Visual Studio’s a great development environment, but out of the box it’s not the greatest thing for displaying code to an audience via an overhead projector. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving a presentation to a thousand geeks at a conference or walking through a code review with two other members of your development team — your work isn’t effective if your audience can’t see what you’re talking about.
Visual Studio 2005 offers several great tricks for making presentations more effective. You can change font sizes, rearrange your windows, and toggle toolbars off and on to maximize screen real estate. VS2005 also gives you the ability to easily export and import settings so that you can configure your regular work environment and quickly change to an environment more suitable for presentations. You can also speed up your presentation by taking advantage of the General Toolbox’s ability to store code snippets for quick retrieval. Additionally, several macros and a free tool can make your presentation life much easier when adjusting font sizes or trying to display an obscure part of the screen.
Be sure to save your current IDE settings before tweaking things up for presentations. Saving your settings will allow you to quickly switch between your regular development profile and the settings you’ll configure for presentations.
Many active presenters favor Lucida Console at 14 points for presentations. Lucida Console has been acknowledged as a great font for audience viewing. The new font Consolas from Microsoft’s Longhorn operating system is a mono-spaced typeface with terrific readability. Unfortunately, this font is only available in Windows Vista and it’s against Vista’s End User License Agreement to copy it to a “downlevel platform” as the folks at Microsoft say. However, Microsoft plans release this font as a separate download for Visual Studio 2005 sometime after VS’s release, so you’ll be able to get Consolas regardless of your platform.
Set your font selections through the Tools -> Options -> Environment -> Fonts & Colors dialog. This dialog allows you to configure fonts for individual windows, or by groups of windows. For example, you could configure only the Watch window, or you could configure all Watch, Locals and Autos Tool windows at once.
Sometimes all the preparation in the world doesn’t quite pan out. Maybe Lucida Console 14 isn’t reading well and you need change the size a notch or two in either direction. Rather than forcing your audience to suffer through you pulling down menus and clicking through dialog boxes, take advantage of macros bundled with VS 2005. Sara Ford, previously a Software Design Tester extraordinaire, created two very useful macros to change font sizes with great ease.
Macros.Samples.Accessability.DecreaseTextEditorFontSize and Macros.Samples.Accessability.IncreaseTextEditorFontSize let you decrease and increase font sizes easily. This is especially easy if you’ve bound them to a keyboard shortcut. Select Tools -> Options from Visual Studio’s main menu, then select the Keyboard item under the Environment section. Click in the “Show Comamnds Containing” box and enter “fontsize”. The list of commands will filter down, leaving Ford’s macros right at the top. Set the “Use new shortcut in” to “Text Editor”, then select a keystroke to bind them to. I’ve set mine to Ctrl-Shift-Alt-UpArrow and Ctrl-Shift-Alt-DownArrow since those two aren’t already in use and they’re not completely convoluted, messy chords — and they won’t get used all that often.
Font readability is also impacted by Microsoft’s ClearType feature, available only in Windows XP. ClearType smoothes out fonts, making them appear less pixilated and more like printed characters. Microsoft’s literature on ClearType says it’s targeted to LCD displays, but your system may benefit from activating it regardless of the display type you have. (Microsoft leaves this option off during installation, another less-than-helpful default setting.)
Turn on ClearType by right-clicking anywhere on the Desktop, then selecting Properties. Select the “Appearance” tab, then click the “Effects” button. Ensure the checkbox “Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts” is checked. Pull down the list box and select the “ClearType” option. Close out the dialogs and you’ll notice a tremendous difference if you’re using an LCD screen, and you may notice a significant difference if you’re on a CRT.
Now that you’ve got your fonts configured as you prefer for presentations, save off your settings by again. Now you’ve got both profiles ready for easy use.
Maximizing real estate during a presentation is an important trick too. Make use of the full- screen mode by pressing Shift+Alt+Enter. This hides any open toolboxes, tool windows, and all toolbars, leaving you with just scrollbars at the sides and a menu bar at the top.
One handy use of this is to lock open your Solution Explorer, Server Explorer, or other tool window you’re needing to use. Now you can quickly toggle back and forth between your code and tool windows for opening new examples, navigating a database, etc.
How many presentations have you had to sit through while the presenter spent too much time typing code on a keyboard, correcting various typing mistakes? Typing in code is not the best use of your or your audience’s time unless you’re demonstrating Intellisense or some other keystroke-related feature.
Visual Studio 2005 gives you the ability to put code snippets on the toolbox, enabling you to skip manual entry of code. Moving snippets to the toolbox will save you great amounts of time and keep your presentation flowing well. Simply highlight a section of code you’ll be needing to add during your presentation and drag it over to the general toolbox.
You can also make effective use of Magnifixer, a freeware screen magnifying tool, to ensure your audience can read what you’re displaying in the IDE. Grab Magnifixer and install it.
Magnifixer comes in very handy when you’re trying to clearly display a portion of the IDE which won’t allow you to set font sizes, such as the Solution Explorer, menus, etc. Simply bring Magnifixer to the front, resize it as needed, then drive your cursor over the portion of the screen you want to display. You can also magnify menus and context menus by selecting the “Stay on top” option on Magnifixer’s lower status bar.
Gadgets and hacks alone won’t get you through a presentation. You’ll need to practice, practice, and more practice to ensure you’ve got both the content and the tools down pat. Scott Hanselman, chief architect of Corrillian and a well-known speaker, has some great presentation tips. Drew Robbins, Microsoft’s Great Lakes Regional Developer Evangelist, also has some great tips on his blog. Tom Peters, not a software guy but a world-renowned speaker on many topics, has great advice at his website.