's Impress offers a variety of views of your work. These views not only allow you to focus on a particular aspect of your presentation, such as the contents or your speaker notes, but also accommodate both verbally and visually oriented users, as well as a variety of needs, such as handouts. If you spend some time exploring Impress, you can easily find the views that are most suitable to your preferences and needs.

From what I've observed, most Impress users stick with the default Normal view, and don't even bother to customize that. However, even within the Normal view, you have options that you may not have noticed. Go into other views, and the options increase. For most of them, all you need to do is to select a view from the tabs in the middle of the screen, or select an option from the top of the View menu. And now, there is even a special view for when you are actually presenting a slide show, thanks to a recently-released extension.

Normal View

Impress's Normal view sets the standard for other views. It consists of the current slide in the middle, and the Slides pane to the left and the Task pane to the right.

This setup makes for a crowded window in which the current slide pane is too small to work in. You will almost certainly want to work with Impress maximized.

Moreover, if you do not have a wide screen monitor, you might want to consider removing the Slides and Tasks panes from the editing window. You can remove them completely by clicking the small X icon in the upper right of each pane , then restore them as needed from the View menu.

Alternatively, if you left-click on the title bar of either pane, you can undock it so that it floats independently of the editing window, and can be easily moved out of the way. When you want to redock one of the panes, drag it slowly by the title bar towards the left or right side of the editing window and release it when the rectangle outlined in gray appears. You can use the same feature to reposition the panes or put them both on the same side of the current slide view.

And, speaking of customization, notice that you can change the contents of the task bar by selecting or unselecting items in the View menu on the right side of the title bar to remove clutter. After you have designed and applied the master slide, for example, you generally have little reason to keep that tab on the Task pane available.

Outline View

In the Outline View, top level entries are the title of a slide, and other entries are the levels of bullet points on the slide. You are forced by default to create each entry at the top level, but you can use the horizontal icons in the task bar to quickly convert an entry to a bullet point in the previous slide or the next one. You can also use the vertical arrows to reposition a slide. Best of all, as you can see from the Slides pane in the view, slides are added or deleted according to the changes that you make.

This view is actually a reasonably useful outliner, so you can use it for planning documents other than slide shows. However, like any outliner, it is most suitable for the needs of the verbally oriented. If you are visually oriented, you may find that the Slide Sorter view fits your work methods better. (see below)

Notes View

Notes view shows the current slide in miniature, with a text frame below it for entering your speaker notes. You can format the text with any of the features from Format -> Character or Format -> Paragraph menu items, and you might want to use a larger font than you would ordinarily use, so that you can read the notes more easily while giving the presentations.

If necessary, the text frame expands as needed, but only the contents to the margin of the page is printed, and contents beyond that point is also hard to read online. Practically speaking, these limits mean that you are limited to notes of 150-200 words, depending on the size of the font you're using. You can create a longer page for easy viewing online, but it won't print cleanly.

I can't help thinking there's got to be a better way to implement notes, although I'm not sure what it might be. For myself, I prefer to avoid it and print my notes separately in Writer.

Handout View

The Handout tab is not so much a view as a template for preparing a hard copy or online summary version of your presentation. In my experience, handouts tend to be lacking, since by definition they exclude the details of your talk, and encourage people to skip the session, but many conferences and individuals request them all the same.

From this tab, you can set the number of slides in your handouts, and the number, position, and size of the slides on each page from the choices in the Layout tab of the view's task pane.

For me, the best layout is the two-column one with slides down the left and room for brief notes on the right. Strangely, the notes column does not actually display the notes you enter for each slide, but you can use the Drawing toolbar to quickly add some text frames for some brief notes.

Slide Sorter View

Like a light tray with physical slides, the Slide Sorter is handy for rearranging slides. Its functionality is similar to that of the Slide Pane in the Normal view or the Outline view. However, it can be handier than either, showing a dozen or more slides at once compared to the Slide Pane's two or three, and presenting slides graphically, instead of just the text in Outline view. Unfortunately, you cannot change the zoom on the view, a limitation that sometimes reduces its convenience.

Sun Presenter Console extension

No talk about the views in Impress would be complete without mention of the Sun Presenter Console, an extensions released a couple of months ago by Sun Microsystems for OpenOffice.org 3.0.

As the name suggests, the Sun Presenter Console is a view that runs only on your computer when you are delivering a presentation. It gives you three views: The default, which gives the current slide and the next one; a Notes view with a zoom, and the Slide view, which resembles the Slide Sorter view.

To use the Sun Presenter Console, you need to have your system configured for two monitors that are set not to mirror each other -- a configuration that can vary with your video card, and often requires some web searches and trial and error to achieve. However, once you have the configuration figured out and have added the extension to your OpenOffice.org installation via Tools -> Extension Manager, Sun Presenter Console will start automatically when you run a slide show. If you present regularly, you may find the Sun Presenter Console the most indispensable view of all.

Conclusion

The simplicity of slide-shows gives Impress plenty of room for optional views. The next time you need to produce a presentation, don't just stay in the default Normal View. Instead, take a few minutes to explore the views of the presentation that Impress makes available to you. The chances are, you will find options that fit your work habits more closely.

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