How to Add Text to Speech in PowerPoint

by Kevin Lee

When you use a Microsoft Office program such as PowerPoint, you don't need to purchase additional software to enjoy the benefits of text-to-speech audio conversion, because you can use the built-in Speak feature to convert the text of any or all of the slides in your presentation to speech.

Get PowerPoint Ready to Speak

PowerPoint won't say a word until you add the Speak icon to the application's Quick Access Toolbar by clicking the "Customize Quick Access Toolbar" icon, which is shaped like a down arrow and is the last icon on your Quick Access Toolbar. Click "More Commands" to open the PowerPoint Options window that displays a list of some of the commands you can add to the program. Click the "Choose Commands From" drop-down menu, and then select "All Commands" to make the Speak commands appear in the list. Click that command, followed by “Add,” and then click “OK” to put the Speak command on the Quick Access Toolbar.

Find Your Speak Icon

The hardest part about making PowerPoint talk may be in finding the Speak icon you've added to the program. Because PowerPoint icons don't display names, you may have trouble finding the ones you need. To make PowerPoint speak your slide's text, you have to press the icon on the Quick Access Toolbar that looks like a speech bubble with a tiny green arrow beneath it. You can also identify any icon by hovering over it and reading the text that appears in a pop-up tooltip. The Speak icon's tooltip reads "Speak Selected Text."

Ready, Set, Talk

PowerPoint’s Speak feature works like many other text-to-speech applications. You simply select the text you’d like to hear, and then click the “Speak” icon to hear it. For instance, when you select a slide’s title and click “Speak,” PowerPoint speaks the title. As the application reads the text, the arrow beneath the Speak icon changes to an "X," then changes back into an arrow when the program finishes reading the text.

Features and Limitations

Speak is a no-frills text-to-speech tool, so there’s nothing to configure. It reads text using the default voice, and you cannot select a new voice like on most third-party text-to-speech programs. A quick way to make Speak read an entire slide is to click the slide, press “Ctrl-A” to select all text on it, and then click the “Speak” icon. Because Speak cannot read an entire presentation automatically, you must select the text on every slide you wish it to read. Note that you can also use the Speak feature on Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Word.

Make Other Apps Speak

Windows comes with a program called Narrator that can convert text to speech in other applications, including email clients. Narrator is more advanced than PowerPoint’s Speak feature because it has dozens of commands you can use to customize the way your computer reads text. Launch Narrator by pressing “Windows-Enter.” However, note that Narrator reads whatever you see on your screen -- meaning the entire user interface, even including things like the names of slide components such as text boxes -- and therefore Speak is usually the better choice for performing simple tasks such as reading PowerPoint slides.

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About the Author

After majoring in physics, Kevin Lee began writing professionally in 1989 when, as a software developer, he also created technical articles for the Johnson Space Center. Today this urban Texas cowboy continues to crank out high-quality software as well as non-technical articles covering a multitude of diverse topics ranging from gaming to current affairs.

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