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How to Add Audio to PowerPoint Presentations

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Want to add sound effects to your PowerPoint slide transitions, or perhaps have background music or narration audio playing automatically throughout the presentation? You're in luck. PowerPoint gives you several ways of using audio in your presentation: you can play sound during slide transitions, you can attach audio to a button that you place on a slide, you can play audio on one slide, or play audio across multiple slides.

In this tutorial, I'll show you everything you need to know to add audio to your PowerPoint presentations on your Mac or PC, and get it to work exactly the way you want.

Screencast


In PowerPoint for Windows, you can choose among several sources for your audio: from a library of built-in sound effects, from a free library on Office.com, from your own files on your computer, and you can also record your own audio. The options are more limited on the Mac: you can either insert an audio file from your hard drive or from iTunes, or you can record your own. Either way, adding audio in PowerPoint works mostly similar in any recent version of PowerPoint in Windows or the Mac.

You can follow along with this tutorial using your own PowerPoint presentation, if you'd like. It should have a handful of slides, and it’s best if there are no transitions or animations applied. You should also have some short sound effects files to use, along with some background music that lasts a few minutes.

Or if you prefer, download the zip file included for this tutorial, which contains a sample presentation called PowerPoint Audio.pptx and some sample audio files.

Playing Sound During a Slide Transition

Playing a sound during a transition takes only a few clicks, but please: use this feature sparingly because it can be distracting and annoying to your audience. With that said, let's get started.

To add sound to your slide transitions in either PowerPoint for Windows or Mac, go to the Transitions tab on the ribbon, and apply a transition. On the right side of the ribbon, click the drop-down for Sound, and choose one from the list. Or instead of choosing one of the built-in sounds, click Other Sound at the bottom of the list, and choose Water Spray. If you use your own sound file, it has to be in WAV format.

Click Apply to All to apply the transition and sound effect to all slides in the presentation. Note the shooting stars below the slide numbers in the thumbnails on the left side, which indicate that we've added a transition—in this case, a transition with a sound.

Audio transitions dialog
Apply a sound to a transition on the right side of the ribbon bar in the Transitions tab

Click the Slide Show button to run the presentation (F5, or Fn-F5 on a MacBook). Click the mouse or press the Enter or Return key to advance from slide to slide.

If you decide you don’t want a sound to play on transition, click the Sound drop-down again, and choose No Sound. Again click Apply to All.

Playing Sound During an Animation

First, we’ll apply an animation, then we’ll attach a sound to it. Go to Slide 2, which contains a title and a bullet list. Click the Animations tab on the ribbon, then click the slide title and choose one of the animations that’s listed. Do the same for the bullet text. Note that each line of text has a number next to it, indicating its animation order.

Animation Pane in the Animations tab
In the Windows version, click the Animation Pane button in the Animations tab to display the pane

Adding a Sound In Windows

If you’re using Windows, click the Animation Pane button on the ribbon to display the animation pane. The numbers in the pane correspond to the numbers on the slide (click the small Down Arrow to see them all).

In the Animation pane, right-click Content Placeholder, then select Effect Options from the pop-up menu. Click the Sound drop-down list and select a sound from the list, or select Other Sound at the bottom, and choose Bullet Item Sound that’s included with this tutorial.

If you want to adjust the volume, click the Speaker icon. Click OK when finished.

Drop-down list that applies audio to an animated object
Click the Down Arrow on an item in the Animation Pane (or right-click it) to display the dialog where you can add sounds to an animated object

Click the Slide Show button to run this slide. Click the mouse or press Enter or Return to display the bullets and hear the sound.

Adding a Sound on the Mac

If you’re using a Mac, click the Reorder button on the right side of the ribbon to display the Custom Animation tool box. In the box, twirl open the Effect Options section. Then it’s just like in Windows: click the Sound drop-down and select a sound, or select Other Sound and choose Bullet Item sound that’s included with this tutorial.

Applying audio to an animated object on the Mac
In the Mac version, click the Reorder button on the ribbon in the Animations tab to display the Custom Animation toolbox. This is where you can apply sound to animated objects.

Click the Slide Show button to run this slide. Click the mouse or press Enter or Return to display the bullets and hear the sound.

Attaching a Sound to an Action Button

PowerPoint has Action Buttons that you can place on slides, and these buttons can play sounds. The buttons can perform actions like linking to a slide or web page, navigating through a presentation, running a macro and starting a program. Although the buttons have different icons, they can all do the same tasks.

Let’s put navigation buttons on the slides of this presentation, and give each button a sound effect. If you still have the Animation Pane or Custom Animation toolbox open, you can close it to get it out of your way.

Go to Slide 3, and we’ll insert a shape:

  • In Windows, click the Home tab on the ribbon bar, then click the Down Arrow on the box that has the shapes in it, OR go to the Insert tab, then click the Down Arrow on the Shapes icon.
  • On the Mac, go to the Insert tab, then click the Down Arrow on the Shapes icon.

Click the Home button (5th button in Windows, 2nd button on the Mac)

Action buttons on the bottom of the Shapes drop-down list
To insert Action Buttons, choose them from the bottom of the Shapes drop-down list

When the mouse becomes a cross hair, drag in the lower-right corner of the slide to place the button. (Hold the Shift key while dragging to keep the width and height in proportion.)

When you release the mouse button, a dialog box appears. By default, it hyperlinks to the first slide, which is what we want. At the bottom, click the Play Sound check box, and select a sound from the list, or select Other Sound at the bottom, and choose Home Button sound that’s included with this tutorial. Click OK.

Repeat the process for inserting the Left Arrow and Right Arrow buttons. The Left Arrow automatically links to the previous slide and you can attach the Previous Slide sound, and the Right Arrow automatically links to the next slide, and you can attach the Next Slide sound.

If you want to change the buttons’ color and formatting, select them all, and in the Format tab of the ribbon bar, click the Shape Styles drop-down (Windows) or Quick Styles button (Mac) and make a selection.

Your slide should now look like this:

Using the Shape Styles drop-down list to format buttons
Format Action Buttons -- or any shapes -- using the Shape Styles drop-down in Windows, or the Quick Styles button on the Mac

Now place the buttons on the other slides of the presentation. Make sure they’re all selected, then copy to the clipboard (Ctrl-C in Windows or Command-C on the Mac). Go to all the other slides, then paste (Ctrl-V in Windows or Command-V on the Mac). Note that when you paste the buttons, PowerPoint places them in the same location.

On the first slide, deselect the buttons, then delete the Home and Left Arrow buttons. On the last slide, deselect all the buttons, then delete the Right Arrow button.

Run the presentation from the first slide, and try out the buttons.

Playing Audio in the Background

PowerPoint also lets you play audio in the background of a single slide, or across slides. The process is similar in all versions. Let’s start on the first slide.

Inserting Audio in Windows

Audio is something we insert, so go to the Insert tab on the ribbon and click the Audio button. In the 2007 and 2010 versions, you’ll immediately get a dialog box to insert the clip. In the 2013 version, you have other options. Choosing Online Audio will let you search clip media on Office.com. Another option is to record sound on your computer. I’m going to click Audio on My PC, and choose my own background music.

Insert Audio button on the ribbon bar
In Office 2013 for Windows, the Audio button on the Insert tab will let you insert audio clips from your computer, audio clips from Office.com, or record audio clips.

Choose any music on your computer that’s in MP3, WAV or M4A format. If you downloaded the zip file for this tutorial, you can choose Mountain Lake.mp3 (courtesy of Steve Jacobus at www.SteveJacobus.com).

That places an audio icon on the screen. Test it with either of the Play buttons:

Two Play buttons available to preview inserted audio
After inserting an audio file, preview it by clicking either of the Play buttons

Inserting Audio on the Mac

The method of inserting audio in the Mac version is similar. On the Home tab of the ribbon bar, click the Media button to display a drop-down. The Audio Browser will let you choose a file from iTunes, and you also have choices to insert a file from your hard drive or to record your own.

As with Windows, choose Audio From File, and choose any MP3, WAV or M4A file. If you downloaded the zip file for this tutorial, you can choose Mountain Lake.mp3 (courtesy of Steve Jacobus at www.SteveJacobus.com).

That places an audio icon on the screen. Test it with either of the Play buttons (see Windows screen capture, above).

Setting Playback Options

In both Windows and Mac, make sure the audio clip’s icon is selected. In Windows, go to the Playback tab on the ribbon bar, and on the Mac, go to the Format Audio tab. Choose options to play the clip automatically and to hide the icon when the slide show plays:

Playback options
There are similar playback options for the Windows and Mac versions 

Run the slide show, and the music starts immediately. But as soon as you advance to the next slide, the music stops. So select the option for Play Across Slides. In Windows, you can also select Play in Background. If the music finished before the slide show, you can also select the Loop Until Stopped option.

Run the show again, and this time, the music continues playing as you advance the slides. It also plays over the sound effects of the Action buttons.

Windows-Only Playback Options

The ribbon bar has two great options in the Windows version that the Mac doesn’t have (keep the audio icon selected and stay on the Playback tab of the ribbon):

  • Trim: if you want to play only a portion of the sound file, click the Trim Audio button, and in the dialog that appears, drag the green bar to the right to set a later start time, and drag the red bar to the left to set an earlier end time. Or instead of dragging the bars, you can set the numbers directly.
  • Fade In and Fade Out: if the audio clip doesn’t have fades already in it, or if you trimmed the clip, you can apply fades.
Trim and Fade options in the Windows version
In the Windows versions, you can trim the beginning and end times of an audio file, and apply fades to the beginning and end

You can test the selection using the Play button in the Trim dialog box. Click OK when finished.

How to find additional settings in Windows that aren’t immediately obvious:

  1. Make sure the audio clip is selected
  2. Click the Animations tab on the ribbon bar
  3. Click the Animation Pane button to display the pane
  4. Right-click the item in the Animation Pane and select Effect Options from the pop-up menu
  5. Set options in the Play Audio dialog box
Additional audio controls in a dialog box in Windows
The Windows version has additional audio controls in a dialog box that comes up from the Animation Pane

The Start Playing section does the same as what we just did, but the Stop Playing section lets you stop when you click (as the presentation is running), or after the current slide, or after a specific slide. If you keep the number high (999 is the default), that will ensure that the music plays to the end of the presentation. Click OK when done.

Conclusion

PowerPoint has very good options for playing audio of different types and from different locations. It has so many options and abilities, it might be tempting to use all of them, so be careful not to over-use them as we did in this tutorial. Your audience will appreciate it!

But what’s great about these features is that whether you use Windows or Mac, the options work almost identically, and the options are clearly labeled. The trickiest part is knowing where to find the features. Remember to keep the sound file selected, so you can find the context-sensitive ones.

Resources

Graphic Credit: Speaker icon designed by Harold Kim from the Noun Project.

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