Speaking Notes on the iPad, Revisited

The ongoing saga...

May 6, 2013

A few years ago, I wrote about how I use my iPad in place of paper notes for speaking. Tablets and apps have come quite a way since then, and I’ve experimented with a number of setups for this. Scrolling through a Pages or a Google Doc seems to be the most awkward way to do this, yet it’s what I see many people using. I consider it my public duty to explore some options for all to consider.

When I’m thinking about how to use an iPad for speaking notes, there are three criteria I have in mind:

  1. Easy Interaction and Navigation – When I’m presenting, I don’t want to distract myself or the audience with cautious scrolls or pinpoint taps.
  2. Formatting and Details – I don’t speak from a manuscript, but use outlines with various levels of detail. But, because much of my speaking is preaching, I want the means to include chunks of text in the form of Scriptures or quotes. I need a method that helps main points stand out while also being able to focus in on a longer chunk of verbiage.
  3. Multi-device Sync – As important as anything, I want to be able to work with my notes on any device, able to work in depth on a laptop, make changes outside in the parking lot or even as I walk on the stage.

So, with the above criteria in mind, I offer my methods to consider. All of these are written with an iPad in mind, though I imagine you can find parallels for other devices.

  • Word Processing Document – This may be Pages, or a Google Doc. I think many go this route because it’s what they know, a carryover of the days when notes were printed. On the plus side, you can format to your heart’s content, whether manuscript or outline, and notes are easily accessed from any device. But I find it too clunky to scroll my way up and down, always having to take care to not lose my place, especially in a document that stretches over multiple pages.

  • The PDF Method – This is the method I have previously written about. The advantage was the full formatting of a word processing doc exported to a pdf that matched the dimensions of a screen. It worked better than a word processing document for me, because PDF viewers allow the pages to be flipped one at a time with a swipe. I found easier to navigate sideways through pages than scroll through a long document. The negative is that you can’t as easily edit on the go once it’s published to PDF. (Though this is possible with PDFPen for iPad.)

  • Keynote Presentation Mode – The first time I used an iPad for speaking, it was a Keynote presentation on my iPad. I created slides that functioned like index cards, pressed play and flipped my way through them right there on my screen. It works well, but my notes weren’t gathered and formed in Keynote, so it was an extra step to format them there with no easy means of importing them outside of copy and paste.

  • Keynote Presenter Mode – Keynote presenter mode is what happens behind the curtain when you have a Keynote presentation broadcast on a screen. You are given the means to see the current slide, plus, either your notes attached to that slide, or the next slide in the deck – but not both. It’s convenient when you are driving the presentation yourself and have the technical setup (ie AppleTV) to do so, but suffers from the same problem of extra steps for formatting described above.

  • Dedicated Apps – There are a few iOS apps that are dedicated for the purpose of speaking notes:

    1. Podium Cue is the first that I saw. It seems to have good potential, including the ability to track your timing, but is locked into a format that seems to prevent longer chunks of text. It has a well constructed concept of how to structure main points with connected supporting points in a way that allows for easy navigation to the next main point, though I found this restrictive to how I put outlines together.
    2. Promptster Pro offers a similar means to time your speech and offers more flexibility for longer passages, but I find the extra on screen features and overall aesthetic distracting.
    3. Speeches looks nice, though I’ve only previewed it within the App Store. It seems to have a similar feature set to Prompster, but with a cleaner interface and navigation between notes.
      The problem, for me, with all of these dedicated apps, is the ongoing interaction with your notes. You are either stuck developing your notes within the app, or importing a finalized version from another document. They are not agile enough, for my purposes, to mange both the development and the presentation phase of your notes.
  • OmniOutliner for iPad – In recent months, I’ve discovered how handy OmniOutliner can be for presenting from an iPad. Most of my ideas are formed in and out of outlines in OPML format, dragged around within MindNode or coalesced through a fantastic, but under the radar MacOS app called Tree. Thus, they are easily pulled into OmniOutliner, where I can collapse them into main points and expand as needed. The only negative of this is the careful tap required to expand a section.
  • Daedalus Touch – In more recent months than the recent months described above, I’ve been using Daedalus Touch. It helps that it syncs with Ulysses III (written up last week), which has become my favorite environment for writing. Everything is updated and ready to go when and where I need it. The layout is a virtual stack of expanding note cards of different lengths, allowing me to develop a point and any required materials on one card, and then swipe to the next when it is time to move on. It syncs between my laptop, iPad and iPhone in a way that I don’t have have to think about. It’s just there.

As you may have noticed, this outline generally proceeds in the same way my own experiences of using the iPad for speaking notes have proceeded. I’m now using both OmniOutliner and Daedalus Touch, depending on the setting and content. If I’m leading a smaller meeting or workshop with more details to track, I tend to favor the unfolding elements of OmniOutliner. When doing something in more of a monologue format which is generally committed to memory, I turn to Daedalus for easy access to longer passages to be read and easy navigation.

Of course, I know someone out there has tried other methods to. I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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