Using Sound and Video in PowerPoint


I use Powerpoint regularly to give presentations. I’d like to include sound clips in my presentations but I’ve been to several talks where the speaker couldn’t play the sound files for whatever reason.


PowerPoint does sometimes fail to play sound (and video) during a presentation. Typically the presentation works perfectly well on your computer, but fails on another computer.

There are two potential reasons.

Firstly, large sound files (and all video files) are NOT embedded in the presentation. PowerPoint holds a link to the external media file which it tries to use as needed. If you fail to copy the media file when you copy the presentation the play back will fail. The solution to this is: BEFORE you insert the sound/video into your presentation, place it in the same folder as the PowerPoint file. When you need to transfer the presentation to another computer, transfer the whole folder.

Secondly, PowerPoint relies on the appropriate codecs (multimedia drivers) being installed on the computer in a way that PowerPoint can make use of. If they are missing (or perhaps are a different version) then again the playback can fail. There is no simple solution to this – the status/version of the PowerPoint application at the venue for your presentation is rarely under your control.

Ideally you would use your own laptop for a presentation and avoid these problems. This is not always possible, and anyway you should always plan for your laptop failing or going missing.

My preferred strategy is to always have the multimedia files available (which you will if you copy the folder as described above) and be prepared to play them directly in a media player rather than through PowerPoint.

It would be very unusual to find a computer that did not have a media player installed (for example Windows Media Player, or QuickTime player on a Mac) and providing you stick with a standard audio format such as .mp3, then you can use that for playback.

I typically load the multimedia into the player and pause it, ready to go at the click of a button. I then start PowerPoint. At the appropriate point in my presentation I use the ALT+TAB key combination to switch to the media player and hit the play button. At the end, ALT+TAB back to the presentation.

This is not ideal, but it is reliable. It does slightly disrupt the flow of the presentation. Also, if you have many multi-media clips in the presentation, you have to open them individually in the player when required – you cannot usually have more than one clip queued up ready to play.

As with other aspects of you presentation (such as colour), it greatly helps if you can either get to the venue ahead of time and check out your presentation on the actual equipment to be used. Or, contact the AV technician in advance, perhaps sending a copy of the presentation for testing.

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2 Responses to “Using Sound and Video in PowerPoint”

  1. babs says:

    I often cannot get the sound to play with Power Point slides.
    This is a new Occurance….or sometimes it plays music for the first slide and then disappears. What is the problem…people I Fwd it to do not have a problem…HELP Thanks I do not have this problem with any other videos with sound. babs

  2. oxforditlp says:

    Sound files are treated a little differently to video files in PowerPoint. Small sound files are incorporated into the slideshow; when you copy the slideshow, the sound is copied with it. For larger sound files, PowerPoint leaves them as external files and links to them; when you copy the slideshow, you have to always remember to copy the sond files as well.

    The limit that PowerPoint uses for sound files when deciding whether to embedd the file or not is set to 100KB by default, You can change it:

    In PowerPoint 2007, click on the Office button, select PowerPoint Options (bottom of the menu), click Advanced, scroll down to the Save section, adjust the limit.

    In PowerPoint 2003, use the Tools|Options menu item, click on the General tab, adjust the limit

    PowerPoint supports a number of sound formats, but I have a suspicion that it only embeds WAV format sound files, even if the size is less than the limit you set.

    I ALWAYS place all media files in the same folder as the slide show BEFORE I include them in a slide. When I need to copy the slideshow, I copy the complete folder. It can be a little wasteful of space, but it can save a lot of embarrasment when you find the media doesn’t play.

    Most email clients don’t allow you to attach a folder, so if you need to email the presentation, you will need to zip it into a compressed folder. But remember, slideshows with multimedia can be BIG, so emailing isn’t always a good idea (and may not even be possible!).

    If you want to play an audio file across multiple slides (so it doesn’t stop when you change slides), you need to set this up in PowerPoint.

    In PowerPoint 2007, insert the sound as normal. Then click on the animations tab in the ribbon and choose custom animation. The custom animation pane will appear at the right of the window. There will be an entry in the animation list for the sound clip. Click on the drop down arrow to the right of the entry and choose Effect options. In the Effect tab of the Play Sound dialog, set a value in the Stop playing After which is more than the number of slides in the presentation. Click OK.
    In PowerPoint 2003, the process is the same. To get to the Custom Animation panel, use the Slide Show | Custom Animation menu option.

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