Distributing PPTs - Pitfalls, Panics & Pleasures
Your assignment ...
- Create a presentation that will be sent out to dozens (hundreds, thousands, bazillions) of people.
- Make sure it looks good and runs properly for all of them when they view it.
- Make sure that they CAN view it.
There are several potential problem areas:
- Recipients who don't have PowerPoint
- PowerPoint version compatibility
- Links - to images, sounds, movies and OLE content (graphs, charts, spreadsheets, Word pages etc.)
- Sound and movie compatibility
- VBA code and Controls
- Recipients using assistive technology
Most of these problems can be prevented or worked around. We'll look at how as we focus on distributing presentations via CD-ROM to Windows users.
Recipients who don't have PowerPoint
You can't view PowerPoint files without either PowerPoint or one of the PowerPoint viewers that Microsoft allows you to download and/or distribute for free.
- Give your audience a link where they can download and install a viewer themselves if they need one
- Distribute the installer along with your presentation so they can install it directly from the CD
- Create an AutoRun CD that includes a "pre-installed" version of the viewer and automatically launches your presentation, in the viewer, as soon as the user inserts the CD
These links will help:
PowerPoint version compatibility
Many of the animation features introduced in PowerPoint 2002 (XP) aren't supported in earlier versions.
They're supported in the PowerPoint 2003 Viewer but not in the older PowerPoint 97/2000/2002 viewer.
If you use PowerPoint 2002 or later but need to maintain compatibility with earlier PowerPoint and Viewer versions, do this before you start work on the presentation:
- Choose Tools, Options from the main menu bar
- Click the Edit tab in the Options dialog box that appears
- Put a checkmark next to all of the "Disable New Features" options.
This will keep you from accidentally using features that won't work in earlier PPT versions.
Unfortunately it won't help much if you've already created the presentation.
Also, don't apply a password to your presentation unless you're certain the intended recipients have PowerPoint 2002 or 2003. If they have an earlier Windows version or any Mac version of PowerPoint, they won't be able to open or view password-protected files.
Other things that may happen when your presentation plays in a different version of PowerPoint/Viewer:
- Animated GIFs may run faster or slower than you expect
- Animated GIFs may not loop (ie, they may play through only once) or may loop when you don't want them to
- Animated GIFs don't animate at all in PowerPoint 97 and the older Viewer
- Animation and slide transitions may run at different speeds or may behave differently
- Links to external files may bring up a virus warning message box when clicked
- Links to some external files may not work at all
- VBA macros and controls aren't supported in either Viewer so macros/addins won't work; listbox/textbox/other controls don't function; Flash movies embedded in a Flash control won't flash.
- VBA macros won't work in PowerPoint if the user's macro security level is set to High. The user sees no warning message, so they have no idea that anything's amiss
PowerPoint MVP Echo Swinford has a more detailed list of the differences between PowerPoint versions
Links - to images, sounds, movies and OLE content
PowerPoint allows you to link images. There are good reasons for doing this, but linking images is a bad idea if you need to distribute a presentation. PowerPoint's default is to embed images. Let it. You have to distribute the images one way or another -- within the PPT file or as standalone files -- so the total number of bytes in all the files isn't an issue. If you need to link to external images for other reasons, see PPTools FixLinks.
PowerPoint links to all movies and most sounds; embedding is not always an option. And PowerPoint's sound/movie/image links are almost guaranteed to break when you distribute your presentation. See Links break when I move presentation to learn why and how to prevent it.
Sound and movie compatibility
Even though you have the linking problem solved, sounds and movies may still not play correctly on another computer.
PowerPoint MVP Austin Myers has researched this extensively and shares a wealth of knowledge and advice with you at The Myers Multimedia FAQ.
Executive summary: Use AVI files for movies, WAV files for sounds, embed the WAVs and watch the links.
If your presentation uses a font that isn't installed on the playback computer, PowerPoint has to substitute one of the fonts that it finds there. The substituted font won't look the same. And because the widths of characters in the font will be different, line breaks may change, text may flow out of text boxes and other not-nice things may happen.
You have two lines of defense against font problems:
- Embed fonts in your presentation
- Use fonts that you're sure are on every computer
By the way, it's not legal to distribute font files. Don't go there.
To embed fonts in PowerPoint 2002 (XP) and later, choose Tools, Options and on the Save Tab, checkmark the option to embed fonts. In earlier versions, the option to embed fonts is part of the File, Save As dialog box.
So all you have to do is embed the fonts and your problems are over? Not so simple:
- Only TrueType fonts are embeddable, so don't use Type1/PostScript fonts in presentations you intend to distribute
- Not all TrueType fonts are embeddable. PowerPoint will generally tell you about fonts that aren't when you try to save the presentation with the Embed Fonts option active, so try saving your presentation each time you use a new font. Or visit Microsoft Typography for a handy tool that lets you check your fonts before you use them.
- When certain fonts are embedded but not installed on the system where you open the presentation, PowerPoint 2003 won't allow you to edit or save the presentation; it turns into a view-only proposition
- Mac PowerPoint doesn't support font embedding and can't use embedded fonts
If embedding fonts doesn't work for you for one of the reasons above, you'll have to choose fonts that are always installed on all of the computers you expect to play your presentation back on. If that means "all Mac and Windows computers" to you, grit your teeth: you're limited to the Four de Bore: Arial, Times New Roman, Courier and WingDings. Woop. Woop.
If you know your audience won't have Macs and will have later versions of Windows, your typographical horizons widen a bit. Microsoft Typography lists the various versions of Windows and the fonts installed with each.
You'll find more info on fonts, embedding and troubleshooting font problems here:
- Microsoft's Typography site
- Make sure my chosen fonts are available
- Font embedding
- Troubleshoot font problems
If you plan to create a presentation that's tightly synchronized to a sound track, stop. Plan something else.
It won't work in PowerPoint. Sorry, that's harsh. But it's kinder to tell you now than let you spend hours making head-shaped dents in your furniture and walls.
You can't synch slide shows to sound in any version of PPT. You may be able to get it fairly close on one particular computer, but the show won't stay in synch on other computers or probably even the next time you reboot and play the show again.
If you really really need to do this, the best bet is to break up your sound track into slide-sized chunks and embed indiviual WAV files on each slide as transition sounds. This can work quite nicely for spoken narration but obviously won't work for music tracks.
VBA code and Controls
VBA macros won't run in PowerPoint if the user's Macro Security Settings are set to High. There's no way you can change this other than by asking the user to change the setting for you.
The Viewers don't support VBA at all. VBA macros won't work in the viewers.
ActiveX controls (list boxes, radio buttons, checkboxes and the other gadgets in the Controls toolbox; Flash movies embedded in Flash controls) won't work in the Viewers either.
Recipients using assistive technology
It's likely that some of your recipients will have a limitation (vision, hearing, cognitive ability) that affects how they view your presentation. By following a few guidelines, you can make your presentation accessible to all of your intended audience. Learn more about accessible presentations here
If you want to ensure that your audience sees the same presentation as you created, you may have to lower your expectations and create for the lowest common denominator.
That usually means creating for one of the PowerPoint Viewers and distributing the Viewer on the CD, whether AutoRun or not.
Be sure to test as you go along rather than spend hours creating a whizbang presentation, only to find out that you can't distribute it because it won't work elsewhere.
Suggestion: Keep an old PC for test purposes. Reformat it and install the most ancient version of Windows you want to support. Install the appropriate viewer and nothing else. If your CD runs well on that, it'll be a screaming success everywhere else.
Review the accessibility suggestions at PowerPoint MVP Glenna Shaw's PowerPoint Magician site.
If your presentation requires abilities that PowerPoint or the Viewer simply can't deliver, consider an alternative distribution format. Here are some ideas:
PowerPoint vs. Acrobat
Convert presentations into Movie files
Distribute a presentation as video on VHS or DVD
Convert presentations to VHS or DVD video
What about Producer?
Put your PowerPoint-generated HTML on the web
Convert PowerPoint to Flash