Audio and Video: Linking, Embedding, and REALLY embedding

January 14, 2010 1 comment

Getting video to play in a Powerpoint presentation is easy enough if you can build the presentation on the system from which you will be projecting, but if you have to transfer the file to another computer, things usually go wrong.

If you are working on a deck with audio or video and it is to be delivered in an environment with reliable high-speed internet access, the best thing to do is to store your audio and video files online and link to them from Powerpoint. So long as the computer is online, the files will play.

If you will not have or cannot count on internet access when presenting, you will have more work to do. Unfortunately, if you incorporate video or audio in a presentation that must move to another computer, the video or sound file WILL NOT WORK on the new system. Embedding the file and packaging the source files with the presentation in a folder to transfer is important, but it will not save you the trouble of having to re-insert the video or audio files into the presentation on the new system.

We don’t know why this happens and have not yet discovered a good way to prevent it. There’s no reliable way around it: You (or someone else) will have to repeat the process for every video clip and soundbyte in the presentation. If this task will be left up to someone other than yourself, you’ll want to send them fool-proof instructions for doing it.

There are two ways to incorporate movies and audio in a Powerpoint file: The easy way and the hard way. The easy way should work, but if it doesn’t the hard way will. The easy way is known as “embedding,” and the hard way is known (oddly) as “really embedding.” The major difference is that “embed”-ded videos will simply play, while “really embed”-ded files will display a control panel during playback, allowing you to pause, rewind, fast-forward, restart, or skip it.

We suggest simply embedding (the easy way) be your default. If the presenter specifically asks for playback control, give them the “real” embedding. Otherwise, it’s best to keep it simple and minimize the number of clicks necessary to get through the presentation.

In any case, here are the instructions for both methods of embedding audio and video. Remember to test each file (as well as the presentation as a whole) exhaustively: Multimedia files often fail to play when it matters most; the only way to prevent this embarrassing situation is to test them each time you make a change.

Embedding (the easy way)

Navigate to the appropriate slide.

  1. Save the presentation
  2. Click on Insert in the menu bar at the top of your screen and choose Movies and Sounds, then chooseMovie from File or Sound from File.
  3. Select the appropriate file from the new window and click OK.
  4. You must decide if the file should play automatically in the presentation or only if it is clicked.
  5. Move or resize the resulting image in any way you like.
  6. Right-click on the image and choose Edit Movie (or Sound) Object to make the file play continuously in a loop, or to have the movie play full-screen.
  7. Save the presentation.

“Really” Embedding (the hard way)

  1. Save the presentation
  2. Click on View in the menu bar at the top of your screen and choose Toolbars, then choose Control Toolbox.
  3. Click on More Controls, the hammer and wrench icon, then scroll down and click on Windows Media Player.
  4. Use the cursor to draw a box on your slide, which will contain the video or audio file and its control buttons.
  5. Right-click on the media player and choose Properties.
  6. Click on the empty box next to Custom. This will open a new window.
  7. Navigate to and then select your video and click Open.
  8. Un-check the Auto Start box.
  9. Click OK to close the properties window.
  10. Right-click on the image and choose Edit Movie (or Sound) Object to make the file play continuously in a loop, or to have the movie play full-screen.
  11. The video will now play in presentation mode and control buttons will appear.

Feel free to copy these instructions and share them with everyone else who may have to re-install the multimedia files or troubleshoot the presentation.

[Gary Reichardt]


Choosing Fonts for Powerpoint and Keynote Presentations

December 2, 2009 2 comments

To prevent a common problem associated with presentation development in Keynote or Powerpoint, it helps to limit your font usage to the most commonly used fonts in the PC or Macintosh universe.

Exporting a deck to another computer will often result in changes to the way your slides look. These changes are often harmless or can be easily fixed, but if the second computer lacks one or more of the fonts used in building the presentation, it will use other fonts in their place, which can yield unpredictable results. The replacement font can wreak havoc on text boxes and especially tables and shapes that contain text.

To remedy this, the developer will either have to change the fonts used in the original file to match those already installed on the second computer, or download and install the missing font or fonts on the second computer. The first option can take a lot of work; the second can be time-consuming.

To make matters worse, there could always be a need to present the final deck from a third computer that you won’t have access to until the day the presentation is to be delivered.

Smart presentation developers avoid these by making sure the fonts they wish to use are already installed on the presenter’s system. If this isn’t possible, it’s best to limit font choices to those installed on 95% or more of PCs and Macs worldwide.

Windows: Microsoft Sans Serif, Verdana, Tahoma, Courier New, Arial, Trebuchet MS, Comic Sans MS, Lucida Console, Arial Black, Impact, Georgia, Times New Roman, Lucida Sans Unicode, Palatino Linotype, Franklin Gothic Medium, and Sylfaen.

Macintosh: Helvetica, Monaco, Courier, Geneva, Lucida Grande, Arial, and Verdana.

More information is available at CodeStyle.

[Gary Reichardt]

A Lesson in Copywriting from Real Estate (by Way of Freakonomics)

November 29, 2009 1 comment

I have been reading Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner, and kicking myself for not reading it earlier. A discussion begins on page 67 (in the Revised and Expanded edition) of word choice in real estate ads. The authors reveal that ads containing subjective and unquantifiable adjectives (no matter how positive they sound) tend to drive down the price of a home, while ads that clearly list a house’s features lead to a higher sale price.

As information goes, such terms are specific and straightforward—and therefore pretty useful, If you like granite, you might like the house; but even if you don’t, “granite” certainly doesn’t connote a fixer-upper. Nor does “gourmet or “state-of-the-art,” both of which seem to tell a buyer that a house is, on some level, truly fantastic.

“Fantastic,” meanwhile, is a dangerously ambiguous adjective, as is “charming.” Both these word seem to be real-estate agent code for a house that doesn’t have many specific attributes worth describing. “Spacious” homes, meanwhile, are often decrepit or impractical. “Great neighborhood” signals a buyer that, well, this house isn’t very nice but others nearby may be. And an exclamation point in a real-estate ad is bad news for sure, a bid to paper over real shortcomings with false enthusiasm.

If you study the words in ads for a real-estate agent’s own home, meanwhile, you see that she indeed emphasizes descriptive terms (especially “new,” “granite,” “maple,” and “move-in condition”) and avoids empty adjectives (including “wonderful,” “immaculate,” and the telltale “!”). Then she patiently waits for the best buyer to come along.

This is something for copywriters and editors to consider in any industry. Potential customers that know what they are looking for need to know what they’re getting: They want a clear description of a product or service and not a litany of vague adjectives.

[Gary Reichardt]