Improve your presentation skills: how to make smoother slide transitions in Keynote

Modern presentation apps like Keynote and PowerPoint still encourage you to think in terms of “slides”: discrete, isolated objects to be presented one after the other, as though we were still using those old slide projectors to show film-in-square-frames slides. Our audiences may even expect to receive printed or PDF copies of our slides, one tidy image per page.

But that metaphor is a relic of an earlier time. Technology has moved on, and you can create far more interesting and appealing presentations if you move beyond the idea of “slides” and adopt a more fluid, seamless approach.

The best-known tool for presentations-that-are-not-slides is Prezi (4.0 mice), which gives you a huge canvas on which you place individual elements; you then pan, zoom, and rotate the view to highlight specific items. It’s a neat effect, but I prefer to downplay animations and transitions, not to call extra attention to them.

I use Keynote most of the time, and here are some of the techniques I use to make my presentations less slide-like and more like a single, continuous story.

Single-slide builds

Sometimes the best way to show a sequence of ideas is not to use separate slides but rather to reveal successive builds on a single slide.

Keynote single-slide builds

By layering images in the same location and using a combination of Build Out and Build In effects, you can replace one with another, without changing anything else on the slide.

For example, suppose you have a slide with text on the left and a photo on the right, and you want to illustrate what happens to the photo when you apply a filter. Instead of duplicating the text onto a second slide, put the “before” and “after” images in exactly the same location, one on top of the other (use the commands on the Arrange menu to adjust layering). Apply the Disappear effect as Build Out animation for the first image and, in the Build Order palette, set it to happen along with an Appear effect as a Build In animation for the second. The effect will be that advancing the build merely swaps the images.

Magic Move

Keynote’s Magic Move is a cool transition effect to move from one slide to the next. (PowerPoint doesn’t really have an analog to it, though you can get reasonably close with sufficient effort). The idea is that you have two consecutive slides that share certain elements, but in different positions, orientations, sizes, or even colors. Apply the transition and the individual elements—objects, words, and characters—all move to their new locations and states. It looks like you haven’t changed slides at all.

Keynote magic move

Magic Move transitions by moving, resizing, rotating, and otherwise morphing elements that appear on both before and after slides.

To try this effect, create a slide with whatever elements you want (such as text, images, shapes) and then duplicate it. On the second slide, make whatever changes you wish—rearrange, resize, rotate, add, or remove items, or change their colors. Then, on the first slide, click Animate > Add an Effect > Magic Move. Click the Preview button to see what the transition will look like. (For additional tips and details, consult Apple’s Add a Magic Move transition page.)

So how would you use Magic Move to maintain continuity throughout a presentation? You could divide each slide into two or three regions—say, left and right halves. Put half the slide’s content on each side. On the left side of the following slide, put a copy of whatever was on the right on the first slide. Then put your new material on the second slide’s right side. When you advance slides with Magic Move, the effect will be that the left block fades away, the right block moves over to the left, and a new block fades in beside it.

Subtle transitions

Sometimes it isn’t feasible to maintain any elements from one slide to the next, but you may still be able to create continuity in other ways. The key is to choose a combination of background and transition such that, when you move to the next slide, only the elements on the slides (and not the background itself) appear to change. Then you can save the big, splashy transitions for those rare times when you need to signal the audience that you’re moving to an entirely different topic.

If you use a solid-color background or a smooth vertical gradient (such as in the Gradient theme), transitions such as Dissolve, Push, Iris, and Wipe may appear to affect only the slide’s contents. However, if your background is textured or includes a photo or other artwork, you’ll need to either choose a transition in the Object Effects category that inherently changes only the contents of the slide and not the background or even—dare I suggest it?—use no transition at all.

Keynote object push timeline

For sequences of ideas that can be arranged like a timeline, the Object Push transition can maintain continuity between slides.

As a simple example, imagine a horizontal timeline, with each slide showing just a small segment. You can use the Object Push transition to “push” the elements from one slide to the left while replacing them with new elements from the right; this creates the illusion that the view is panning to the right to see the next portion of the timeline. (If you prefer, you can push from a different direction.) This works not only for literal timelines but also for any sequence of text or graphical objects that can be arranged in a line.

With just a bit of work, it’s easy to create more seamless, less fragmented presentations, to make them more like modern, almost cinematic events, instead of old-fashioned click-and-progress slideshows.

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