Sunday, April 14, 2013

10 Tools Challenge: CMAP Tools for presentations

I'm a big fan of CmapTools.  I use it extensively for a wide variety of maps.  When an opportunity presented itself to experiment with a low-risk audience, I decided to ditch PowerPoint and use CmapTools to develop my presentation. I had a number of options:
1. Use CmapTools to develop the content but then make the content fit into PowerPoint slides for presentation purposes.  I would have copied maps into the PowerPoint.

2. Use CmapTools' full functionality and both design and deliver the presentation using CmapTools.  This requires using my own computer (or using CmapTools on a USB stick).

3. Use CmapTools to design the presentation in such a manner that it can be turned into a set of hyperlinked web pages, navigated using any web browser.

I picked option 3.  While I've experimented with the presentation functions embedded in CmapTools, I've found that building a presentation that way is very time consuming and forces you to define a very specific path through your presentation, replicating the linear aspect of a PowerPoint.  I wanted a presentation that had few slides/web pages, but many options in terms of navigating from one place to another, opting in and out of various paths depending on time available, questions asked, etc... I eventually came up with a presentation that could take 10 minutes using the shortest path (10 minutes was the time I was given) and potentially an hour or more if I had clicked on every link and taken every path available.

So, how is that different from a PowerPoint with a lot of backup slides? The main difference is in how I could navigate to the backup information in the context of each core page.  Technically, it's possible to do the same with a PowerPoint by simply creating a link to a specific back up page.  Instead of thinking of my presentation as a set of sequential slides, I was visualizing it as a set of circles.  I had a core of 5-6 maps at the center, a set script or sequence for going through these maps in 10 minutes, and wider circles around that full of backup options should there be questions about any of the core maps.

Two disadvantages of using a web version of a CmapTools presentation:

1. Sitting Down: If you embedded links and you are navigating using links, you can't do it standing using a page clicker / slide changer.  Think about whether standing in front of the audience is important.  I wouldn't do it with a large audience.  It works fine in a relatively small conference room where everyone can still see you in a sitting position.  You can do it if you're standing at a podium, but make sure there's a mouse available or bring your own.

2. Fixing Size: With a PowerPoint, you are guaranteed that your slide will appear in the appropriate size, filling the screen.  With a CmapTools map transformed in html, you may need to adjust the size of the map on the screen using CTRL+ or CTRL-.  It's okay if you're comfortable adjusting quickly.  Ideally, you can open up all the pages ahead of time and set the right zoom level for each screen.  I have to look into how to set a standard / template size as I design those maps and avoid this page specific adjustments.

A reminder:  The rules that apply to PowerPoint apply to any presentation medium: pay attention to the font, font colors and always test on a projection screen.  It may look fine on your computer screen and not so good when projected.  I was particularly disappointed with the colors.  I had nice background images that didn't look as good as they should have. I might have been better off showing the background images separately, or using them for transition purposes.

Given the overall purpose of the presentation and the chance to demonstrate an innovative approach, using CmapTools was a good decision in this case. Most complex maps developed with CmapTools cannot be read when projected on a screen in a conference room.  It requires zooming in and out or slicing a map into smaller elements (which is what the CmapTools presentation functionality does).