Audio tricks and traps in PowerPoint

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There are plenty of audio and music options available in PowerPoint, if you want to give your audience a break from your voice.

We’ll go beyond the simple ‘adding music’ help to give some practical advice for audio in presentations:

  • opening or closing music
  • playing one song after another
  • music playing over the entire presentation
  • play a sound effect only when clicked
  • changing the look of default Audio icon
  • Change the audio icon to one you prefer

The audio basics are on the Insert tab.

Choose a music/audio file from your computer and it’ll be added to the current slide.

Click on the icon to see the design controls.  There’s the usual play, pause, forward and back options.  The middle bar shows the progress of the audio as played, you can drag that forward and back.  At right is a volume control.

When NOT selected, the audio element appears as a speaker icon like this.

That icon can be made smaller or bigger, which is what we’ve done in the above example.  The usual practice is to tuck the icon away in a corner of the slide.

So far, so obvious.  But there’s a lot more you can do beyond that.  Look on the ribbon with the audio selected to see a wide range of choices.

And beyond that, modern PowerPoint brings audio into animations for more complex tricks.

Opening and Closing Music

Would you like some music to play before the ‘show’ begins?  Mostly people do this by playing music separately from PowerPoint then clumsily switching over when they start speaking.

The more elegant method is adding repeating music to an opening slide.

Add the audio file then change these options on the Audio Tools | Playback ribbon.

Start:  Automatically

Loop until stopped.

Simple as that.

Do the same on the last slide for the ‘play out’ music that can continue until you shut down the presentation.

Play one song after another

To play a selection of different audio tracks, one after another is surprisingly clumsy even in PowerPoint 2016 for Windows.  For example, you might like to multiple tracks from a single album or several movements from a symphony.

We expected that a simple Animation would work with the second music track set to play ‘after previous’ like this.  In all our tests, the tracks play together.

This does NOT work!

The only way we could find was to set the second song to play after a delay, with the start delay set to the length of the song before.  Get the length of the first song (3:51 in this case) then switch to the Animation pane: Animations tab, Animation Pane.

A small advantage to this approach is that the delay can be set so the second track starts playing before the first ends (for a DJ-like overlap effect) or longer than the song to add a short pause.

However, this method gets complicated when you add a third or more tracks.

We can’t help thinking there’s a better way to play one song after another, please let us know.

A workaround is to join the audio together into a single file, then add that to PowerPoint.  We use Free MP3 cutter/joiner to splice together a long audio sequence.

This trick will also work in older versions of PowerPoint that don’t support animations.

Music for the whole presentation

A common request is for music play throughout the presentation.  Handy for automatic slideshows.

That’s easy in PowerPoint these days.  Insert the audio then look on the Playback tab.  There’s a choice ‘Play in Background’ that does the job in one click.

‘Play in Background’ is just a quick way of turning on three existing settings:

  • Play across slides
  • Loop until stopped
  • Hide during show

Play when clicked

Audio on a slide can be play when you click on the audio icon.   On the Playback pane, choose Start: when clicked on.

You can have multiple audio tracks on a slide, each one plays when you click.  This slide has two sound effects for either a correct or wrong answer.

Tweaking the PowerPoint Audio icon

The audio icon doesn’t have to be that dull grey default.

You can tinker with the look of the icon on the Audio Tools | Format tab.  All the usual choices are available including color change, effects etc.

Change the icon size from the ribbon (at right) or using the border handles.  We’ve made the icons extra large in these example images, you don’t have to.

It’s also possible to change the PowerPoint Audio icon, though Microsoft decided to make that harder than it should be.

Audio is added to the .PPTX

Keep in mind that any audio (or video) file inserted into a PowerPoint presentation is copied into the .pptx file.  That can make the PowerPoint file very large.

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