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Presentations Using Beamer

(This page will evolve and expand, as time allows)

If you've attended academic conferences and presentations, as well as classroom lectures (particularly by younger social and physical scientists with a quantitative focus), you may have noticed that the slides were not in the well worn PowerPoint format, with which many are acquainted, but posted as a PDF.  It is likely the case that these slides were created using the Beamer class in LaTeX.  He or she has probably done this for one of the following (but not exhaustive) reasons:

1. Math, equations, and other technical notation are much easier to typeset and are generally presented in a more readable fashion.
2. Moving between versions and operating systems, as well as between Microsoft and open source programs (as frequently occurs at conferences), can result in PowerPoint formatting problems, at especially inconvenient times.  PDFs do not generally experience these problems.
3. Beamer presentations tend to have a more polished, standardized, and scientific appearance.  This is in part because the user does not have to manually re-size text and images, but also because of standardized headers, footers, and indicators of progress through the presentation.  They are also generally free of presentation color and style abuse that annoy audience members.

But with these benefits, there are certain sacrifices.

1. If you wish to include graphs, you will generally have to create and edit these in another program.
2. Similarly, some find inclusion of certain graphic files to be problematic.  To solve this issue, I suggest converting all images to .eps file format.  This can be done with any number of conversion programs, but my preferred solution is to draw graphs in another program, paste it to inkscape, and save it in the proper format.  Note that graphs from most statistics programs can be directly saved as .eps and thus completely avoid this problem.
3. If you wish to allow others to edit and reuse your slides, you will have to provide not only the .tex file (where you edit the slides), but also all image files included in the presentation.  This also assumes that the end user is also familiar with LaTeX.

Slides

If you are already at least somewhat familiar with LaTeX and have already incurred the sunk costs of learning the basics, then the transition from PowerPoint to Beamer should be relatively painless.  If you've not used LaTeX before, then I suggest that you start there, and return to Beamer, only after having gotten the hang of document creation.  The main differences between creating LaTeX documents and Beamer presentations are: (1) The document class is switched to "beamer," (2) You have to specify a theme (this defines the colors and slide layout), and (3) you have to tell it when to start and stop each slide.  Slides in Beamer are called "frames."

Below, you will find a very basic presentation with two slides: a title page and a regular frame.  If you cut and paste this code into your LaTeX editing program (I use WinEdt), this will create a Beamer presentation.  I have used the Beamer theme "CambridgeUS," but that's just what I like.  There are many others, such as these, but I find many of the blue themes to be overused and that CambridgeUS shows up better in the odd lighting situations that can be experienced in some classrooms and conference meeting hotels.

Using the Beamer class, most environments (tables, tabular, equation, itemize, enumerate, etc.) work just as they did, when you were creating documents.  Copy and paste the following code into your LaTeX editor and compile by pressing LaTeX --> dvips --> ps2pdf

In the second slide, you'll notice that the command "\pause" is included after each item.  That means that, when the slide is first viewed, only the first item will appear.  The second item will only appear after you click to advance the presentation (like PowerPoint, but without the fancy animations).

\documentclass{beamer}
\usepackage{ifpdf}
\usepackage{grffile}
\usepackage{epsfig} % This package formats figures.
\usepackage{psfrag} % This package formats figures.
\usepackage{amsmath} % This is a package for math features.
\usepackage{amsfonts} % This is a package for math features.
\usepackage{amssymb} % This is a package for math features.
\usepackage{graphicx}
\usepackage{epstopdf}


\usetheme{CambridgeUS}
\begin{document}

\title[Short Version of Title]{Longer Version of the Title}
\subtitle[Short subtitle]{Longer Version of the Subtitle}
\author[J. Rogers]{Jonathan Rogers}
\institute[FSU]{
  Department of Political Science\\
  Florida State University\\
  Tallahassee, FL 32306\\[1ex]
  \texttt{jdr08d@my.fsu.edu}
}
\date[Summer 2012]{Summer 2012}

\begin{frame}[plain]
  \titlepage
\end{frame}

\begin{frame}
\frametitle{Overview}
\begin{itemize}
\item Line one
\pause
\item Line two
\pause
\item Line three
\end{itemize}
\end{frame}

\end{document}

Tips

1.  With so many different environments and lists, it can be somewhat difficult to find bugs in the code.  Because of this, I recommend recompiling each time that you create a new frame.  It may take an extra few seconds per slide, but it could save you from significant frustration later.

2.  When compiling, the program creates the slides the first time, but does not fully update page numbers and labels.  If you use page numbers in your presentation, you will need to compile twice, when you are finished, so that the page numbers will be correct.

3.  If you post your slides online or otherwise make them available to students to print, advise them to be careful.  Adobe and most PDF readers will treat every "pause" as a separate slide.  If you look at the presentation you just created, there are only two slides.  But your PDF reader will say that there are four pages.  If you go to print the presentation, it will give you the title page and all three versions of the second slide.  This is also true, when you get into more advanced concepts like highlighting and changing colors as presentation aids.

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