PowerTalk is a free program that automatically speaks any presentation or slide show running in Microsoft PowerPoint for Windows.
You just download and install PowerTalk and while you open and run the presentation as usual it speaks the text on your slides. The advantage over other generic ‘Text To Speech’ programs is that PowerTalk is able to speak text as it appears and can also speak hidden text attached to images.
Speech is provided by the synthesised computer voices that are provided with Windows 7, Vista and XP, and other voices are available. PowerTalk uses PowerPoint supplied with Microsoft Office to show the presentation.
Aids you if you have difficulty speaking or you have an audience that contains people with sight problems (visual impairments, low vision or blind) or who have dyslexia;
Helps you access presentations when there is no speaker and you are partially sighted;
Creates engaging school activities such as reading stories created by students;
Simple to use as you just select a presentation and it runs in PowerPoint as usual;
Speaks the text on any presentation and uses standard Windows speech;
Waits for text to appear and animation effects to play before speaking;
Will speak hidden ‘alternative text’ for pictures, graphics shapes and text;
Lets you add instant narration to presentations without the need to record speech;
Is a useful tool for testing presentation accessibility when using a screen reader;
Is mature with 1000s of downloads and several reviews from people who have found it useful;
Free (gratis – as in ‘free beer’). No purchase, registration or adverts, you just download and run it;
Free (libre – as in ‘free speech’). The Open Source Licence guarantees you the freedom to make copies and to alter its behaviour;
Is listed on DMOZ and on Google web directories;
Anyone can contribute to the project and developers will find it is a SourceForge project;
Is an example of Open Source Assistive Technology Software, or OATS. Find out more on the Fullmeasure.co.uk home page.
Is a featured project in the OATSoft Open Source Assistive Technology Software project which brings the benefits of Open Source software to Assistive Technology users;
NB! – some people are experiencing errors when opening a presentation from the PowerTalk file dialog. Please right click in explorer and select ‘Narrate with PowerTalk’.
There are a number of ways to get PowerTalk to narrate a PowerPoint Presentation (.ppt / .pptx file) or Slide Show (.pps / .ppsx file):
Note: ppt and pps files are identical except for the ppt/pps part of the filename, the difference being what happens when they are opened. A .ppt file may be be saved in PowerPoint as a .pps file or else a .ppt file can be simply renamed as a .pps.
Open a Slide Show. See below for details.
Right click on a Presentation or Slide Show and select ‘Narrate with PowerTalk’.
Drag a Slide Show file onto a PowerPoint program shortcut.
Browse to a Presentation or Slide Show using the dialog that appears when launching PowerTalk from the Start menu. The initial folder used may be specified using the shortcut ‘Start in’ property or adding the folder name as a parameter.
Create a specific shortcut. Specify PowerTalk.exe as the target and the presentation file as a parameter(e.g. “C:Program FilesPowerTalkPowerTalk.exe” “MyShow.ppt”).
By default PowerTalk will narrate Slide Shows when they are opened outside of PowerPoint (e.g. by double-clicking or right click and ‘narrate’ in Windows Explorer). Slide Show files may still be shown without narration by opening within PowerPoint or right-clicking on them and selecting ‘show’. During installation there is an option to disable this feature and another option to enable it for Presentations. This behaviour may be changed at a later time by using the PowerTalk settings option in the startmenu (or as follows: open Windows Explorer (Windows key + E), select ‘Tools’ -> ‘Folder Options’ -> ‘File Types’, type ‘PPS’, select ‘Advanced’, select ‘show’ from the list (or ‘open’ for .ppt files) and then select ‘Set Default’).
Text can be entered on a slide in either a single text box or split into multiple boxes and these are handled slighty differently.
The text in any single box is spoken continuously from top to bottom. Individual boxs are spoken in the order they are added to the slide. There appears to be no way to alter this and the way to force a different order is to create a new slide and copy the text boxes in the required order (hint: click on the box border and copy).
Animated text is spoken in the order that the animations play, waiting for each to complete before speaking the next. However if a number of animations are used within a single text box, PowerTalk waits for the first animation only and then speaks all the remaining text. You may want to break the text into separate boxes and animate each.
It is possible to specify the text spoken for images (and indeed any object including text) by entering Alternative Web Text for the image. This is done as follows: right click on the image, select ‘format object’ (‘size and shape’ in Office 2007), select the Web tab and enter the alternative text to be spoken (there may already be some alt text when images are cut and paste from web pages). If you enter a space then nothing is spoken at all.
It is also possible to have text spoken that is not visible on the slide, for example to provide narration in addition to the slide content. One way is to add some text to a slide that is one or more spaces, which is then not visible, and set the Alternative Web Text to be the text to be spoken. If you have slide notes that you would like read then these can be copied to the Alternative text. Other ways to make text invisible are to drag it off the slide or set the text colour to be same as the background (and make it behind other text) and then you do not need to set the Alternative text. It can be hard to reselect invisible text later in order to change it unless you pick a consistent placement (e.g top left of slide). One way is to drag a selection rectangle over the area where it is known to be.
The voice used and the speed of narration can be changed with the settings in the ‘Speech Settings’ section of Control Panel (on the ‘Text To Speech’ tab). There is a PowerTalk startmenu item that opens these settings.
Windows XP comes with as single voice ‘Sam’. The ‘SAPI TTS components’ download available in the Downloads section will add ‘Mike’ and ‘Mary’. A range of additional SAPI 5.1 voices are available and examples include AT&T Natural Voices, Nuance RealSpeak, Neospeech and IBM ViaVoice
The first time that PowerTalk is run you may notice a small delay as it analyses your PowerPoint and Speech API installations.