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PowerPoint and Narration

Learn about PowerPoint and Narration.


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An Introduction
Before You Record
Two Ways To Narration Nirvana

Narrate Within PowerPoint

Edit Your Narration

Playback Differences Between PowerPoint 97 and 2000

The Second Way


An Introduction

Narration is one of PowerPoint's least used and most misunderstood aspects. Many people try narration within PowerPoint only to get frustrated and give up. Surprisingly, most PowerPoint narration problems stem from outside PowerPoint - from incompatible sound cards to loose microphone cables or messed up Multimedia properties in the Windows Control Panel. Or maybe you set your Microphone volume settings very low or even mute! That's why I've provided a checklist of things you should do before you even attempt to begin narration in PowerPoint.

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Before You Record

To record narrations from within PowerPoint, you will need a sound card and a decent microphone. But before you do anything, even before you launch PowerPoint, open Windows' own Sound Recorder (sndrec32.exe) and try recording something - the most common problem faced by many is that their microphone settings are not optimal - if Sound Recorder is able to record your voice, then you should not have any problems recording your narrations in PowerPoint.

If Sound Recorder fails to record, you may need to open your Play/Record Control Properties - you can achieve this by double-clicking on the small speaker icon to the right of your Windows taskbar - this will open your Play Control settings - choose Options - Properties from the menu - select the 'Recording' radio button and select OK - if your resultant Microphone options is de-selected, select that option.

If that doesn't help, check if your microphone cable is properly connected to the back of your sound card.

If this doesn't work as well, make sure you've installed the latest compatible drivers for your sound card - you could visit the site of the manufacturer and look for a Download or Drivers section there.

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Two Ways To Narration Nirvana

There are two ways in which you can can bring in narration into PowerPoint.

The first way is to record your narration straight into PowerPoint. Although this is an easy way to produce results good enough for in-house presentations, there are differences in the way various PowerPoint versions adapt to timings.

If that is the case, you can always try out the second way...

We discuss both ways on this page. You can choose which of these suits your individual requirements.

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Narrate Within PowerPoint

  1. To narrate within PowerPoint, go to Slide Sorter view and select the slide in which you would like to begin narration.

  2. In the 'Slide Show' menu, choose 'Record Narration'. This will open the 'Record Narration' dialog box.

  3. Before you choose the 'OK' option, you might want to check out some options.

  4. Set Microphone Level - This is to ensure that your microphone is working properly. Click the 'Set Microphone Level' button and you should be presented with a 'Microphone Check' dialog box - I received an error which said 'PowerPoint is not receiving sound from the microphone'. If you receive a similar error, and your microphone functions perfectly in Windows' Sound Recorder (sndrec32.exe), then you can ignore this error. Maybe, someone could find a solution until then!

  5. Change Quality - Another option which allows you to change the quality of the sound recorded - the best quality uses the maximum hard disk space as also system resources when running the presentation. The three preset options starting from the Best Quality are CD, Radio and Telephone. Using Radio Quality provides the best balance.

  6. Link Narrations - Be sure to check this box if you would like to link your sound files rather than embed. This option also allows you (a trick!) to later directly open the recorded sound files and edit them in a sound editor - in the process fooling PowerPoint into believing that they are the same files you recorded within PowerPoint!

  7. Now, finally - click the 'OK' button.

  8. PowerPoint will ask you if you want to begin narration from the present slide or from the start of the presentation. Choose as applicable.

  9. Narrate as per your script (if you have created one).

  10. To go to the next slide, click your mouse button or press the spacebar on your keyboard.

  11. Complete the narration for all your slides.

  12. Press the 'Escape' button on your keyboard.

  13. PowerPoint will ask you if you want to save the timing with each slide. Click 'Yes' to accept.

  14. Congratulations - you've just completed your first narration! 

Re-recording Narration

Go to the particular slide for which you want to re-record your narration - choose Slide Show | Record Narration.

Record the narration for that slide and press Escape - remember never press the spacebar! Do each slide separately so that you don't go to another slide by mistake.

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Edit Your Narration

Often, you can just record your narrations into PowerPoint as a 'rough cut', choosing an option to link rather than embed the narration sequences. Choose to save these linked files in the same folder as the actual presentation, since keeping all elements of the presentation in a single folder is very helpful when you want to transport the presentation to another system.

If you are not happy with the way your narration sounds, or if you used your narration as a stop-gap or temporary measure, then replacing the narration files with edited or new sound files is possible - although you have to be certain that the new files are not longer in length than the original ones. And yes, they have to be named identically to the original files.

You can also choose to record your narrations at CD quality within PowerPoint and then edit all files in a sound editor (see links to sound editing applications) to reduce the quality on a per narration basis.

Also, each slide with a narration has a small speaker icon, which you can right-click and choose options in the resultant menu to further fine-tune important aspects.

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Playback Differences in PowerPoint 97 and 2000

Narration timings in PowerPoint 97 and 2000 (and v 2002/2003) are dependent on animation timings (yes, we are not talking about animation here). You may find that PowerPoint 97 or the PowerPoint 97 Viewer may not be able to maintain the narration sequence timings as recorded into PowerPoint 2000. On the other hand, PowerPoint 2002, 2003 and the 2003 Viewer work identically.

If you want to directly edit your settings, you can tweak the entire presentation by fine-tuning each slide and continuously testing it on the versions you need.

Tip: If you have PowerPoint 2000 installed on your system, you can replicate the effect of playing your presentation on PowerPoint 97 by using the PowerPoint 97 Viewer. Microsoft never released a PowerPoint 2000 Viewer, so this may be a blessing in disguise!

In the same way, you can replicate timings of PowerPoint 2002/2003 by viewing your presentations with the free PowerPoint 2003 Viewer.

If it is important that your presentation runs identically in all PowerPoint versions, you can try out the other way, detailed under:

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The Second Way

There's a better way to bring in narration into PowerPoint and that entails recording your narration outside PowerPoint.

Here's how it is done:

  1. Record voice-overs on your own system with a microphone or hire a professional narrator to record it in full fidelity in a sound studio.

  2. Record all voices separately - if you are hiring a studio, you can ask the studio staff to deliver the output on an audio CD with a separate track for each singular narration.

  3. Rip the narration off the audio CD to .wav files - you can find more details on the Sound Conversion page.

  4. Now you have .wav files both ways - if you recorded at your place or at a studio.

  5. You may have to down-sample the CD quality audio to something lesser using Windows' own Sound Recorder (sndrec32.exe). You may ignore this step if you think your system or the delivery system is capable of churning out the actual presentation and the sound at the same time without getting jerks. Anyway, now's a good time to learn more about codecs - visit the Sound Codecs page.

  6. Create your presentation without any narration. Do not incorporate any .wav files in the presentation. If you need a background score, consider using a MIDI file.

  7. Go to Slide Sorter view and duplicate (Ctrl + D) each slide which has a narration. You thus end up with twin slides.

  8. On the first of such twin slides, right click and choose your transition timings to match the interval you require before the narration begins.

  9. Right click the other twin slide, choose transitions, and select the required .wav file as the transition sound. Remember 'NOT' to check the 'Loop until next sound'  option.

  10. Rehearse your timings and fine-tune the presentation. You're done

Since we used sounds in transitions, all your sound files are embedded within the presentation itself, so you may end up with quite a large presentation. But if you use a high end delivery system, that may not be a significant issue. You could always try down-sampling the individual narration files, if you want to reduce the file size. In fact, it is a good idea to create two identical presentations with original CD quality and down-sampled sounds.

Another advantage is that we have used transition timings rather than animation timings to introduce narration within the presentation. This means that your presentation runs identically all PowerPoint versions.

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