LibreOffice Impress: Outlining and Blank Presentations

Version 4.3

Recall from our first tutorial the advice that you should start with paper, not with the software, when preparing a presentation. That should not be taken too literally, since there is no particular magic to dead trees, but I think a little planning ahead of time, and in particular the use of outlining, can make for a more cohesive presentation. The key is that you are focusing on the content and not on the eye candy.

Some years ago I read an interesting article, which I think was in the Chronicle of Higher Education, about study of students at a large university who were required to take the usual freshman composition class. This all took place in the 1980s, so students would have had one of two computers, the early Macintosh models, or DOS computers with Word Perfect, and each computer type had its own sections of the class. When they looked at the achievement of the students, they found something very puzzling: students in sections using Macintosh had lower levels of achievement than students in the DOS sections. They investigated other factors, and found that the students had much the same previous grades in secondary school, similar grades in entrance exams, and similar grades in other classes, yet the instructors consistently rated the DOS students as better writers. How could this be explained?

Well, the Macintosh computers were the first to introduce fancy page layout options, fonts, graphics, and so on. In fact, this head start is why to this day so much of the graphic design and desktop publishing is done with Macs. In contrast, the DOS computers running WordPerfect were just about the complete opposite. They presented you a blank screen with a blinking cursor, and nothing else. They did not offer any WYSIWYG capabilities at all. So what the researchers concluded is that the students in the DOS sections were not able to think about anything other than their content, and consequently did a good job of it, while Mac students were seduced by all of the formatting and graphics capabilities and never got around to actually doing any good writing.

The application of this concept to Presentations is clear. All too often you are asked to begin making a presentation by making graphical choices, such the Slide Master, before you have written a word. I think this is exactly the wrong way to go. What I advise is that you create the content first, and add all of the eye candy at the end.

There are several ways to do this.

Outline View in Impress

If you open Impress you will see that the middle window has 5 tabs: Normal, Outline, Notes, Handout, and Slide Sorter. The second tab of this group puts you into Outlining mode and lets you create a presentation by simply outlining. You should see something like this for a new Presentation:

Outline view in Impress with a new presentation on the first slide.

The icon at the beginning of the row resembles a slide with a bar graph on it, and always denotes a new slide. The line with the icon on it is the line for the slide title. Since this is the very first slide, the title you enter will actually be the title of the presentation. So type that in, and hit Enter. You will then be on the next slide, which you can tell because of the icon appearing on the left. But if you actually wanted to add a sub-head for your first slide, you can do that by using the Demote button, which is an arrow pointed to the right (also you can use the keyboard equivalent Alt+Shift+Right). The icon will go away and your cursor will shift slightly to the right. Type in your name if you like, and hit Enter. This will not create a new slide because Enter will always duplicate whichever element you were on. So this adds another line for the subhead, and you could type in an organization, a date, or any other information.

If you hit Enter again you only get another line of sub-head for your Title slide. To get to another new slide, you need to use the Promote button, which is an arrow pointing to the left (or Alt+Shift+Left). When you do this, the icon for the new slide will appear on the left, and your cursor will shift slightly to the left as well. On this line, put the heading for the slide. Then hit Enter, and demote the line. When you do this, you will see that it automatically starts creating bullets. and each time you hit Enter another line and another bullet is created. When you have all of your bullet points created, hit Enter, then Promote to get another slide. And if you need sub-bullet points at any point, just use Demote to get sub-points, and Promote to go back to first-level bullets. Continue this way and you can create an entire presentation as an outline.

Outlining in Writer

One of the ways I have found useful is to begin by creating an outline in Writer. This is not difficult as long as you follow a simple rule. The rule is that you need to use Heading styles in Writer in a consistent manner. Every Heading 1 you create will be a slide headline or topic, Heading 2 would be a bullet point, heading 3 sub-bullet points, and so on. This has the advantage of letting you use the Writer tools, which for some people is much easier. When you have the outline complete and in the form you want, just go to File–>Send–>Outline to Presentation and your outline will open as a Presentation in Impress. I whipped up a very simple Sample Outline for Impress (enough for 3 slides) and then created a Sample Presentation from Outline from it, and both can be downloaded from the links if you want to see how this works. This opens in Outline view in Impress, but if you switch to Normal view you can see that the slides were also created. One issue is that this only handles very simple formatting. For instance, if you use numbered points instead of bullet points, Impress converts them to bullet points anyway. and you don’t have an initial Title slide created this way.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Outlining

The biggest advantage to using one of these outlining options is that it forces you to think only about your content, which is where you want to be in the beginning. there are disadvantages though, and it is worth mentioning a few of them. One is that you don’t get a sense of how much content you are trying to squeeze onto one slide. When you are outlining it is easy to lose sight of this. What you never want to do is create a blivet, which can be defined in polite society as “ten pounds of stuff in a five pound bag.” Also you may want to be incorporating graphics or other objects, and this is a lot easier when you are looking at actual slides. Fortunately, there is an option to do this.

Working With a Blank Presentation

Impress comes with a Wizard for creating a Presentation, and when you use it it starts you off by asking about the eye candy: backgrounds, colors, and slide transitions. You don’t need to worry about this right now, you can always add this stuff at the end after you have created your content. Instead, don’t use the Wizard, and just use the blank presentation. On my installation I have checked the box that says never show Wizard when opening Impress. You can enable the wizard again later under Tools > Options > LibreOffice Impress > General > New document on the main menu bar and select the Start with wizard option if you later change your mind, but I leave it off. Your slides will all be white, and your text will be black, and that is just fine for now. Your first slide will be a Title slide for your presentation. Enter the Title, then any subtitle in the space underneath (typically this might be your name, an affiliation, or similar information. Then you get another slide by clicking this button.

Button for creating a new slide

This slide will have two sections as well. At the top is the section for the Slide title, and underneath is the content section. By default it is set to create bullet points, but you could add other content as necessary, such as a photo, a graph, a table, even movies and sound. Be careful that you don’t go overboard in adding things.

So, if you have focused on getting your content correct, you should now have a very nice, plain, boring black-and-white presentation. So how do you go about adding a little more visual interest? We will start looking at that next.

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