PowerPoint is a fact of life for most folks trying to communicate ideas in a corporate environment. And it’s a pretty good tool for practical purposes. But there are a few areas where it fails miserably, and distribution is one of them. Sharing a PowerPoint presentation can be a real headache.
In a corporate setting, PowerPoints are typically made to support a meeting or a speaker, and the slides are printed for handout. If the presentation is sent to attendees or others, it’s usually emailed as a PowerPoint file or put on a server somewhere for access. Recipients will be known to have PowerPoint, so that’s not a bother. Plus the presentation is probably self-contained—i.e., everything in it (text, objects, charts) is made with PowerPoint or can be embedded in the PowerPoint file—so it can be sent as a single file.
But what if you want to:
- Run a looping presentation on a kiosk or at a tradeshow
- Use PowerPoint for computer-based training or classroom support
- Send the presentation to people who may not have PowerPoint installed
- Burn the presentation to a DVD for distribution
- Include media (narration, video clips, etc.) in the presentation, or link charts to spreadsheet data
- Et cetera . . . ?
Then it gets a whole lot harder! So just to clear the decks, let’s identify the key things that PowerPoint won’t let you do: (a) Burn the presentation directly to a DVD; (b) Convert the presentation to a self-running file that will play without PowerPoint installed; (c) Embed most types of media—including narration—in the presentation file.
So here’s what you have to do instead: “Package” the presentation to include all linked media (such as video and sound), and copy to a CD or server. The package will include free PowerPoint Viewer software, which can be used to watch the presentation on a computer that does not have PowerPoint installed. (But the Viewer itself must be installed on the computer first.)
Tip: If you want the presentation to start playing automatically (rather than opening inside the PowerPoint program) you can use Save As to save it as a PowerPoint Show (.ppsx instead of .pptx) before packaging.
“Package for CD” is accessed from the Office button under Publish, and a gloomy gray box will appear. Click on Options to make some choices, if you can figure them out. And if not, read an explanation here. (You may be more confused after reading, however.)
PowerPoint offers one other native tool for sending presentations into the world: Use Save As, Other File Formats to create an HTML or XML version of the presentation, which can be viewed from a browser. Lots of issues here, though! First, you lose all animations, transitions, and so forth—it’s just the text and images. Second, may or may not work properly in Firefox or other non-IE browsers (often won’t). Third, must still zip up and send a bundle of files.
Finally, the add-in and after-market options. Publishing presentations in PDF format is increasingly popular. But here again, all is lost except text and pictures, and recipients must have a PDF viewer. It’s a good solution, however, if all you want to do is provide a viewable set of slides. Microsoft provides a free PDF/XMS add-in for use with licensed PowerPoint software, and there are some free or low-cost commercial alternatives as well.
What’s left? Spend money. The only surefire way to distribute a PowerPoint presentation mostly intact (including sound or narration, video, transitions, and animations) is to convert the presentation using an application like Impatica for PowerPoint or Camtasia Studio PowerPoint Add-in. These programs are not inexpensive, but they offer robust capabilities and are reasonably easy to use—and you can road-test either of them free.
For a good summary of the whole PPT distribution problem set, plus a comparison of Impatica and Camtasia, check out this paper. (It’s out-of-date in terms of product pricing, but very helpful otherwise.)