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Converting XXX presentations to PowerPoint

Converting presentations from (choose one):

... to PowerPoint.

If you've ever switched from one presentation software package to another, you may have followed this procedure:

  1. Determine that the new package will import your old software's files ("Says it will, right here on the box!")
  2. Remove the old software from your machine since you won't need it any longer
  3. Install the new software and fire it up
  4. Point it at your old files and issue the "Import 'em, Dan-O" command
  5. Curse. Loudly and bitterly.

The results aren't quite what you'd expected, are they?

Sure it says on the package that it "Imports <whatever> presentations ..." But it seems to have left off the part about "... and turns them into burnt toast in the process."

It would be great if you could just click File/Import and have everything convert perfectly, but it almost never happens that way and probably never will. Different presentation programs "think" of a presentation in different ways, even though they may share similar features on the surface. One program may have multiple editable master page layouts while another limits you to certain pre-made ones and has no idea what to make of a program that doesn't. How would you expect it to import customized page layouts. Badly, you say? Bingo!

I'm not saying that you can't make a workable conversion between presentation programs. You can. Just that it takes more work than Click-Click-OK to make it happen.

I'll outline a general strategy for making the conversion here, leaving the specifics as an exercise for the reader. Covering all the details of converting between all of the presentation programs on the market would be a full-time career. This article would be so long that by the time you finished reading it, there'd be a new version out anyhow. I'll point you in the right direction, but the details are up to you.

The first part of the strategy is this:

NEVER DELETE YOUR OLD SOFTWARE UNTIL YOU'RE SURE YOU DON'T NEED IT ANY MORE.

Read that again, especially the part about "you're sure". You, not the misguided soul who wrote the advertising copy for your new software. Sure, as in "sure it works because you've converted all your old presentations and they now look as good as before or better."

There are several things that cause problems when you convert between Software A and B:

Let's say you have an old presentation done in your old software, and that you've thoughtfully named it OLD. You want to convert it to the new program's format and save it in a file called NEW.

The first thing to try, of course, is the built-in conversion feature that came with the program, if there is one. Who knows, it might just work.

It might seem that you could just do an Edit, Copy from each slide in OLD and then Edit, Paste it into NEW. Up to a point, that might actually work, but graphics won't always convert well and you'll probably lose the background graphics in the process.
Worse, if OLD is an OLE server app and NEW is an OLE client, you'll inadvertently set up OLE links rather than making simple copies. This can make your presentation files big and slow. Worse, it all but guarantees that they'll break when you finally delete the program that created OLD in the first place.

Even if it worked perfectly, you'd still be missing something: you'd have a collection of pictures, but you wouldn't have a presentation. A presentation is much more than a group of images that happen to share file space on your computer.

A presentation is more like a series of "overlays". There's a master background, some sort of individual page layouts for different styles of pages, text from an outliner, and usually some sort of consistent color scheme or palette. Each contributes part of the information that ultimately gets assembled to create your final presentation pages.

Because so much of the presentation's appearance is derived from the master template and layouts, you can make wholesale changes to your presentation with just a few clicks of the mouse. Don't like the background color? Change the master and the whole presentation follows. Want to switch to a different typeface? Change the master and all of the slides change. Need to add your logo to every page? Put it on the master and ... ok, ok, 'nuff said. You get the picture.

If you go the cut and paste route between OLD and NEW, that's all you'll have: pictures. You'll end up with a collection of pictures sitting on top of (and covering up) your master background. If you want to change, say, the headline size or background graphics on each slide, you'll have to edit each slide individually. If you can even do that. Sometimes the text turns into graphics when you cut and paste, so it's not even editable.

The Strategy
The basic idea is to convert OLD's master graphics into a form that NEW can use in its master template, then build a new presentation atop that. Here's what you'll do, in broad outline:

  1. Edit the graphics on the master template in OLD to correct or work around conversion problems before bringing them into NEW
  2. Bring the edited master graphics into NEW
  3. Further edit the graphics in NEW's master view
  4. Transfer outliner text from OLD to NEW
  5. Transfer individual graphics and charts from OLD to NEW

And in more detail:
Here's a more detailed overview of the process you'll need to follow.
Edit OLD's master graphics

  1. Edit the master page of the source presentation to minimize graphics transfer problems. By now, you'll have already tried some copy and paste between OLD and NEW and you'll have a pretty good idea what works and what doesn't. For instance, let's say OLD's gradients don't translate well into NEW. It's much simpler to change them to solid fills in OLD then re-fill them in NEW than it'll be to find and fix them when they become invisible or uneditable in NEW, or turn into an unmanageable herd of individually colored rectangles, as sometimes happens.
  2. It takes a bit of trial and error to learn what kind of graphics will cause trouble. Save yourself some time and make a test file in OLD. Make sure it includes all the kinds of graphic elements your presentations typically use. Then try moving the graphics to NEW using every means available; try all the export filters in OLD, use cut and paste and even OLE if supported. You'll be able to see in very short order which transfer method comes closest to perfection and what you'll have to do to correct its shortcomings.

Move the master page graphics from OLD into NEW

  1. Start NEW and make a new presentation (usually File/New on the menu). If possible, base the presentation on a blank master.
  2. Set the presentation's page size to match what you've got in OLD. You'll generally find this option under File, Slide Setup or File, Page Setup.
  3. Switch to master view (View, Masters, Slide Master in PowerPoint; Shift F9 in Freelance)
  4. Now you can bring in the background graphics from OLD. Use whatever method works best for your particular mix of graphic objects, but start by trying this trick:
  5. Put OLD into slide sorter view. Pick a slide that best represents the graphics you want to transfer, then Edit/Copy. Switch back to NEW, be certain you're in master view then Edit/Paste. If this is your lucky day, the entire slide will transfer, including the background. Even if it doesn't appear to have worked, try ungrouping whatever came across into NEW. Sometimes parts of the graphics will be invisible until you do that. If you get warnings about "breaking links to the source program" don't worry about it. Go ahead and ungroup. Breaking any links to OLD is precisely what you want to do. For once in your life, you can Just Say Yes. You can also try the same trick with both presentations in slide sorter view. Sometimes that works better.
  6. Once everything's visible in NEW, select it all and group it so it's easier to handle for the next few steps.
  7. When you copy graphics between programs, they frequently paste back at less than their original size. Hold down the "constrain proportion" keys while you move and scale the graphic to fill the slide area. You'll have to check your program's documentation to find out what these are. The point is not to distort the graphics as you scale them to final size; most programs have a way to do this.
  8. Send the graphics to the back to put them behind any existing master items in NEW (master text blocks and such).
  9. If you haven't already edited the graphic to fix any problems, you'll probably need to ungroup it again, but first use any recoloring tools available to do mass color edits to the entire graphic if that's appropriate. Some programs let you do color substitutions, for instance, and that beats the heck out of picking and recoloring objects one by one. It's also a good opportunity to assign colors from the current color scheme rather than taking the luck of the draw.
  10. Various headings and other text blocks will probably be part of the graphics you bring in. Delete them and use NEW's text master blocks to apply text formatting for the entire presentation.
  11. Edit any remaining graphic elements that need to be changed. For example, you'll need to apply shaded fills to replace the ones you edited out in the source file (or that got lost during the transfer). Now's a good time to assign a background color and shading, too.
  12. Save your work if you haven't done so already.
  13. You can start entering text into the outliner in NEW right away if you like. The new master slide you just created will handle all the formatting automatically since this is a true presentation, not just a collection of random pictures. However, if you have extensive text in your original presentation, read on ... you can save yourself a lot of typing.

Transfer outline text
If you have a lot of text in OLD, it's worthwhile to select it all in OLD's outliner, copy it, then paste into NEW's outliner.
Sometimes it works very well, sometimes you'll end up with a whole new slide for each line of text in the original outline, so wholesale reformatting is in order. At worst, you'll have to spend a few minutes running down the outline with one hand on the mouse and the other on the Tab key inserting indents as needed. It helps to keep a window open on original source outline or have a printed copy of it handy to remind you where the original page breaks occurred.

Next, change to NEW's slide view and step through your presentation a page at a time assigning a layout to each slide. If NEW allows for customizing individual page layouts, take note of what sort of layouts you'll need to create. Otherwise, move and size text on each slide as you go.

Finally, you'll need to transfer charts, graphics and non-outline text from each individual page of OLD to the corresponding page in NEW. Step through OLD a slide at a time. On each slide, select the graphics and text you want to transfer, Edit/Copy, then switch to NEW and Edit/Paste. It usually helps maintain the relative positioning of the objects if you select and Edit/Copy all of them at once.

At this point we're going to meander off on a little side-discussion about transferring graphics hither and yon between Windows presentation programs. Eventually we'll get back to a real-world example of how you'd move a presentation from Freelance to PowerPoint. Patience.

Transferring graphics between Windows programs
When your only tool is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Windows offers several ways to transfer text and graphics. Get on a nodding acquaintance with them all lest you find yourself trying to saw lumber with a hammer.

Cut & Paste
Cut & paste is the closest thing we have to an all-purpose conversion tool. It's the first method to try unless you know from experience that it doesn't work in your particular situation. It's fast and simple, and it generally works quite well. Select what you want in OLD, Edit, Copy to put a copy on the clipboard, then Edit, Paste into NEW to move the data from clipboard into your presentation.

Clipboard information might be stored in one of several formats (ie, graphics or text) and Windows will usually choose the best format to use when you paste. If it guesses wrong, try Edit/Paste Special instead. You'll be able to specify the format Windows uses to transfer your information.

Graphics file export/import
Most programs include export filters that allow you to save your graphics to disk files in various formats. Unless you're working with very complex graphics, you won't usually need to export your graphics. Cut & paste generally works quite well.
When cut & paste doesn't cut it (or, I suppose, paste it) exporting graphics to file formats like CGM, TIFF or EPS can get the job done.

Which is the best export format to use? That depends on:

Given the number of programs, export and import filters and file formats out there, it would take a gazillion-cell, fourth-dimensional spreadsheet to track all the possibilities. Instead, I'll make the same suggestion I did earlier: take a typical example of your work and export it to every format you can. If there are export options, try them in various combinations. Import the files into a test presentation in NEW, and print the results. Use the format that produces the fewest problems with your particular mix of graphics.

OLE
Think of OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) as a kind of hyper-copy & paste that remembers its roots.
When you use OLE, you're not only adding an "object" to your presentation, you're also setting up a link to the program that created the object. Your software remembers where it came from and, when you double-click it, will re-start the originating program so you can edit it further.

If you Link rather than Embed the object, your presentation will automatically update itself whenever you change the source file.
I won't delve into the mysteries of OLE here; our goal is a one-time, one-way conversion, not setting up permanent links to software that, ultimately, you want to delete.

In short, avoid OLE for present purposes.

Transferring Charts vs Transferring Data
Sometimes it's better to transfer the data underlying a chart or table rather than the chart itself. A pasted copy of a chart contains a picture that represents your data, not the data itself; the copy has no connection to the information that formed the basis for the chart. If the data change and the chart needs revision, you're out of luck.

When you copy the data rather than the chart, then replot the data in NEW's chart module, it then handles drawing the chart (and also re-drawing it every time you change the data.) Not only that, but any new charts you create later will match the old ones nicely. Each presentation program's charts have their own personality. Experienced users can often tell what program you use just by looking at the charts in your presentations.

Of course, this takes more work, since you have to re-create each chart in NEW. If the charts copy well from OLD to NEW and if you're certain you won't need to revise the data, copy away. We're trying to save work here, not make more for you.
So much for the theory. Let's see how it fits together in practice.

Your co-worker Mike just handed you a Freelance file to include in the PowerPoint presentation for the Board meeting next Friday. "Oh, by the way," he mentions breezily, "I'll have some additions and revisions late on Thursday afternoon. No sweat, right?"

You take a deep breath, count to ten and remove your hands from his throat. You recall this article, and using the steps outlined here, you convert the Freelance master slide and outline text to PowerPoint.

You get it to the point where it's a pretty good match for the original Freelance presentation, though it still needs a little tweaking of text sizes and positioning. The text slides and background graphics are all in PowerPoint, as are the slide titles. You still have to move the graphics, text and charts from the individual slide pages over to PowerPoint.

Open both presentations, one in Freelance, the other in PowerPoint. Put both in slide view, then step through them a slide at a time, cutting and pasting, exporting and grabbing chart data as you go.

Here's how it would go with our sample presentation.

Title slide
Freelance title slides usually have different backgrounds than the other slides in the presentation. For the sake of consistency with your other PowerPoint presentations, leave it as is, but remember that it would be only a few minutes more work to select the title slide in Freelance's Slide Sorter view and paste it into the title slide, although you'd have to repeat all the graphics editing you did on the regular background. Newer versions of PowerPoint also have separate Title masters. Use a title master for title slides if at all possible.

Bulleted list slides
The first round of the conversion took care of all the bulleted list slides. Since the text is now linked to the PowerPoint master, you can add new bullet slides or edit the ones you've transferred in slide or outline views. At least you won't suffer Them Old Late-Night Thursday Revision Blues on account of the text slides.

Any changes you make to the text block in PowerPoint's Slide Master view will affect all the text slides in the presentation if you wish.

Chart slides
These are good candidates for cut & paste. Select the chart in Freelance, then ... wait. Didn't Mike say something about wanting to plug some new numbers into the charts along with the other revisions?

If you cut & paste the chart now, you'll only have to do it all over again later, and that's after you've made the changes in Freelance. And do it all again for every little change in the numbers. You're a whiz with PowerPoint, but Freelance is another story, one you don't know very well. Do you really want to learn Freelance's charting features when that Thursday deadline is breathing down your neck?

Time to regroup. Think Data Transfer.

In a case like this, it makes a lot more sense to move the chart's underlying data into PowerPoint and let it handle the charting under your direction.

In Freelance, select the chart, then choose Chart/Edit from the menu. Select all the text in the data sheet, including row and column titles, then Edit/Copy.

Change back to the PowerPoint window and choose Insert/Microsoft Graph. Click in the upper left hand corner of the data sheet, then choose Edit/Paste to insert the data from the Freelance chart. Note that PowerPoint will paste in the same number of rows and columns you copied from Freelance, but will not blank out any data beyond that range. If there's any extra data beyond the area you just pasted in, you'll have to delete it.

From this point on, you'll format the chart just as you normally would in PowerPoint. That only makes sense, since it's now a PowerPoint chart, just as though you'd typed the data in by hand in PowerPoint.

Organization chart slide
This is a job for copy & paste. True, PowerPoint has a built-in organization chart tool, but it won't accept data from Freelance's organization charts. If the a simple one, it might be best to re-create it in PowerPoint using Insert/Object then choosing Microsoft Organization Chart.

If you prefer to stick with the Freelance version, it's simple enough to ungroup and edit it later if there are changes to the text. If you must add new boxes and lines to the chart, start by selecting and duplicating existing ones (Edit/Duplicate or Ctrl-D).

Copying the chart in from Freelance is straightforward: Select the chart in Freelance, Edit/Copy, switch to PowerPoint and Edit/Paste. Note: it may come in to PowerPoint looking like the company's just been through a major corporate downsizing. The chart may be much smaller than it was originally.

As a matter of fact, so will everything you cut & paste from Freelance. Cut & paste uses the Windows Metafile format to move graphics back and forth, but there are two different versions of Metafiles. One contains sizing and placement information; the other doesn't, and it seems that Freelance uses the latter. Since PowerPoint doesn't know the original size of the image, it places it in the center of the slide at a standard size.

Or maybe there's some other reason. In any case, the fix is simple: Use Draw/Scale in PowerPoint. Make sure that the Relative to original image size box is checked, then type in a scaling value. 175% is a good starting point, but you can easily experiment. Click the Preview button to see what effect different values have on the graphic

Once you arrive at a workable scaling value, make a note of it. You can usually use the same value for any other graphics you cut & paste from Freelance.

If you're converting many presentations or have to paste in lots of images, here's a sneaky trick. It seems that PowerPoint always pastes in graphics at the same size regardless of page size. As a result, you can temporarily reduce the page size (File/Slide Setup) so that the pasted graphics come in at the size you'd like relative to the page edges. Once you're done, change back to your normal page size. PowerPoint will scale everything up to the correct size for you automatically.

One caveat: take care to reduce the page height and width by the same percentage. Otherwise, PowerPoint will distort your graphics when you change the page size back to normal.

Table chart slide
Here's another case where you have a choice. You can cut & paste if you want to keep Freelance's table formatting.
Remember that you'll have to ungroup the table if you need to make changes and do major surgery if you need to add rows or columns.

If you have Microsoft Word, you may prefer this method of building tables:

  1. Select the table in Freelance, note the number of rows and columns, then Edit/Copy.
  2. From PowerPoint, Insert/Microsoft Word table.
  3. Specify the same number of rows and columns for the new table as were in the Freelance table, then OK.
  4. Put the cursor in the upper left corner of the new table then drag to the bottom right to highlight the entire table. Edit/Paste to fill the new table with text from the Freelance table, then edit and format the text and table to suit your needs.

This little maneuver has you running three resource-hungry programs at one time, so don't be surprised if your computer's performance slows down quite a bit. If you run into problems, you can quit from Freelance after you've copied the table to the clipboard. The data will stay there, even though Freelance goes away.

Freeform drawing slide
If you have gradient fills in Freelance, you'll have to re-apply them in PowerPoint. To do so you'll have to ungroup the graphic, and when you do that, the bitmap fills from Freelance are lost, and must also be reapplied. If you're recoloring complex graphics, the Format/Pick up style and Apply style tools will save you hours of time.

What if you've imported graphics into Freelance from other sources? In general, there should be no special problems beyond what we've already seen, but there's one exception: EPS graphics. You can import them into Freelance, you can copy them to the clipboard, but if you try pasting them into PowerPoint, you'll get an error message. If the original EPS file is still available, use Insert/Picture to import it directly into PowerPoint.

If you're converting presentations from some program other than Freelance, you'll see a slightly different set of problems when you cut & paste graphics into PowerPoint, but you can fix most of them up with a few minutes of editing.

If your graphics are causing you to spend far too much time editing, check out the export features of the source program. It's possible that one of the export formats, CGM, EPS or TIFF, for instance, will handle your problem graphics better than the Windows clipboard.

Conclusion
There you have it. You know how to convert between Freelance and PowerPoint (or between any other Windows presentation programs), and you've done it the smart way: wherever possible, you've taken charts and graphics and made them PowerPoint's own, rather than simple picture imports. You'll have Mike's corrections, revisions and additions done in no time, you'll go home Thursday on time, and knock ‘em dead come showtime.

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Converting XXX presentations to PowerPoint
http://www.pptfaq.com/FAQ00447_Converting_XXX_presentations_to_PowerPoint.htm
Last update 25 September, 2016
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