Boost Engagement with PowerPoint Subtitles 

By: Verbit Editorial
microsoft and PowerPoint

Microsoft’s PowerPoint software is the most widely used presentation platform in the world. People give as many as 35 million PowerPoint presentations every day. PowerPoint can be a valuable tool for business meetings and webinars, as well as educational courses and lectures.

Given the popularity of PowerPoint as a presentation medium, it’s fair to say that individuals of extremely varied and diverse backgrounds regularly engage with them. While PowerPoints can be incredibly useful as visual learning tools, some individuals may still find it difficult to fully focus on these presentations. Adding PowerPoint subtitles or captions to lectures and classes can make them more accessible and engaging for everyone.

Table of Contents:

Microsoft PowerPoint basics

PowerPoint is a software program for creating slides that support or reinforce messages from classes, meetings or lectures. People commonly use PowerPoint in educational settings, but they have also remained popular in business environments. In both settings they help to clarify information from in-person and online meetings.

Generally speaking, a PowerPoint presentation will include bullet-points and summaries that correspond to specific parts of a lecture or discussion. These presentations can also include images and visual data representations like graphs and charts. Overall, the purpose of a PowerPoint presentation is to provide visual support for information that a speaker or teacher is sharing. Best practices for PowerPoint presentations dictate that the text should be succinct and easy-to-read, rather than a word-for-word rendering of what the speaker says.

PowerPoint presentations can certainly improve engagement for individuals with more visual or multimodal learning styles. However, these presentations aren’t a sufficient accessibility resource for viewers or attendees who are Deaf or hard of hearing. They also do not fully convey the message of a lecture to those with auditory processing disorders. To accommodate all viewers, presentations need additional accessibility solutions.

A woman with her presentation in front of a room full of people

Subtitles and captions: the basics

Subtitles and captions convey a word-for-word visual account of the audio components of a meeting, lecture or class. For example, captions can capture everything a lecturer says and converts them to text that displays on-screen. This tool improves accessibility for viewers who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

If you’re looking to add captions to your presentation, you will likely encounter the term “subtitles” in PowerPoint user guides and even within the program itself. However, it’s important to keep in mind that subtitles and captions are distinct from one another.

Subtitles specifically represent the spoken text of a presentation. Non-speech audio elements like sound effects, pauses, stammers or repeated words don’t display as a part of subtitles. The reason for this is that subtitles are an accommodation for viewers consuming video content in a non-native language. If the objective is merely to provide a PowerPoint translation, subtitles alone may sufficiently meet your needs. However, if your intention is to provide an accurate textual rendering of a presentation for accessibility reasons, PowerPoint captions would likely be the better option.

Captions convey ALL audio elements of a recording. They can include notations like:


[clears throat]

 [elevator music]

Because they’re more comprehensive, captions are able to offer an equitable experience to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Accurate closed captioning of presentations in person and online is a great way to support accessibility standards like the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, captioning can improve engagement among diverse audiences.

A man conducting a meeting in a conference room of 5 people sitting with their laptops

How to Add Subtitles and Captions in PowerPoint

Captions are a critical tool for accessibility. Fortunately, it’s easy to learn how to add captions in PowerPoint. PowerPoint currently offers real-time captioning using automatic speech recognition technology. Speakers can enable live captioning before a presentation, and the artificial intelligence will generate a text version of their speech. The captions will then display on screen in real time.

Microsoft’s site provides the following guidance for how to add subtitles to a PowerPoint presentation:

  1. On the Slide Show ribbon tab, select Subtitle Settings.
  2. Use Spoken Language to see the voice languages that PowerPoint can recognize and select the language that the speaker will use.
  3. Use Subtitle Language to see which languages PowerPoint can display on-screen as captions or subtitles and select the one you want. It’s possible to enable subtitles in the same language as the spoken text or to change the content to translate the presentation into a language of your choice.
  4. In the Subtitle Settings menu, set the desired position of the captions or subtitles.
  5. Click Subtitle Settings > More Settings to adjust the color, size and font of your captions.

How do I turn on subtitles in PowerPoint?

From slide show or presenter view, you can click “toggle subtitles.” The shortcut key J will also turn on subtitles. Alternatively, it’s possible to have subtitles on every time you start a presentation. To do this, use the ribbon, navigate to “subtitles” and select “always use subtitles.”

Although the automatic captioning workflow may be convenient and easy-to-use, there are some significant drawbacks. For instance, it’s important to understand that captions ASR technology generates tend to fall short of relevant accuracy requirements. Inaccurate captions don’t provide equitable experiences for people who are Deaf. As a result, they aren’t generally sufficient for use as an accessibility tool. For accurate closed captions, PowerPoint users will want to consider working with a professional captioning service like Verbit.

A raised arm

Verbit boosts accessibility and accuracy

Verbit is a professional provider of captioning and transcription services that deliver on accuracy without compromising on efficiency. By using a dual approach to transcription, Verbit streamlines the captioning process. Verbit relies on its artificial intelligence software to generate a first draft. Next, experienced professional human transcribers edit the results to generate captions with targeted accuracy rates of up to 99%.

Captioning a video recording of a PowerPoint presentation on Verbit’s platform is simple. You just upload your file to Verbit’s platform, and the AI and transcribers complete the captions. Once the process is complete, you can download your file. Verbit offers various file formats that are compatible with popular media hosting sites like YouTube and Vimeo making it easier than ever to offer accessible content.

For events and lectures, Verbit’s team can also provide live captions in PowerPoint. Verbit offers seamless software integrations with platforms like Panopto, WebEx and Zoom in order to streamline the process of adding live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint. For these events, one of Verbit’s pros will tune in and, in real time, transcribe the spoken text of a presentation.

After the event, Verbit’s transcribers will review the PowerPoint live captions and edit them for accuracy. You can then export this final caption file and use it if you post video a video of the presentation online. Verbit can also create a searchable transcript that attendees can easily refer back to for study or research purposes.

Everyone can benefit from accessibility technology

With the ever-growing popularity of remote and hybrid work and educational environments, it’s important to consider how to communicate effectively across multiple platforms. Captions can significantly improve accessibility for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. However, the benefits don’t stop there. Viewers with ADHD and auditory processing disorders may also prefer the additional clarity that accurate captions provide. Similarly, remote workers may periodically find themselves tuning in for workplace communications in noisy or distracting environments. In those situations, as well, captioning presentations can cut back on distractions and streamline messaging for all.

Verbit offers a full suite of accessibility tools like captioning, transcription, audio description and translation services to promote more effective and inclusive communications both on and offline. Offering these resources proactively is a great way for business and educational leaders to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion while also contributing to increased productivity. Reach out today to learn more about how Verbit’s technology solutions can help your institution provide equitable messaging for every member of your community and help you get the most out of your events, meetings, lectures and more.