Keynote’s Export to PDF Saved My Talk

I gave a colloquium at a Physics Department yesterday. I was ready and confident. My host saw my Mac and said, “um, er is there any way I can convince you to put your presentation on a stick and present from our computer?” I said, “Does the computer have Keynote?” No, of course it doesn’t. I flippantly reassured him that, as long as there’s a VGA cable, it’ll be fine. We went to lunch.

Fast forward to me getting my stuff together to go to the seminar room. My heart stopped, and then began to race. I brought the wrong dongle, DVI instead of VGA. No one in the relatively small department uses Macs so there’s no hope of borrowing a VGA dongle from someone. The host did a good job of calming me down and he convinced me to work it out in the seminar room. Maybe the projector has a DVI input. It turns out the projector does have a DVI! But my dongle didn’t work. The cable had an extra four little pins. (Anybody know what that’s about?)

I relented and exported my presentation to PowerPoint. I got error messages saying something about “actions not supported.” That won’t do; nearly every single one of my slides has actions (builds and animations). I exported to PDF. There’s a little check mark about “Print each stage of builds.” I checked it, my heart rate slowed down. I transferred the PDF to my stick and put it in the Windows machine. Also plugged in the USB receiver for my presenter clicker. Copied the PDF to the desktop, opened it in Acrobat, found Full Screen, clicked advance slide button on my clicker, and it just worked. And that’s it. It just worked.

The animations and bullet builds worked extremely well. It wasn’t Keynote smooth, but it was extremely functional. There was one sequence of slides where the font color was a little off, but it was legible. I didn’t have my presenter notes so I struggled a bit with transitions since I wasn’t quite sure what the next slide was going to be, but I pulled it off.

Bottom line: Keynote’s export to PDF function saved my talk. Maybe one day it will save yours.

7 comments… add one
  • Derek Fox May 18, 2011 @ 10:30

    The issue, which hits a lot of Mac folk sooner or later, is that there are at least two types of DVI connector, “DVI-D” (digital-only) and “DVI-I” (digital + analog), and that the Apple-standard DVI connector cable fits only “DVI-D” as it does not pass along the analog signal. Wikipedia points to this blog which seems to sum it up:

    Short version: Your mini-DVI to DVI from Apple will not connect to every DVI device (as you discovered!). If you want such a connector, however, it looks like you can get one at


  • Chris May 18, 2011 @ 10:38

    I love the export to PDF feature of keynote. My astrobiology class is finishing the term by giving Ignite style presentations (5 minutes, 20 slides, 15 seconds auto-advancing) and in order to save transition time and make sure presentations flow smoothly I am using acrobat reader with 15 second auto-advance for the presentations. Many students used powerpoint to make the presentations, but the pdf export in the mac version of powerpoint often leaves extra boundaries around the slides. Keyframe though does an excellent job of making pdfs from powerpoint presentations. Keynote is now my default app for opening powerpoint presentations.

  • Rubbo May 18, 2011 @ 10:57

    Besides exporting to pdf, I’ve become fond of Keynote’s ability to export to QuickTime. A QuickTime movie keeps all the nifty transitions, and you can set it up to advance on clicks from the user end. This is a nice feature for when you want to post your talk online. The shortcomings is that QuickTime is not as quite as universal as pdf, and the QuickTime files can be large.

  • Mark Marley May 18, 2011 @ 14:05

    I attended a talk at the Flagstaff exoplanets meeting where the presenter had prepared his slides on some open source platform and exported to PDF to show with acrobat. BUT the conference machine had–by default(!)–the option in Acrobat checked to “advance slides every 15 seconds” (or something similar). So the slides constantly kept advancing on him and it was only halfway through that they fixed it. It was almost a total disaster. So the moral is if you use acrobat to be very careful about all the options.

  • saurav May 18, 2011 @ 14:30

    Keynote actually allows the presenter notes to be exported to PDF as well; however, neither Preview or Acrobat Reader know how to interpret that (or, at least, I have not been able to make them recognize notes). Hence, the notes get concatenated to the bottom of the slide, which is kind of stupid if you are presenting from the PDF. A plugin to allow for presenter notes in slideshow mode for Preview is sorely needed.

  • Phil Bett May 20, 2011 @ 2:29

    Back in the day, people would always bring spare transparencies or at least printouts along when then gave a presentation, in case the computer would fail. Nowadays, it is always sensible to bring a spare copy along on a memory stick in case you laptop fails (or they won’t let you use it), in different formats always including pdf.

    Keynote produces beautiful presentations, but you’re pretty reliant on your own machine. You can export to pdf from Keynote, OpenOffice, Beamer (PDFLaTeX), and even PowerPoint (I use a free print-to-pdf thinger), so it is a pretty universal fallback format for presentations.

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