I’ve started lecturing recently in the area of Sports Engineering, which is slightly outside my area of expertise but tremendous fun to jump into. I’ve been asked to help out for around a third of the lecture material which was previously being outsourced to a different course. (I.e., the students went off and attended someone else’s lectures for a few weeks.)

While the content I’ve been required to cover has been (roughly) specified and prepared earlier, I wasn’t happy with using someone else’s lecture material for my own use—it’s just much harder to work off another’s slides. Considering my sometime pasttime, my tool of choice for creating lecture material is the beamer package for LaTeX.

Using any tool you’re comfortable with is great and I’ve enjoyed using beamer, although I haven’t delved too far into making things pretty. I’m mostly happy with the standard, plain-looking output.

However, one aspect of presenting from a PDF rather than from Keynote or Powerpoint is a certain lack of in-presentation features such as a text notes or a preview of the next slide. My preference when presenting is to display to the audience a relatively spare amount of information and use off-screen notes to remind myself what to say. That only works if the notes can be displayed on a second screen, usually my notebook.

This isn’t really the sort of thing that a presentation based on PDF is designed to do. But Beamer has a good solution for this problem: create one double-length PDF page and set up the two displays to span the PDF page across both displays. The content on the left half will be shown on the main display viewed by the audience, and the right half is visible to the presenter.

Unfortunately, neither Adobe Reader nor Mac OS X’s Preview application support a full-screen presentation mode that spans multiple displays. I was at a bit of a loss until stumbling across the open source application SplitShow, which has been written with the express purpose of presenting dual-screen PDF documents from beamer.

SplitShow is absolutely essential for presenting beamer documents on Mac OS X, and it works great. Thanks to those who contributed to the project.