PowerPoint presentations can win over potential clients, educate your internal staff, or represent your company at trade shows. When you want to use this influential tool but you can’t be there to speak, or if you want a particular presentation to loop at an exhibition, you could use the voice narration feature to enhance your presentation.

I’ve provided step-by-step directions for the process of adding voice narration to a PowerPoint presentation. All you need is a sound card and a microphone to add a multimedia edge to your slide shows.

Preparing to record
Prior to recording any voice narration, you must be sure that all of your slides are free of automatic animation. In other words, each element must be set to animate “on mouse click.” If your slides contain no animation, you may proceed to testing your equipment.

To ensure that you have no automatic animations set, you must repeat the following steps for each slide in the presentation:

  1. Click on the Slide Show menu and choose Custom Animation.
  2. Click on the first item in the Animation Order box on the Order & Timing tab.
  3. Select the On Mouse Click radio button under Start Animation (See Figure A).

Figure A

Testing your equipment
Before you begin recording your commentary, be sure your equipment is working properly. PowerPoint provides a utility to help you. Click on the Slide Show menu and choose Record Narration. Click the Set Microphone Level button on the right. You’ll see the Microphone Check dialog box pop up, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Read the text provided in the dialog box into your microphone. If it’s working properly, the indicator light should move as you speak, first displaying green bars and then yellow bars. As you speak, the microphone will adjust to the correct volume. Click OK when you’ve finished testing. The Record Narration dialog box will remain open.

Adjusting the sound quality
Next, adjust the settings that control your sound quality. Click on the Change Quality button and you’ll see the Sound Selection dialog box.

You’ll need to experiment to find the combination of attributes that create the best sound for your equipment. You may choose one of the preselected sound settings from the list under Name, or you may create customized settings.

I found success setting the Format to PCM and the Attributes to 48.000 kHz, 16 Bit, Mono 93 kb/sec. If you enter customized settings, you may click the Save As button and name your settings so they can be easily retrieved when you record again. For the purposes of this article, I named my settings PowerPoint Sound, as shown in Figure C.

For more information regarding the sound selections or troubleshooting narration, search the product support area of Microsoft’s site.

Figure C

Linking sound files to the presentation
Once you’ve set your Sound Selection settings and clicked OK, you’ll find yourself once again at the Record Narration dialog box. At this point, click to place a check in the box next to Link Narrations In, in the lower left corner. You may click the Browse button to choose where the sound files will be stored.

You’ll want to save the sound files in a folder with your presentation so they’re easily accessible when you want to upload the presentation to the Web or your intranet, or use PowerPoint’s Pack And Go feature.

Recording your narration
After you’ve selected the Link Narrations In check box, click OK. You’ll immediately be taken to your first slide in Slide View format. You are being recorded at this point.

Proceed through your presentation, pressing the space bar when you want to advance to the next slide. If at any point you want to stop recording, simply press the [Esc] key on your keyboard.

When you reach the last slide, or when you press [Esc], PowerPoint will ask if you’d like to save the slide timings. Click No, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

You should see a sound icon at the bottom of each slide, as shown in Figure E. To hear a slide’s narration, double-click the icon. The icon will not be visible when the presentation is shown.

Figure E

Rehearse your timings
Next, you’ll want to set the timings for your presentation while listening to the narration you’ve recorded. Click on the Slide Show menu and choose Rehearse Timings. You’ll immediately be transferred into Slideshow View, and the narration should begin. You’ll see a Rehearsal toolbar appear in the upper left corner of the screen (see Figure F).

Figure F

Advance through the presentation, using the spacebar to advance to the next slide when the narration is complete. You may also use the right-pointing arrow on the Rehearsal toolbar to advance to the next slide. You may clear the time and reset the clock to zero by clicking the curved, left-pointing arrow on the Rehearsal toolbar. If you need to start from the beginning, press the [Esc] key. When you’ve scrolled through the entire presentation, PowerPoint will again ask if you’d like to save the timings. Click Yes.

From this point forward, when you run the slide show, the narration will automatically play. To run the slide show without narration, click Set Up Show on the Slide Show menu, and then select the Show Without Narration check box.