How to cope with PowerPoint and Keynote limitations with videoconferencing software

It’s not you: you can’t see a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation and your notes except in full-screen mode.

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Presentation software and videoconferencing tools mix like oil and water. That's a particularly unfortunate thing when tens of millions of teachers are forced to use PowerPoint or Keynote to remotely educate kids daily. These apps weren’t designed for interactive remote presentation, and about nine months into the pandemic, the seams aren’t just showing, but they’ve ripped out like a former shirt of Bruce Banner’s.

The fundamental problem is full-screen presentation mode. For in-person presentations, it makes perfect sense. With two screens—one a laptop and one a projector or being fed into a broadcast or webinar system—a presenter can view notes, use tools for markup, run builds and play videos, and see their next slide or even the set of upcoming slides. They don’t need another screen to also see participants, or they’re in an environment set up by the IT department with multiple computers to enable that.

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PowerPoint has an oddly named way to set up presenting a slideshow in a window instead of as full screen.

But compress that into one computer—often one screen—on which Zoom, Teams, Meet, or other videoconferencing software is running, and it’s a conflict and a mess.

With two monitors, run PowerPoint or Keynote in full-screen mode to see your notes and gain presenter tools, and you can’t see people in the presentation—especially important for teachers. (Zoom notably has a video overlay that can show a gallery view of people, but it’s a small window and lacks full controls.)

With a single screen, the full-screen mode doesn’t even let you access your notes or other tools.

Switch to the slideshow-as-window mode in PowerPoint or Keynote, which puts all the interactive slide features, including builds, into a standalone window, and you get more control over your environment, but you still can’t view your notes. Baffling! Why design it this way?

(In PowerPoint, with a slide show open, click the Slide Show menu and then click Set Up Slide Show. Select Browsed by an individual (window) and click OK. In Keynote, simply choose Play > Play Slide to Window. You can also add that option to the Toolbar with a presentation open by choosing View > Customize Toolbar and dragging the item onto the toolbar.)

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Keynote’s new Play Slideshow in Window option is more compatible with videoconferencing software’s way of doing things.

Here are some suggestions of how to work with PowerPoint and Keynote in a videoconferencing setting while having more flexibility.

Export your Keynote presentation to a PDF. You can share the presentation as play-in-window to your videoconference session and consult your notes by viewing the PDF. Choose File > Export To and select Include Presenter Notes. (PowerPoint lacks this option in macOS.)

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Export from Keynote with presenter notes so you can open a PDF and view the notes there.

Print (sigh). As absurd as it sounds, print out your slides with notes so you can consult them on paper while presenting as a slideshow in a window.

Slides as Virtual Background in Zoom. In Zoom, use Slides as Virtual Background, a beta feature that lets you select a Keynote or PowerPoint presentation, which Zoom then converts to PDF, and presents in your standard video window. You can overlay yourself with a transparent background as an in-screen presenter. Interactive parts of a deck, like builds, movies, or audio, won’t appear or play. (In Zoom, click Share Screen, click Advanced, select Slides as Virtual Background, and click Share. You’re then prompted to open the slide deck.)

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Zoom’s Slides as Virtual Background beta feature lets you put yourself into the picture—as well as using PowerPoint or Keynote flat slides within Zoom.

Use two computers. If you’re fortunate enough to have two computers you can use, log into the videoconference from both machines and present on one, while viewing the videoconference session on the other, including chat comments or other feedback.

mac911 side by side computers Glenn Fleishman

With two computers, you could present full-screen on one with your notes and use a second also logged into to monitor the videoconference.

Use Keynote remote control. With Keynote on an iPhone or an iPad paired with Keynote on a Mac, you can view notes and manage slides on your mobile device. I discuss this at the bottom of a previous column.

If we’re lucky, Apple and Microsoft will have enough firsthand experience in the form of meetings within their companies and work with school districts (particularly Microsoft due to its Teams meeting software) to understand the limitations that need to be overcome. As well as I hope listening to the tens of thousands of parents across both companies seeing teachers struggle with this daily.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Nikia.

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