On iA Presenter and my mission to preserve my digital assets
So certain that the world didn't need another presentation app, I ignored iA's new offering for months. Not even through a week of daily visits to ia.net did I so much as peek at its product page. I thought that, at best, my corporate slideshow days were over, and Presenter was for some other poor schmuck in a cubical.
What a terrible mistake. It turns out, Presenter has helped me in my mission to standardize my digital assets (more on that in a bit).
Indeed, I'm not about that corporate life anymore. For almost ten years now, I've been a freelance designer, copywriter, and web developer. I don't see the inside of many conference rooms these days, and I won't wear a single collar shirt all week if I can help it.
But just because I'm a freelancer in stretch chinos doesn't mean I've lost the need to convey ideas. In fact, I've been questioning, and subsequently retooling, how I communicate with clients for all aspects of my work.
For a branding project, I once wrote a slide deck titled What makes a good logo. I included some Saul Bass designs, a few Vignelli quotes, and my client loved it (or, at the very least, seemed engaged). The presentation set the project's tone, and we landed on a great logo. The experience taught me that gentle client education at the top of a project can go a long way. Now, when I close a branding deal, I whip out my logo slides for the kick-off meeting.
I've toyed with boilerplates for all my onboarding and project discovery processes. I envision a collection of bite-sized messaging I can mix & match and reuse for client presentations, emails, PDFs, and even landing pages. This idea plays into my asset standardization project, but progress could be faster.
I couldn't figure out how to organize everything. Do I make a bunch of PowerPoints like my logo deck, effectively trapping my copy into a single format? Do I write it out and store the collection in a Notion database? I'd then have to copy/paste into presentations as needed. None of these options appealed to me.
And then this morning, an hour before a client meeting, I decided I needed a slideshow.
While waiting for PowerPoint to fire up, I remembered Presenter. All that time spent on iA's website reading documentation for Writer (their flagship app I adore), I ignored Presenter. But, I knew it was there. And I knew (somehow) that it made slides dynamically. I may have peeked at the product page after all.
I filled out a form for the free trial, and a few minutes later, I was writing my presentation— one I didn't need ten minutes ago and had 50 minutes to write, source images for, style, and proofread. Did I mention I was sitting on the sidewalk outside a hospital, desperately searching for an internet signal? I booked my meeting the same morning I was to drive my mom to the doctor. Traffic diminished any hope of arriving back home in time.
Here's the thing. I was done in thirty minutes. The remaining time I spent driving to a stronger WiFi signal. I even had time to grab a cold brew. Thanks, Corporate Coffee Shop™.
Like iA Writer, Presenter lets you focus on the writing. Its design discourages fiddling with formatting for half an hour before you jot down a sentence. I spent ninety-eight percent of my time organizing my thoughts and shaping my message and two percent clumsily navigating a foreign UI. I spent zero percent on presentation layout and formatting. That part was done automatically and looked great.
My meeting via video conference went well, and I suspect it benefited from a visually structured presentation. And because I was able to spend all my time on my message, my clients were able to grasp some technical concepts that I struggled to communicate previously.
I did have one hiccup, though. While on my Teams meeting, I couldn't figure out how to share the full-screen slideshow and then switch to my notes without my client's screen blacking out. (Presenter smartly separates the slideshow from your notes into different windows.)
After the call, when I wasn't frantically writing and had time to poke around, I read the documentation and watched some product videos. I learned that my screen-sharing scenario is a significant selling point for Presenter. I suspect my issue was either user error or a salty Microsoft, making things harder than it needed to be.
What I loved, and couldn't believe I didn't realize before, was that Presenter builds presentations from Markdown text. And, of course it does! Presenter's sibling is the original “distraction-free” writing app I just so happen to use daily- iA Writer.
Remember my logo presentation? What I didn't mention earlier was that I lost my accompanying notes after presenting the first time. I had worded my speech just as I wanted and could never get it back in my rewrites.
This experience is just one of many times I felt my writing was trapped and unorganized. Over the last six months, I've made it my mission to better preserve and catalog my digital assets. I've focused on methods to improve reusability and portability for the things I write.
The answer, of course, starts with non-proprietary archival formats like .txt and .md.
My mission (hyper-fixation?) has led me to a renewed appreciation for iA Writer (I switched to Ulysses for a few years and recently came back). My mission resulted in my designing this very blog, which preserves my writing in .md files in a single folder. And now, my mission has led me to Presenter. Not just for what the app can do but what it represents.
The tools we use to create should bend to our creations, not the other way around. Our creations (writing, photos, graphics, code, etc.) should exist independently, free to move around, reshape, and repurpose. If an app can't respect that, I don't want it.
Now, my collection of evergreen messages seems possible to create.
It's all so simple— write it in Markdown, present it in Presenter, email it in Rich Text, and then store it in text files. I can render it in HTML for my portfolio site (that I'll never finish building) to boot!
Now, if I can only get well-meaning clients to stop sending website copy in Word docs. One mission at a time.