February 17, 2005  ·  Lessig

In a comment to my last post, Is there such a hack?, Andrew Ducker writes,

If you’re going to be sending the presentation in advance and then synchronising it to your voice over the internet, why not shortcut the whole process and simply add your voice to the presentation. They can just watch/listen to the presentation and you can take questions “live” at the end. The other advantage there being that you can also allow people to download the presentations, giving you worldwide coverage!

Indeed, why don’t I? Because it is insanely hard to do — insanely, because it seems like such an obvious feature for, e.g., a PPT or Keynote presentation, but it just doesn’t exist now (with any sort of reliability). You can record a narration, e.g., in a ppt presentation, but there’s no guarantee that the narration will actually stay fixed with the slide advances. You can manually carve up a narration into individual MP3s that get attached to each slide, and fix the timing problem, but who has time for something like that? And though Keynote promised something like this, I’ve yet to see how it can be used to make a truly, stand-alone, presentation.

Flash seems the most obvious platform to do this in, but again, it took lots of work to get this to work. And while Keynote promises Flash export capability, the output is not the same as the input.

I’ve seen products that promise to convert ppt to Flash, but I’ve not seen one that gives you a source file that you can work with. But am I missing something? I’d give my right arm (though I am left handed) for a simple, automatic tool to produce stand-alone presentations, and I’d even commit to making every one of my presentations available for free one existed (which is incentive enough for some not to produce it perhaps), but so far, I’ve not found it. Has someone else?

  • gary

    Take a look at http://www.avacast.com/ they have a ppt. to flash converter that’s pretty snazzy

  • Harry Porterfield

    I think what Mr. Ducker might be referring to is just make a movie of your presentation. Rather than go and talk, just have them watch a 40 minute DVD of your self yapping and what not, then at the end of the presentation take Q&A via a phone or VoIP or something like that.

    Granted, I don’t know what you charge, or even if you do charge, to go to a place and give a lecture, I’m sure this will cut the price significantly. It will be more like watching NOVA or something.

    You still haven’t come to Denver, have you?

  • http://www.peldi.com/blog Peldi

    Have you looked into Breeze Presentation?


    Even though it’s not advertised on that page, there is an option to create a standalone presentation (in flash), which you can stick on a CD.

  • Lessig

    Breeze was mentioned in the last thread at the same time I was writing this one. I’m trying to see if there’s a standalone conversion product. That may be it.

  • Mike

    Are your presentations/speeches going to be made freely available so people can freely access them, present them, modify them, etc.? (Just like free and open source software you’re such a big proponent of.)

  • Charles Starrett

    If you were to do the DVD thing, you could try just “performing” a presentation using [Snapz Pro X][http://www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/snapzprox/] to capture video of the screen as well as audio input.

  • Mengjuei

    Professor, you may want to check these webcast out. http://archive.macosxlabs.org/webcasts/index.html macosxlabs (now MacEnterprise.org) did a very good job doing webcast. With their streaming, you can have video, slides and chatting at the same time.

  • Lessig

    To Mike: Absolutey — all my content posted here is under a CC-BY license.

    And the DVD option is fine, but inefficient (huge files).

  • http://fmf.nl/~gmlk Gideon

    It just happens that the w3 has SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) for this kind of thing. It’s already being used in audiobooks in europe, the dutch government gave a free playback device to every blind person just a few months back. I would say that this was about as close to what you wanted as you can currently get.

  • Irving Reid

    Jon Udell has been producing what he calls “screencasts” that mix narration (typically an interview) with a live recording of the display. See an example on his blog. I’m sure he’d be happy to pass on his techniques.

  • http://www.screaming-penguin.com cooper

    I doubt this would suit your needs, simply because you want more video… However…


    VNC2SWF is really great for packaging a basic presentation. It’s a *nix only program, but it will record a VNC session to a Flash SWF file. You can also record voiceovers and have them integrated into the SWF. Since it used the Flash timing to keep the audio in sync, it does a really good job. It is also great because of the extreme accessibility of Flash files.

    Mostly I have only used it for recording software demos/tutorials. Assuming you got good enough perfomance on your video over a LAN recording it might work, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  • http://roub.net/blahg/ Paul Roub

    Not to push Microsoft, but since we’re talking about PPT source, Microsoft Producer can do just what you’re talking about.

  • Don

    Macromedia’s Authorware is expensive software but has great voice-presentation syncing. And works well with Flash. Not the easiest thing to learn to use, but for such a limited purpose, I’m sure you could figure it out.

  • Don

    If you don’t want to try to figure Authorware out, but you can produce an MP3 of audio, I can help you put something together to see if you like it.

  • http://blog.monstuff.com Julien Couvreur

    Try out the Powerpoint plugin from Camtasia: http://www.techsmith.com/products/studio/powerpointaddin.asp
    They also have a great screen recording product (voice + display recording), that allows you to edit your presentation too.

  • jeremiah johnson

    When I worked for a multimedia company, I used Apple Quicktime and triggers in the Quicktime movie to change the href of another frame in a web browser.

    I was subtitling a Quicktime movie with HTML and it worked wonderfully.

    If you wanted to play the movie in Quicktime, you could control the contents of another browser or frame. With Eric Meyer’s S5, the whole presentation could be XML based and you could control it with quicktime, so that the whole presentation synchronized with your audio.

    Its been years since I’ve done this (this was when Quicktime 4 was brand new) and I’ve forgotten the details, but it can indeed be done.

  • Andrew

    I’ve had presentations recorded using SofTV.Presenter, which combines a PowerPoint presentation with video and audio and generates web-based streaming video with the PowerPoint slides synchronized alongside. However the $4000 price for that product is not something you’d want to pay unless you are very serious; it also seems to need someone else to handle the A/V.

    The same company also sells a much cheaper product (which I haven’t used) called SofTV.ShowAndTell. This records audio while you’re giving a PowerPoint show and generates an online synchronized presentation.

    I have no connection to the company.

  • http://manufacturedenvironments.com/ Daniel

    Developers at my university have crafted a product called iLecture that combines a PowerPoint presentation with a live audio track and exports it as a Quicktime movie. You control how fast the slides go, and the audio is synced with each slide. It’s a free tool. May be of interest.

  • rich

    If you’re willing to attach your voice to the presentation, why not just:

    1) export the PPT into a quicktime movie
    2) record the narration
    3) combine the two in iMovie (or some similar Windows app) and send the movie file as your self-contained presentation?

    This further solves the problem of needing to control it remotely, and if the audience needs somethine paused or rewound, anyone who can work a VCR can accomplish this at the presentation site.

  • jjens

    I second the idea that “screencasts” might be the route to go.

  • http://www.celiving.com Don

    If the problem is the effort of cutting the speech into individual mp3 files, there’s a program called CDWave (http://www.milosoftware.com/cdwave/) that’s designed specificly for splicing long audio files (say, a speech) into multiple files and has an mp3 out option.

  • http://www.macromedia.com Tom Hale

    Check out this online presentation – it’s macromedia’s earnings preso done with Breeze (create slides in .PPT, record audio in powerpoint, export to flash).


    The Macromedia one is highly produced, but here’s an example of one that’s more or less done by one guy. It also embeds video.


    Let us know if you are interested.

  • Josh

    Macromedia Captivate enables us to record full presentations synched with audio, video, etc. It outputs to either Flash or a stand-alone program. These stand-alone apps can either be Windows, OS X, or Linux. To us it is like PowerPoint on steroids.

    Unfortunately it doesn’t solve the remote control issue but for the presentation part it is pretty slick.

  • http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/djp3 Don Patterson

    Ed Lazowska, one of the profs at the University of Washington recently gave a course which has archives in exactly the format that you describe: Audio, video, slides and slide annotations all synchronized and indexed. It is wonderful to watch the archived lectures. I’m a graduate student so I can get to the archives easily. It might be harder to get to them from off-campus.

    I’m afraid that the production of the lecture required a small team of support people though. It was also broadcast interactively/remotely, so there might have been more complexity than what you want. Here is a link to the course (IT and public policy):

    Here is a link to the software:

  • http://nzl.com.ar/ Martin Langhoff

    Jon Udell has been experimenting with this a lot in his blog. google for Jon Udell and screencast to get a mouthful of tips, tools and samples.


  • http://www.techory.com Scott

    I am actually the project manager for iLecture (that was mentioned above) and was kind of surprised to see it mentioned here since we’re still in beta and haven’t been pushing it a whole lot. The idea behind iLecture was to make a freely available online lecture-publishing tool that would do those very simple things w/out the use of expensive solutions or servers. Like I mentioned, it is currently in beta so there are some bugs(!). We’re very close to a ver. 1 release that squashes a bunch of them. Future plans do include making a transparent recording… a capture live feature. iLecture would run in the background while you’re giving the presentation and record your audio as it’s coming out of your mouth in the lecture hall. This tool will always be free since the reason we started working on it was there was nothing out there, that didn’t cost a million dollars, that did this (what one would think would be) a simple task.

  • jb

    oh my, I’ve always wondered why there are no “lessig-flash” after oscon2002. that’s it? “who has time for something like that?”??.
    seriously, if only you provide us the source (ppt or keynote, and audio record of actual speech), there are a lot of people around the globe to make it a flash. not everyone can do it as Lin did, but I’m sure such a project will secure sufficient human resources. you know, there is even some alien language version of your oscon2002 flash!

    if there are no reason (I had believed you have one), please release the presentation source. we will take care of it.

  • Tom Callaway

    OpenOffice.org can export to flash. :)

    Its not perfect (vnc2swf works much better), but its worth noting.

  • http://lonewacko.com The Lonewacko Blog

    The simplest way to do this overall might be to write a Java client/server that communicate using a very simple protocol over a socket.

    The Java client shows a panel with buttons. You press a button and it sends the appropriate command over the socket.

    The server listens for commands and then takes the appropriate action, like launching a program or using a COM object to display the PPT file.

    For very simple stuff that would work well and wouldn’t require learning a new system aside from the COM object or other external app control.

  • http://www.point-libre.org/~jop/ jpgaulier

    Why don’t you use an online presentation on a website ? The french Aristote seminaries already use it (http://www.aristote.asso.fr/sem/SXA_Retransmission.htm). In one hand, you make your video conference, in the other hand, you change your slide and the internet page will be automatically change after X seconds.


  • Symon Chalk

    If you’re running a Mac you can put together the presentation in PowerPoint, export it to QuickTime, import that in iMovie and then add the narration (as well as add transitions and adjust the timing, etc.) and then save the whole lot as QuickTime/MPEG-4.

    I’ve done this several times when needing to tie together a visual presentation with precisely timed audio.

  • http://www.cerias.purdue.edu/ Matt Rose

    Looks like there are quite a few good options available; I plan on investigating iLecture. My university has been piloting Macromedia Breeze, and I have been favorably impressed, with one exception: To my knowledge, Macromedia does not support an Apple plugin for PowerPoint.

  • http://www.masternewmedia.org/ Robin Good


    it seems that your readers have done an excellent job at making apropriate suggestions. As a user-centered researcher of online colaboration, conferencing and presentation technologies I have to admit that there is anything else that would be able to do this job, as you have described it.

    Given your Mac platform and the desire to record your voice over, while mixing in video clips and Powerpoit slides it’s the realm of only a few technologies. At least for now.

    My short personal recommendations are accessible for you on my latest post at Kolabora.com (http://tinyurl.com/5ymbs), where I try to make end-user needs and industry vendors meet.

  • http://www.digitalmedievalist.com/it/ Lisa Spangenberg

    1. Make your presentation in Keynote or Powerpoint
    2.Export the slides as the highest resolution jpeg you can
    3. bring the images in to iMovie
    4. Arrange the sequence
    5. add any visual effects you want
    6. Record your narration directly in iMovie
    6a record the narration in small bits–this makes it easier to adjust timing

    I do this routinely for teaching purposes; it’s dead easy. You can also do much the same thing using QuickTime Pro, which is how I used to do it before iMovie

  • Alek

    I have not noticed this mentioned before, people from Knowledge Media Design Institute at University of Toronto have developed a system called ePresence, which they describe as
    “a viable and innovative webcasting system. This includes support for video, audio, and slide broadcasting; slide browsing and review; submitting questions, integrated moderated chat, live software demos and the automated creation of event archives”.
    I had the opportunity to use it, it is able to stream in real time an audiovideo stream of a person talking and at the same time present slides from a presentation that the speaker can cue at the right moment. It also automatically archives the presentation, which can be later ‘browsed’ using particular slides as timestamps.

    According to the web page they are working on an open source release of the software. There’s more on the system at

  • http://bunghole.us/ Keith

    If it’s acceptable to send a self-propelled presentation with a syncronized voice track then I think Apple’s Keynote will do the trick. In it’s (Keynote 2) documentation it says:

    “If you add a sound file to an individual slide, the sound plays when the slide appears and stops when you move to the next slide. You could, for example, record narration for each slide as an MP3 file; this technique is especially useful if you plan to export the slideshow as a self-playing QuickTime movie. … Note: to ensure that the audio plays on other computers, select “Copy audio and movies into document” in the expanded Save dialog.”

    Maybe you could add a “talking head” video box on each slide instead, so people could see you talking too.

  • http://web.mit.edu/seantek/www/ SeanTek

    The most reliable, secure, and cost-effective solution that I can think of is: use Skype for audio (Skype runs on Macs, Windows, Linux, and PocketPC) and ask a real human being to navigate the PowerPoint presentation on the lecture-side. The real human being can be working on Mac or Windows, and should have two screens: one screen for his/her own use, and one output screen (i.e., the monitor). Using any laptop would work fine. The human being running the computer should be familiar with your presentation, but you can communicate to them using the Skype chat window to advance or back up the presentation. He/she can also interrupt you discreetly if an audience member has a question, or if the flow of the presentation needs to be interrupted otherwise. I have used this method in my course at MIT with great success.

    Other upswings of this method are that Skype delivers crystal-clear audio to and from the audience (so you can take questions, given the appropriate microphone feeds in the lecture hall), and you support legal P2P technology.

  • Jon Alperin

    I’ve found it very easy to simply use you favorite speech recording program, create a .wav file for each slide, and ‘insert’ the audio clip onto the .ppt page, but put the icon off the page boundaries. (so it doesn’t show on the slide itself)

    Then set the slide show parameters to play the clip automatically, and let the user manually advance to the next slide.

    If you want, you can play around with timings to make builds work, it can be easily done.

  • http://www.presenternet.com Doug WOlfgram

    Presenternet (www.presenternet.com) will do everything you want. Online storage of interactive content, documents, flash, powerpoint. Requires NO downloads. Also supports all of the ‘free’ VoIP conferencing software such as Skype. With the ASP model, your content is always available and you can present the same content remotely, locally or via your website with all interactions and data collections intact.

  • Jo

    Try Microsoft Producer for Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003. It’s free.

  • http://cfsilence.com todd sharp

    You could try SlideSix.com. You can record audio/video directly in the site.