How to Embed a Video in a PowerPoint so it Works on any Computer

An Analogy

You’ve been there. You’ve made a slideshow presentation to accompany your talk or class and you’ve embedded video clips.You open your presentation on a new computer, and then it happens: your videos no longer work (though your still images are still fine).


This ubiquitous stumbling block stems from one of PowerPoint’s particularities: it does not treat pictures and videos in the same way. From the user’s perspective, though, it looks like it does.To understand how PowerPoint treats images and videos differently, think of your PowerPoint presentation as a stack of index cards, and the computer you create the presentation as your office. Because photos are smaller files than videos, PowerPoint actually saves a copy of every picture you put in a presentation within that presentation itself. Figuratively PowerPoint glues that picture onto the card. You can take that stack of cards out of your office, to another building–heck even to another country–and whoever you hand it to will still be able to see that picture, because it’s glued to the card.

Videos, on the other hand, are much larger. Imagine trying to glue a VCR tape to an index card. It just won’t stick; it’s too bulky. So, instead of gluing it on, you write note on the card giving yourself a reminder for where you should look for the video. It reads: “play the VCR in the top drawer of the file cabinet by the door” (note that the directions are relative; if you change the location of the viewer, the directions will not allow the stack’s holder to find the video).

The next day, your friend, a hyper literalist (figuratively: PowerPoint), comes in to your office (figuratively: your computer) and you hand her the stack. She flips through, and when she gets to the note, she stands up, goes to the file cabinet (figuratively: locates the file using the relative directions that points PowerPoint to the file on your computer), opens the top drawer in your office, pulls out the VCR, and watches it. She thinks your stack of cards is great, and she wants to show it to another of your colleagues, also a hyper literalist. She takes the stack two doors down (figuratively: to another computer), and hands it to your colleague, who begins to flip through. When she comes to the note, she, too, stands up, walks to the file cabinet by the door of her office (since the note/”pointer” was not specific about which office), opens the top drawer, but finds no VCR. So, she skips that card and keeps going. This, in essence is what happens when you cannot get your embedded videos to play on a different computer from the one on which you created the presentation.

What you needed to do was not just send the stack of cards, but also the file cabinet, and place it by the door of your colleague’s office, so that when she read that note, she would be able to watch the VCR tape. Or, you needed to send your colleague with the stack of cards and the VCR, and tell her to write a new note on the releveant card about where your other colleague could find it in her office (like “on the top shelf of the bookcase behind the desk”).

PowerPoint works in a similar way. Instead of embedding the video itself, it embeds a “pointer” that tells the program in which file cabinet (folder) it should look for that video. The problem is, when you open the PowerPoint on a different computer, the “file cabinet” (folders) are not the same, so PowerPoint cannot find the video. The “pointer” is a relative path from the PowerPoint file to another file, not absolute GPS coordinates.

3 Ways to Embed Videos Successfully in PowerPoint Every Time

So, now that we understand that PowerPoint really embeds relational pointers, and not the video files themselves, we can work within its framework to ensure that embedded videos work seamlessly every time. Here are 3 options, in order of ease. Option 1 is preferrable, but not always possible, so I recommend you learn how to do the other two ways as well so that you can have always have a backup solution at the ready.

1) Play the PowerPoint from your own computer. If you are in a position to be able to bring your own computer and hook it up directly to the projector, then you have nothing more to do. Your embedded videos should work fine, because you are figuratively taking your entire office (computer) with you. Doing so, however, is not always possible: at conferences, for instance, it is common practice to project from one communal computer to avoid wasting the panel’s short time. Other times, you might not have the right adapters to make the projection technology work with your computer. And, of course, if you work from a desktop (instead of a laptop or mobile device), it is impractical to bring your entire computer with you when you travel.

In terms of the analogy above, this option is like bringing your office with you, and, when it is time for your presentation, asking everyone to move into your office to view it.

2) Play the PowerPoint directly from a USB key (do NOT save it to the local computer). This is the next easiest way. It involves making the USB key the figurative “office.” You should create the PowerPoint locally, on your laptop, desktop, or tablet without embedding the videos (doing so will just be a waste of time). Once you have the final version of the presentation, save it however you normally would, then plug the USB key you intend to use into your computer. Drag both the PowerPoint file and all of the video files you would like to embed onto the USB. You can place them in folders however you like. Once you have the files organized exactly how you want them, open the PowerPoint presentation from the USB drive (NOT your computer’s hard drive). Drag the videos from their location on your USB key into the PowerPoint slides. Do NOT move either the PowerPoint file or the video files after you do this. Cons to this approach: you must open the PowerPoint directly from your USB drive when you are showing it on the presentation computer; you CANNOT download it onto the presentation computer and have the embedded videos work.

In terms of the analogy above, this is also like moving your whole office (with the file cabinet and VCR inside it) to the new location, except that you attach your office to the conference room (read: presentation computer). When it is time for you to give your presentation, you display the stack of cards and video from your office such that they can still be seen in the presentation room.

3) Download the PowerPoint onto the local computer from some other source (email, Dropbox, USB key). This way comes with one significant drawback: you must download/save the videos you would like to embed with the presentation file, and you must embed the videos after downloading/saving the PowerPoint file onto the local computer. To do this successfully, you should create a new folder for all your files (presentation and videos) on the desktop if possible. Download the presentation and video files from a cloud service, email, or a USB key onto the presentation computer and move them into the folder you created on the desktop. Open the PowerPoint file, and then drag and drop the videos onto the appropriate slides. Do NOT move the presentation or video files after this point, or else you will have to repeat the embedding process.

In terms of the analogy above, this is like mailing the deck of cards with blank cards for where the video should be as well as the VCR tape separately to someone’s office. Once they receive these objects, they store the VCR somewhere, and then write the directions to retrieve the VCR so that it makes sense in their office.

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