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8 Things I’ve Learned Using an iPad for Presentations

I love using my iPad for travel to conferences, and not just because it’s so lightweight and its battery lasts all day. For one thing, with the LTE version I’m not beholden to conference Wi-Fi; while some conferences have good connectivity, I never want to count on it. With the iPad I can nearly always get online.

But the iPad isn’t convenient only for attending conferences. It’s a good tool for presentations, too-or at least an excellent backup for a dedicated computer. I can easily be ready to present if I have a last-minute computer replacement.

Still, I had some things to learn the hard way about using an iPad for presentations. Perhaps I can save you a few steps.

The Basics of Getting Started

Learn the differences between “desktop” keynote and the ipad version.

While I present nearly exclusively from an iPad, I usually build my initial presentation on a Mac. I build all of my presentations in Keynote, and store them in iCloud. I can (and do) make tweaks to a presentation on-site via the iPad version of Keynote, but it always feels as though I’m slightly fighting with the software.

Keynote supports a customizable presenter display in both versions. On the Mac desktop version, you can pick three ways to give yourself that during-the-talk cheat sheet, instructing it to show you the current slide, next slide, and presenter notes. On the iPad, the presenter display options only give you a “two out of three” option, between current slide, next slide, and presenter notes. I begrudgingly pick Next Slide and Presenter Notes, and then I hope the venue has a confidence monitor that shows me what’s on the projector behind me.

Some folks prefer to use Powerpoint or Google Slides. This distills down to religion, and I can confidently state that those people are wrong. Both tools offer iPad versions as well, but I’m not well versed in them. Deckset doesn’t offer an iPad version, and I’ve not had much patience for the swath of custom JavaScript-based presentation tools that render Markdown inside of browsers. I want to like them, but I can’t quite get there yet. As a result, use Keynote; you’ll be happier. As an added bonus, the presentations live in iCloud; with a bit of notice you can grab a copy on someone’s Mac, iPhone, or iPad and be back in business should calamity befall your iPad.

Do be aware that this means that if your presentation requires a demo in a terminal or a web browser, you either get to do some awkward transitions—or accept that presenting from an iPad isn’t right for this talk. I still haven’t found a good way to give my “Terrible Ideas in Git” talk from an iPad due to its live demos…

Invest in a presentation remote

A presentation remote is a necessity, unless you enjoy being trapped behind the podium. I treated myself to a little luxury with the  Logitech Spotlight .

This device does it all. It speaks its own wireless protocol via a USB-A dongle that plugs into most laptops, but the Spotlight also speaks Bluetooth with a great range. Its battery charges using a built-in USB-C port that hides behind the dongle, and a single charge lasts for months.

I freely accept that most folks find the idea of paying $129 for a single-purpose device a bit nutty. Those folks generally don’t give double-digit numbers of presentations a year. A word of caution: Don’t leave it behind at the podium after your talk. It’s expensive enough to buy the first time. Please don’t ask me how I know.

Pay attention to fonts and typefaces

I have a condition I jokingly refer to as “typeface blindness.” I can’t tell the difference between most fonts unless I stare at them and actively work out what I’m seeing. I’m told this is atypical, and whenever I forget this fact I get reminded on Twitter. “Well, that’s the fifth talk so far today that uses Helvetica (the system default)” always makes me facepalm. As a result, I make it a point to not use system default fonts.

Contrary to what many folks believe, you can use custom fonts on iOS, but the process is a bit arcane. Do yourself a favor and drop the $2 for  AnyFont . This magic app streamlines an otherwise incredibly painful process.

Lessons I’ve Learned

I’m conservative here; while you can save money by buying third party adapters, I find that minimizing the risk of screwing up a presentation in front of 400 people is worth the extortionate rate that Apple charges for first party adapters. You’ll want both HDMI and VGA adapters. Both of these are available in Lightning and USB-C flavors, depending upon which generation of iPad you’re using. Note that this is less of a concern with USB-C than it is with Lightning adapters—just make certain you test all of your adapters before you leave home.

Save time; don’t bother looking for DVI adapters. The iPad officially doesn’t support it, Apple doesn’t sell them for Lightning, and I’ve only ever encountered it on the speaking circuit once. Your test a few hours before your talk will validate that you’ll be okay.

You can never be too rich, too thin, or have a big enough battery pack

Grab a beefy battery pack, and you can go days without finding a power outlet. You don’t want to discover that the podium power strip is full, the extension cord is a trip hazard, or that you don’t have the right adapter for the country you’re in when it’s time to give a talk. Having a battery pack that can borderline jump-start a car means you’re fine so long as your iPad battery level is anywhere about roughly 3%. (Too much lower and the tablet won’t boot at all.)

I like Anker products for this, but your mileage may vary. I soundly endorse finding reputable brands. Saving a few bucks on chargers, cables, or batteries that (a) plug into a very expensive electronic device and (b) have a propensity to include “sets the building on fire” in their list of failure modes just never seemed worth the trade-off to me.

Note: If you need to give away something at a booth, don’t use branded USB battery packs or chargers, as swag. At best, they’re cheap and feel flimsy. At worst, something with your logo on it started a fire.

Spend extra for an LTE connection

You can tether your iPad to a mobile device or ride on conference Wi-Fi. However, if you’re presenting frequently it’s worth the extra money to get an iPad version that can speak to the cell networks. Suddenly you no longer care what the conference Wi-Fi password is, whether you remembered to charge your phone, or if the captive portal login page is going to expire and pop up again mid-presentation.

Speaking of which…

Before the presentation, turn on both “Do Not Disturb” and “Airplane Mode”

In presentation mode, Keynote swears that it blocks pop-ups, reminders, incoming calls, and other distractions. To its credit, I’ve never seen it do otherwise.

That said, I always enable Do Not Disturb on my iPad. I put the device in airplane mode. And only then do I plug in the projector. Perhaps I’m paranoid, but you’re also not seeing horrible screenshots from my talks that feature embarrassing notifications, either.

Update nothing before your presentation

If a new iOS version or a Keynote update comes out the same week as your presentation, fine. But resist the upgrade. It can wait a day.

There have been enough regressions in software over the years that I’m extremely hesitant to trust that everything will “just work” an hour before I go on stage.

These are the sometimes-hard-won lessons I’ve learned after spending a year giving talks solely from an iPad.

Corey Quinn Headshot

Corey is the Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, where he specializes in helping companies improve their AWS bills by making them smaller and less horrifying. He also hosts the "Screaming in the Cloud" and "AWS Morning Brief" podcasts; and curates "Last Week in AWS," a weekly newsletter summarizing the latest in AWS news, blogs, and tools, sprinkled with snark and thoughtful analysis in roughly equal measure.

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Keynote User Guide for iPad

  • What’s new in Keynote 13.2
  • Intro to Keynote
  • Intro to images, charts, and other objects
  • Create a presentation
  • Choose how to navigate your presentation
  • Open a presentation
  • Save and name a presentation
  • Find a presentation
  • Print a presentation
  • Prevent accidental editing
  • Undo or redo changes
  • Quick navigation
  • Change the working view
  • Customize the toolbar
  • Copy text and objects between apps
  • Basic touchscreen gestures
  • Use Apple Pencil with Keynote
  • Create a presentation using VoiceOver
  • Add or delete slides
  • Reorder slides
  • Group or ungroup slides
  • Skip or unskip a slide
  • Change the slide size
  • Change a slide background
  • Add a border around a slide
  • Show or hide text placeholders
  • Show or hide slide numbers
  • Apply a slide layout
  • Add and edit slide layouts
  • Change a theme
  • Add an image
  • Add an image gallery
  • Edit an image
  • Add and edit a shape
  • Combine or break apart shapes
  • Save a shape to the shapes library
  • Add and align text inside a shape
  • Add 3D objects
  • Add lines and arrows
  • Add and edit drawings
  • Add video and audio
  • Record video and audio
  • Edit video and audio
  • Add live video
  • Set the movie format
  • Position and align objects
  • Use alignment guides
  • Place objects inside a text box or shape
  • Layer, group, and lock objects
  • Change object transparency
  • Fill shapes and text boxes with color or an image
  • Add a border to an object
  • Add a caption or title
  • Add a reflection or shadow
  • Use object styles
  • Resize, rotate, and flip objects
  • Add linked objects to make your presentation interactive
  • Select text and place the insertion point
  • Copy and paste text
  • Format a presentation for another language
  • Use phonetic guides
  • Use bidirectional text
  • Use vertical text
  • Change the look of text
  • Use text styles
  • Change text capitalization
  • Add drop caps
  • Make characters superscript or subscript
  • Format fractions automatically
  • Format dashes and quotation marks
  • Format Chinese, Japanese, or Korean text
  • Set tab stops
  • Format text into columns
  • Adjust line spacing
  • Format lists
  • Add mathematical equations
  • Add borders and rules (lines) to separate text
  • Add or delete a table
  • Select tables, cells, rows, and columns
  • Add or remove rows and columns
  • Move rows and columns
  • Resize rows and columns
  • Merge or unmerge cells
  • Change the look of table text
  • Show, hide, or edit a table title
  • Change table gridlines and colors
  • Use table styles
  • Resize, move, or lock a table
  • Add and edit cell content
  • Format dates, currency, and more
  • Highlight cells conditionally
  • Format tables for bidirectional text
  • Alphabetize or sort table data
  • Add or delete a chart
  • Change a chart from one type to another
  • Modify chart data
  • Move, resize, and rotate a chart
  • Change the look of data series
  • Add a legend, gridlines, and other markings
  • Change the look of chart text and labels
  • Add a chart border and background
  • Use chart styles
  • Animate objects onto and off a slide
  • Animate objects on a slide
  • Change build order and timing
  • Add transitions

Present on your iPad

  • Present on a separate display
  • Present on iPad over the internet
  • Use a remote
  • Make a presentation advance automatically
  • Play a slideshow with multiple presenters
  • Add and view presenter notes
  • Rehearse on your device
  • Play a recorded presentation
  • Check spelling
  • Look up words
  • Find and replace text
  • Replace text automatically
  • Set your author name for comments
  • Highlight text
  • Add and print comments
  • Send a presentation
  • Intro to collaboration
  • Invite others to collaborate
  • Collaborate on a shared presentation
  • See the latest activity in a shared presentation
  • Change a shared presentation’s settings
  • Stop sharing a presentation
  • Shared folders and collaboration
  • Use Box to collaborate
  • Create an animated GIF
  • Post your presentation in a blog
  • Use iCloud Drive with Keynote
  • Export to PowerPoint or another file format
  • Restore an earlier version of a presentation
  • Move a presentation
  • Delete a presentation
  • Password-protect a presentation
  • Create and manage custom themes
  • Transfer files with AirDrop
  • Transfer presentations with Handoff
  • Transfer presentations with the Finder
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Keyboard shortcut symbols

presentation mode from ipad

Play a Keynote presentation on iPad

the Play button

To advance through the presentation, do any of the following:

Go to the next slide: Tap the slide.

Go back a slide or reset the builds on the slide: Swipe right. Avoid the left edge of the screen as you swipe, so the slide navigator doesn’t appear.

Jump to a different slide: Tap the left side of the screen to show the slide navigator, then tap the slide you want. You may need to swipe up or down to see all the slides. Tap anywhere on the slide to hide the slide navigator. Even if your device is connected to an external display, the slide navigator appears only on the device.

To see the toolbar, touch and hold anywhere on the screen, then tap a button to show the slide navigator, live video sources , multipresenter slideshow , or drawing and laser pointer controls. Tap away from the toolbar to dismiss it.

To stop playing a presentation, pinch anywhere on the screen.

Draw on a slide as you present

You can draw on your slides as you present to emphasize information on the slide. If you’re using Keynote Remote to control a presentation from your iPad, you can draw on your iPad and have your drawing appear on the Mac, iPhone, or iPad that’s playing your presentation.

A slide in slide illustration mode showing the laser pointer and color selection controls.

Do any of the following:

Draw with a color: Tap a color, then draw with your finger on the slide.

the Undo button

Use the laser pointer: Tap the laser pointer and move your finger around the slide; the laser pointer follows your movements.

Return to the previous slide or advance a slide: Tap the left or right arrow on the slide.

Hide the drawing tools: Tap Done.


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