Using technology to explain technology

Recently I gave a presentation, on a topic that is web-oriented and somewhat technical, to a group that is very much non-technical. I knew slides wouldn’t be an option, because there wouldn’t be a projector in the room. But arguably a slideshow would be the wrong thing anyway. I wanted people to focus on me, and on the message I was delivering, not on a slideshow.

So I wound up writing a twelve-page Word document that provided me with speaking notes, and also served as the handout I left behind. For me, it was an odd reversal of my usual procedure, and a bit of a revelation about Word’s ability to wrangle web content into a nicely printable form.

Typically I make slides, often heavy with web content, that I can show and then publish to the web for all the usual reasons: linking, search, bookmarking, syndication, online social interaction. Printing has been a low priority because I have mostly spoken to groups of digital natives who, like me, rarely bother to print.

In this case, I didn’t expect much follow-on linking, search, bookmarking, or online social interaction. It was more likely that copies of the printed document would get passed around, or maybe downloaded and printed.

But much of the content of that printed document still had to come from the web. My first instinct was to embed screenshots of web pages into the Word doc. But if you do it that way, you can’t optimize text for readability in the printed output. So I wound up copying chunks of HTML (along with images) from web pages, and pasting them into Word. I guess I haven’t tried this method in a long while. The translation isn’t perfect, but for simple layouts — and even for some not-so-simple table- and CSS-based layouts — it worked pretty well!

There remained the question of how to publish this printable document for downloading. I figured that PDF would be the most comfortable option for this group, so I used Word 2007’s PDF exporter — for the first time, actually — and that worked nicely too.

This experience highlighted an interesting way to use Word. I’m sure folks will chime in with a variety of other tools and methods, and that’ll be interesting too.

The real lesson for me, though, is one that I’m continually trying to learn these days. I need to make a cleaner separation between the technologies I use to explain things, and the technologies I’m trying to explain. Sometimes they’re appropriately the same. But not always.

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