PDF-presentations in live AV

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For events and conferences, Powerpoint is still the most popular presentation-program. But if you work professionally as an A/V technician or event-organizer, you need to deal with more presentation-types. Speakers will come to you last minute with their presentation in whatever format they please, and it’s your job to make sure that it’s displayed correctly. And no, you can’t demand that the speakers bring their presentation 1 week before the event in the perfect format of your liking. (Trust me, I have tried this) You just got to take whatever the presenter throws at you and make it work. 

And PDF seems to be a format that just won’t go away. Some speakers like it because they think it will look the same on all devices, and other use it for security-reasons: I recently worked on a conference with speakers from the Norwegian secret service, and they all brought PDF-files. There is no way in hell I would ever ask them to use Powerpoint or Keynote. So, whether we like it or not, we must deal with PDF-presentations, and make the best out of it.  

Challenges with PDF

You may think of PDF as an easy format to work with: The presentations will look the same on most devices, and you can use the industry-standard Adobe Reader to open the files. But for AV-technicians, there are some pitfalls with PDF´s that you should be aware of:

– You need to manually drag the program-window of Adobe Reader to the screen where you want it to display. This can be a hassle to do right before the presenter enters the stage, especially if you don’t have a good view of the screen/projector. (With Powerpoint this is smoother because you have a shortcut and button that takes care of these things for you)
If you mirror the display, it´s easier to put the PDF in fullscreen. But normally in pro AV, you want to avoid showing your desktop to your audience. And if you are also dealing with Powerpoint or Keynote presentations, you probably have your screen as extended already. Thus it´s better to also keep it this way when displaying PDF´s. 

– When using dual displays, the PDF only covers one of the screens. If you accidentally push the mouse outside the screen which displays the PDF, presentation-clickers will no longer advance the PDF to the next slide. 

To drag & drop pdf-documents to the external monitor works fine in the office, but out in the field you might a faster solution.

Using APS to display PDF presentations in fullscreen

Auto Presentation Switcher (APS) makes it easier to work with PDF on events and conferences. You still use the standard apps for the PDF´s, but APS simplifies the task of finding the PDF-file and display it on the correct monitor:

  • Instead of dragging windows around, the shortcut Command + uparrow (Mac) or Control + uparrow (PC) will take the current presentation and display it in fullscreen on the external display. 
  • By using Companion and Stream Deck, you can make APS open and display specific PDF-files. With Adobe Acrobat Pro, you also get commands that can advance to the next slide even when the app is not in window-focus.
  • For a “playlist-style” workflow, you can add all your presentation-files of PDF, Powerpoint and Keynote alphabetically in a folder, and during the event, push “ctrl+rightarrow” (PC) or Command + rightarrow (Mac) to toggle to the next
  • presentation. 
The shortcut ctrl + uparrow will put the pdf-presentation in fullscreen on the external display

PC: Adobe Reader & Adobe Acrobat pro. 64 bit versions.
Mac: Adobe Acrobat Pro & Google Chrome

Other options to display PDF as a slideshow on the external display

What we have tried with APS is to supercharge Adobe Reader and Acrobat for professional AV. There are, however, other options available that can improve your workflow with PDF´s:

Convert PDF to powerpoint

It is easier to work with presentations if they all are in the same format. If you can convert the PDF´s to Powerpoint, you dont need to change your workflow just for the PDF´s.
To do this conversion, you can either go directly to the PPTX format, or first convert to images which you import as a slideshow into Powerpoint. 

What I have learned the hard way, is that you should be very careful when using this method: PDF is notoriously hard to convert to another format without adding graphical artefacts. I have tested a lot of different pdf to powerpoint converters, and I have so far not managed to find a method that does this reliably. If you accept that there will be some visual differences, it works fine, but not for displaying presentations for an audience. 

This conversion was one of the reasons I bought a licence for Adobe Acrobat Pro, but I wasn’t happy with the results. What I ended up doing, was to first to convert from PDF to images, then import this into PowerPoint as a slideshow. This worked fine for several years, but one day I discovered that there were some subtle differences on one of the PDF-presentations I handled. Since then, I have avoided this method. 
So today, I don’t know an easy and bulletproof way of converting PDF to PowerPoint without image-glitches. 

(PS: If you, dear reader, have found a good way to convert PDF to Powerpoint without artifacts, I would love to hear about it. Send me a mail at info@presentationtools.com, and if your method works, I will surely update this blogpost as well.)

Use a different software to display PDF´s

In preparation for this blogtext, I have been looking for other software that are good at displaying PDF-presentations in fullscreen on the external display. And I have found two solutions: 

  • PDFPC is software that is made to make PDF-presentations look like Powerpoint or  Keynote: You get the presenter-view and the PDF is shown in slideshow-mode, and in theory it looks really good for our purpose. 
    However, this is an open-source project, and you need to build the software yourself from the source-code, which will be a turn-off for many. And I haven’t found too much information about this software, so I am not sure how bullet-proof it is for live events. It could be that it works great, but it needs some work. 

  • SlideDog embeds the PDF-presentation as a part of their main presentation-software. The SlideDog interface is how we want it with presenter-view and slideshow-mode, and you can also combine the PDF with other formats like Powerpoints, videos and images. The PDF´s are displayed using Adobe Reader, which means that the PDF should be displayed properly. 
    SlideDog is a serious alternative, especially if you have time to organize all your material for your event into one big file. Note that it only works for Windows.

The advantage of using APS with PDF-presentations

APS can help with some critical tasks when working with pdf-presentations: Our software makes it much easier to display the correct presentation where you want it. But you can still use the industry-standard Adobe software to work with the presentations. Then there is never any doubt that the PDF looks as it should, and if you are using the pro version of Acrobat, you can also edit the presentation-file. This can be a lifesaver if the PDF has some wrong facts that is discovered right before the presenter enters the stage.

APS is an invisible program that runs in the background of your computer and is only called to action when you need it to do some work for you. This makes it very easy to intergrate into existing workflows. And APS works for both PC and Mac on all recent OS, making it suitable for any computer where you want to display your PDF. 

If you need a tool that just makes it easier to work with PDF-presentation on live events, APS is a great choice. 

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