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Distributing PPTs - Pitfalls, Panics & Pleasures

Your assignment ...

There are several potential problem areas:

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.

You can

These links will help:

Download Free PowerPoint Viewers
Make an AutoRun CD
Test an AutoRun CD

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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

Search terms:distribute,cd,cdrom,cd-rom

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Distributing PPTs - Pitfalls, Panics & Pleasures
Last update 07 June, 2011