You decide to take the plunge and embed a sales video into your Powerpoint presentation. It looks good, and plays well on your own computer at work, but when you get to the conference to test it, you see nothing but a black (or white) square where your video used to be.

Here are a few places to start your troubleshooting if you don’t have the benefit of a technician to help you.

We’ll start with the most common mistakes (and often most easily fixed), and work our way into more obtuse and arcane problems.

#1: Did you bring the movie clip?

I know it’s called embedding, but Powerpoint doesn’t really keep a copy of the media file — you need to bring both bits with you. Read my suggestions for multimedia pre-flight preparation to make sure your files all arrive in one piece.

#2: The link to the movie is broken

If you see a black box where your movie should be, and double-clicking the movie in the edit window causes a “cannot find file” error, Powerpoint has lost track of the movie.

Did you put all of your movies and the Powerpoint file into a single folder (good), or were they spread out in sub-folders or in other locations on your hard drive (bad)? If you have movies in separate folders, moving the presentation (to a flash drive, to another folder) will break them.

However, If you have already linked them this way, all is not lost. If you dump all the linked movie files into the same folder as the presentation file, Powerpoint will ignore the path, and link to them again. Remember, no subfolders! Thanks to Denise C-R for this great solution.

If there are only a few movies, the fastest solution can be to simply to re-embed the files from scratch:

  1. Delete the original movie placeholder
  2. Insert the movie again (remember [alt][i][v][f] gets you to the insert video dialog)
  3. Size it appropriately
  4. Test your presentation one final time

#3: The movie only plays on one screen. (while mirrored)

So, you ran your presentation a dozen times on the plane, and it was perfect. At the conference however, you click the movie, and can see it playing on your laptop screen. Only, halfway through the clip you look up to see that the secondary display is showing a big black rectangle where your movie is supposed to be.

What Powerpoint devilry is at work here?!

Actually, the fault likely lies with your laptop graphics card. When you are playing to 2 screens, even when the screen is mirrored, your graphics card has to split its resources to drive each output. Some cards don’t have the punch to render DVD or multimedia video on both screens simultaneously.

The fastest solution is to toggle your screen so that the output is only to the external monitor. This will overcome this issue, but you will lose the ability to see your laptop screen, which may be a deal-breaker if you use it as a local monitor to see your slides.

Another solution is to reduce your graphics card hardware acceleration.

In XP, do the following: right-click the desktop, select [Properties]. In the last tab [Settings], click [Advanced]. Select the [Troubleshoot] tab, and drag the ‘Hardware acceleration‘ slider until the 3rd click from the left. [Apply] it.

Load up the PPT slide with the embedded movie, and be sure that you’re outputting to both screens. Can you see the media on both? Great.

Keep in mind, changing this setting may impact other software that relies on hardware acceleration, i.e. certain DVD player software. I always find it’s a good idea to make a notepad document on the desktop with the game-day changes I’m making so that I can remember how to undo all the damage when the show is over.

While you’re at it, did you ensure that:

  1. Your energy saver settings are to ‘Presentation’?
  2. Your screen saver is off?
  3. Your power adapter (all the pieces) is in your computer bag

#4: You get a white rectangle where the movie should be

Oddly, if the file and path name to the movie are longer than 128 characters, the file might not play. Microsoft says very little about this problem. Consider that the typical path to your desktop, c:\Documents and Settings\username\Desktop\ uses up about 43 of those suckers, leaving you with 80+ characters to go, including the file extension (i.e .wmv).

#5: You get a white rectangle where the movie should be (and the filename thingy doesn’t apply)

This is typically an issue where a movie was linked on a comuter that did have the ability to play it, and then moved it to a computer that doesn’t. When you try to play the movie — BAM! — white square. How does this happen? Well, Powerpoint on a Windows machine relies on the MCI (Media Control Interface) to run content. It could be that:

  1. Your video codec (.divx is a good example) is not part of the Windows MCI player’s repertoire. On the original editing machine, extra codecs may have been installed that are not available on the presentation machine.
  2. You created the slide deck on a Mac. On Apple machines, Quicktime is responsible for what MCI does on a PC, so Quicktime movies (.MOV, .M4V, etc.) will embed into your Mac-based presentation, but will not play if migrated over to a Windows machine. This also includes certain image files (.TIF and .PDF) which are handled by Quicktime and the Mac OS natively, but are not supported by Microsoft Powerpoint on PC.

To check whether your movie file will play inside Powerpoint, load the MCI player directly,

Start - Run, and in the command line type “mplayer.exe” (or “mplayer32.exe” for WinNT)]

then try to open the file in question. If it plays, great! It will also work within Powerpoint. If not, you will need a workaround.

What about Windows Media Player or Quicktime?

Windows Media Player is a different animal than MCI player, and may be able to play your video clip. If this is the case, Microsoft provides suggestions on how to play media clips in PowerPoint by using Windows Media Player. Or try here. Or read our article on Powerpoint media workarounds. This will also work with Quicktime files.

In Conclusion

I can tell you from experience that even running through this list sometimes will not solve the problem. I can only emphasize the need to provide consistent computers throughout a conference, and provide a speaker ready room to your presenters — a location to test out their presentions in a “live” environment, complete with projectors and show computers, and maybe a coffee station in the corner. Test it out and then don’t change anything

It takes the pressure off your presenters and allows them to stop worrying about technical problems and focus on engaging their audience.