Adding Captions, Annotations and/or Subtitles to Presentations


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Adding Captions, Annotations and/or Subtitles to Presentations

PowerPoint continues to grow as a medium for the dissemination of ideas, from traditional presentations to education to performance art.   This is a wonderful thing since it makes loads of information readily available to a global audience.  But what if your audience has an auditory limitation such as a physical challenge, a noisy environment, nonfunctioning sound equipment, or speaks a different language?  The easy answer is to add visual dialogue to your presentation.  The not so easy answer is how to do it well.

The Difference between Open and Closed Captions, Subtitles, Annotations, and Transcripts

For the purposes of this article, the following terms apply:

A Word about Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.  Under this act, once you add sound to your presentation, PowerPoint is classified as a Multimedia product: products that involve more than one media and include, but are not limited to, video programs, narrated slide production, and computer generated presentations.  In order to meet the requirements of Section 508, presentations must the following standards in relation to hearing impairments:

For more on other Section 508 requirements, see Creating accessible presentations.

The Methods Available

There are three basic methods to include visual dialogue with your presentations:

Converting the presentation to a video with captions is the ideal method, but cannot be accomplished without third party software.  Using the notes portion of the slide to display transcripts on a web page with frames is the easiest but least desirable method since it is not synchronized with the dialogue.  There are a wide variety of techniques to use custom animations, however, creating the effect of traditional captions that scroll up from the bottom of the screen in sequence with the dialogue requires a bit of thought.

Open Captions for Presentations

Add Caption Space to Slide Masters

Unless you’re going to use annotations for all your visual dialogue, the first thing you need to do is reclaim space on your slides to add captions/subtitles at the bottom of the screen.  The best method to do this is using the Slide Master and Custom Layouts.  Remove the date, footer and page number placeholders from your slide master because you need this space for your captions.  Uncheck the Footers box on the ribbon for each of the Slide Master Layouts.


Adjust your design to make space for your captions.  Insert a placeholder text box at the bottom of each of the slide master layouts used in your presentation with the following settings:

You can add your own text prompt to the new caption placeholder.  This example shows before and after of a Title and Content Slide Master Layout:


Click on the outside edge of your caption placeholder and, using the arrow keys, move it directly below the slide.  Add a rectangle the same size and settings as the placeholder to the bottom of the slide.  This will be the background on which your captions are displayed.  You do not want any text on your rectangle, nor do you want it to be a placeholder.


Create Scrolling Effects for Caption Placeholders

You’re now ready to create the custom animations that will allow your captions to scroll up from the bottom so they can be synchronized with your narration.

Click on the Animations Tab on the ribbon and then click Custom Animation.  Click Add Effect, Motion Paths, 6. Up.


Click on the drop down next to your motion path in the custom animation pane.  Click on Effect Options; change the Effect Settings to Locked, Uncheck Smooth start and Smooth end. Change After Animation to Hide on Next Mouse Click.  Click on Text Animation tab and change Group text to All Paragraphs At Once and uncheck Animate attached shape.  Click ok.



Click on the red arrow and resize the motion path by dragging the red arrow directly down to the middle of your background rectangle.


Resize your viewing area by dragging on the slider in the lower right corner.  You want to be able to see a lot of the area around the slide.  I chose 30%.


Add Caption Placeholders to Slide Masters

Click on the Home tab on the ribbon because we’re now going to use Copy and Paste to create the remaining caption placeholders.


Click on the outside edge of the Caption Placeholder and then click on the Copy icon and Paste icon to create an additional caption placeholder.


Click on the new caption placeholder and, using the arrow keys, move the new caption placeholder until it’s directly below the first one.  Using the same technique, click on the new motion path and, using the arrow keys, move it until it’s directly on top of the first motion path.

Tip: Holding down the CTRL key with the arrow keys let you move objects in smaller increments.


Repeat these steps until you have as many caption placeholders as you think you’ll need.  Each caption placeholder will hold approximately 3 lines of text.  Resize the screen as needed to see what you’re doing.  I created a total of 10 caption placeholders in my example.  This will give me approximately 30 lines of text for my captions per slide.  Note: you have to be exact on the placement of the motion paths since they control the appearance of the text.  However, you can spread the actual caption placeholders out more or less to accommodate editing them easily.


To add the captions to your remaining Slide Master layouts, click outside the area directly above and to the left of the caption background rectangle.  While holding down the left button on your mouse drag a rectangle to encompass all your caption placeholders.  This will select all the items at once.



Now click on the copy icon under the Home tab, go to the Slide Master Layout where you want them copied, click anywhere in the slide editing area and click on the Paste icon.  Click on the auto text icon that will appear and choose Keep Source Formatting.  Repeat these steps for each of the Slide Master Layouts that you use in your presentation.  Adjust other placeholders on these layouts accordingly to accommodate room for the captions.


You can now close your Slide Master View by clicking on the Slide Master tab in the ribbon and click on Close Master View.


Add Captions to Slides

Now that you’ve created your custom layouts with custom caption placeholders, you’re ready to use them with the slides in your presentation.  When you create a new slide using one of your custom layouts, your caption placeholders will be in the slide and ready to be filled out.

Apply Custom Layouts

Your caption placeholders may not appear on any or all of your existing slides.  This is especially true if you’re working on a presentation that was created in PowerPoint 2003.  Apply your new layouts to any slides that do not show the caption placeholders.   Make adjustments to the appearance of slides, if needed, to accommodate room for the captions.

Add Text to Caption Placeholders

This is the fairly easy part.  Starting with the first placeholder under the slide, type your text into each of the caption placeholders.  Be careful not to enter too much into any one placeholder.  If you’ve entered your text in your notes section, copy and paste the text from your notes into the placeholders in chunks.  Don’t worry about having too many caption placeholders yet.  Complete all your slides.


Remove Superfluous Captions

If you have too many caption placeholders, you won’t really remove them since they’re on the master layout.  Instead you’ll keep them from showing up by removing their custom animation.  Click on the Animations tab and Custom Animation to view the Custom Animation pane.  Click on the custom animation for the first caption placeholder.  Click on the drop down arrow and click on Copy Effects to Slide.  Select the empty Placeholder animations by clicking on each one while holding the shift key.  Now click the Remove button.



Now your empty caption placeholders will not show during your slide show.


Incorporate Custom Animations

You probably have your own custom animations that you’ve added to your slide show so you’ll need to “weave” these into the animations for the captions.  Go to any slide that has custom animations and repeat the steps for copying the caption placeholder animations to your slide.  Then move your animations around on the custom animation pane to intersperse the captions into your own custom animations.  Keep in mind that the captions are set to disappear on next mouse click so you may need to change this setting and add exit animations for the relevant caption text.  In the example below, I have an animation applied to the picture of the children.  To accommodate this, I removed the Hide on Mouse Click setting from my first caption and added an exit animation for the caption to disappear when clicked after the animation of the picture of the children.  Remember to change the timing settings of any exit animations.  Set Group text to All Paragraphs At Once and uncheck Animate attached shape.  I also chose to have the next caption appear automatically after the exit animation of the first caption.  Make sure you test each slide to be sure your custom animations work properly.


Include Sound Effects

If you have sound effects in your presentation, add a description for them within your captioned text.  Enclose the description in brackets [] to indicate that it’s a sound, for example [wind blowing].

Note: this may not be necessary for a presentation to be 508 compliant because it may not add/detract from the content of the presentation, but it’s a considerate thing to do. 

Record Narrations and/or Rehearse Timings

If this is a new presentation, record your narration and make sure your incorporate timings in your narration.  Record-over is an add-in that you might also consider.  If this is an existing presentation and you don’t want to re-record the narration, you can record and save timings only.  This is done with the Rehearse Timings feature.  This is also handy if you want a presentation with a fully readable visual dialogue whether or not you choose to narrate the presentation.

Create a Custom Caption Template

Now that you’ve created your custom caption placeholders and layouts, you may want to save them as a custom template so you can reuse them.  You can customize this template with many different designs while maintaining the integrity of the caption placeholders and layouts.

Haven’t Upgraded to PowerPoint 2007 Yet?

You can still add captions, but they won’t be as flexible.  Follow the same directions, except instead of creating custom placeholders, create textboxes on an individual slide and copy them to all your slides.

Annotations in Presentations

Since annotations a placed directly on a slide, they are particularly easy to do in PowerPoint.

Add Annotations to a Slide

First decide how and/or why you’d like to include an annotation and add it to your slide.  For example, in the slide above I had a picture of children animated to peek in.  I also have a sound effect of children laughing when this effect is played.  So I might like to add an annotation that visually shows the children laughing sound effect.  To do this I can add and animate a call out shape with the words [children laughing] in brackets to show there’s a sound effect to go with the animation.


Annotations do not have to be in a shape but it helps to highlight them if you’re going to use them.  And you will need to accommodate them through the use of custom animations.


Subtitles in Presentations

Since subtitles are typically used for a foreign language, simply translate the text within your captions to the desired language and use the same techniques described in Open Captions for Presentations.  Alternatively, you can also use annotations for your subtitles or a combination of the two.


Distribute Presentations

Since the ideal is that it should be the viewer’s chose to view the presentation with or without captions and/or subtitles, you can accommodate this by distributing your presentation with both options: with captions/subtitles and without captions/subtitles.

Was this tutorial helpful?  Please feel free to share your comments &/or suggestions.


Copyright © 2007 Glenna Shaw