Creating Presentation Slides in Plain Text


Most people turn to desktop software like Powerpoint or LibreOffice Impress, or to web-based tools like Google Slides, when they need to cobble together slides for their presentations. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, but I think that for most people those tools are overkill.

Why not turn to plain text instead? Yes, you can create slides in your favourite text editor. And, no, those slides aren’t merely Courier text on a white background. I’m talking about slides that present the information and ideas that you want to present. I’m talking about slides that are more than simply workable.

Let’s take a quick look at three ways in which you can craft slides for your presentations using plain text.

Reveal.js

On those rare occasions I give a talk, I turn to Reveal.js to create my slides. All you need to do is write and format your slides using HTML in a text editor. When you’re ready to present, you open your slides file in a web browser and Reveal.js works all the magic of:

  • Breaking your file into individual slides
  • Adding navigation and effects
  • Applying a theme to the slides

You can do just about anything with your slides: add tables, include lists, and insert images. How you structure your slides is only limited by your knowledge of HTML.

To learn more, browse the documentation. I’ve also created a template for some simple slides that you can use and modify.

LaTeX Beamer

If you want to embrace your inner plain text geek a bit more, you’ll want to check out the LaTeX Beamer class. LaTeX, as you might remember from this article, is a powerful typesetting system. The Beamer class helps you create (on-screen) presentations, along with support material such as handouts and speaker notes.

A slide show is contained in one file. Each slide is created in a frame in the file. The frame denotes a single page in the file that you output. When you’re ready to publish, you can create a PDF file of your slides and another of your handouts.

You can also include images, apply themes and colour, as well as change the font and split a slide into two columns.

Actually, there’s a lot more you can do with Beamer. It’s a very powerful and flexible way of creating slides for anyone who uses LaTeX or who is interested in learning it.

Pandoc

One tool that indispensible here at The Plain Text Project is Pandoc. In case you don’t know what Pandoc is, it’s a program that converts between markup languages and formats.

So what does that have to do with creating presentation slides? Using Pandoc, you can format your slides using Markdown and output them as HTML that works with these presentation frameworks:

You can also output LaTeX Beamer slides. Yeah, it’s pretty flexible.

The source file for your slides needs to follow some formatting rules, but you can add some variables for HTML slides and Beamer slides to change how they look.

If you’re creating HTML slides, you need to have the supporting files for your preferred presentation framework installed on your computer. Pandoc only produced the HTML slide file.

A Few Articles on This Subject

Crafting slides in plain text is a viable alternative to using big, bulky presentation tools. But don’t take my word for it. Here are a few articles that you might find useful: