As a dedicated Emacs and Linux user, I find my life much simpler when I can live in plain text as much as possible. This allows me to leverage the experience I’ve built up with my favorite editor, version content and collaborate painlessly with git, and avoid proprietary formats and applications. As a researcher and student, I’ve preferred for writing reports and papers for these reasons, as well as its renowned typesetting capabilities. I’ve dabbled with using the Beamer package for presentations, but ultimately while LaTeX is great for formatting documents, it can be very tedious to typeset your presentations. This is where Pandoc comes in.

Pandoc is a highly flexible program for processing Markdown and converting it to many formats. Conveniently, one of the formats that it supports is Beamer presentations. The lightweight nature of Markdown allows me to focus on content in my presentations as opposed to formatting.

This summer I’ve been teaching CSE30: Computer Organization and Systems Programming. In the past, I’ve not really spent much time preparing for discussion section because few students regularly show up, but in an effort to improve my teaching and presentation skills I’ve decided to come to class prepared with a detailed presentation. It’s debatable whether this is better than having less structure, talking more off-script, and using the blackboard. For me, since I still get nervous when presenting, I find that having a lot of text helps me stay calm. I still struggle with maintaining eye contact and not reading off slides, but I think having a coherent presentation is a good first step to developing my teaching experience.

The awesome thing about the Pandoc-Beamer-PDF workflow is that I can just type up my points in outline form and format them using Markdown’s intuitive syntax, allowing me to focus on content vs presentation. I have a simple Makefile that converts my Markdown file to PDF using pandoc. When I need to specify some more complex formatting rules or equations, I can insert LaTeX which is passed through directly to LaTeX.

One of the “issues” with Beamer is that the default templates are rather bland and dated. While it’s arguably not important for the presentation to be “hip” and “modern” as long as the content is good, having a visually pleasing presentation never hurts, and thankfully there’s an alternative Beamer theme named Metropolis which features an excellent modern font (Mozilla’s Fira Sans) and clean layout. Using it is as simple as specifying a TeX header file when calling Pandoc.

For full details, check out the code for one of my discussion section presentations.