Sometimes, you are looking for a great spark that makes your title page or major pivot slide leap off of the screen to your audience. A video background might be just what the doctor ordered. Of course, before you attempt this, you should know that a technique like this should be used sparingly for reasons of taste, performance, and shareability.

Preparing and Inserting the Video

Your source video should be in HD quality if at all possible. There are lots of free video resources out on the web if you know where to look. You should always be sure to review licensing and give credit when it is due.

I like to choose a background that is not too busy or visually distracting that compliments the sentiment of the message. Using short, looping videos is best, as it saves on file size and allows the speaker to stay on the slide without fear of it "ending".

It is best to compress the video as much as possible for the application, and I usually eliminate the audio track.  And, even though PowerPoint does allow you to trim your video once brought in, you should be sure to trim it to the right length before bringing it in.  PowerPoint files get quite large with video embedded - another reason to use video sparingly, other than just taste.

Insert your video from the PowerPoint ribbon

Insert video into PowerPoint

 

Controlling the Video in PowerPoint

I usually choose these options on the Playback tab, under Video Tools.  I loop the video (assuming I have a looped background video), set it to start Automatically, and then Mute the video for good measure - which is important to know since some of you will take the video raw from its source and import it, unedited.

video background in powerpoint

 

Dressing it Up

When placing content over a video or image, there are some key best-practices to follow:

Keep it short. Put up a title and subtitle, a mission statement, or quick customer quote and move on. Remember, this should be used for effect. Your audience will hate you if you build a 50-page training deck with 20 bullet points per slide with a freaking video behind it. 

Make it legible.  Use a font that is bold and large enough to stand off of the background.  You can help this along by ensuring maximum contrast in your color choices and using text shadows to make it pop.  And yes, any one of these choices can be landmines. When in doubt, go bold with your font, go black or white with the color, and the magic word for text shadows is subtlety.

Use an overlay. A flood of black over the video with transparency greatly increases contrast and legibility.  You can also get creative here, and instead of black, bring in a brand color or even a gradient.  Again, be tasteful, and when in doubt, go simple and choose a black overlay.

To insert the overlay, simply draw a rectangle that is the entire size of the artboard.  I usually right-click the object and choose the "Format Shape..." option to get the handy toolbar you see at the right below.   Choose a black fill at about a 50% opacity with no outline.

Advanced PowerPoint technique

Notice the difference between the legibility of text between the bottom where I placed the overlay, versus the text over the raw video.

Fixing the Glitch

You have the knowledge that you need now in order to assemble a good looking slide. But now the fun part where you discover one of the many limitations of PowerPoint high-design.

Once you get this slide into a larger presentation, you'll find that upon arriving at the slide from its predecessor, that there will be a slight pause/glitch as the video is loaded for render.  It is even more pronounced if you have a slide transition in play, as that paused the first frame hangs out until everything is ready.

It is annoying, but I've got the perfect workaround. If you built this as designed, you should now have the background video on the bottom layer, the overlay layer on layer two, with the text/content layer on top.  You will now add a fourth layer on top of EVERYTHING, even covering the content layer.  This will be another black rectangle, but this time it will be solid, not transparent.

Why is it annoying?  Well, you have two overlays now, so editing the contents will mean moving these objects out of the way to make changes, then moving them back in order to test or show the audience.  This obviously makes maintaining and having others use this technique a little challenging.

Tweak and Verify the Animations

Here, I like to fly out the Animation Pane and close the Format Shape panel to make it easier to work and visualize what's going to happen. Click the Animation Pane under the Animations tab.

You will select the black layer you just put in. Change the Start action from On Click to With Previous. The default duration of 0.50 can stay, but add 0.50 to the Delay. You will also drag this object to the top of the list of animations.

You will remove the Pause animation from the video altogether.  Then, select the play animation of the video and change the Start action to With Previous.

All you need now is to test and tweak your animation setting until everything flows smoothly.

 

Final Gotchas:

Hey, listen, I know it's not the best hack in the world, but beauty knows no pain. 

  • It makes it harder to edit your slide (you have to move all of these overlay boxes out of the way to get to your content.  So there, your best bet is to get the content looking good and animating right BEFORE you overlay this stuff.
  • It's also going to ruin any chance of printing the slides.
  • Presenters might need extra coaching to get used to editing and presenting.

 

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