How to quickly convert Powerpoint slides to Beamer (and indent the code nicely too)

Like most economists, I like to present my research using Beamer. This is in part for costly signaling reasons – doing my slides via TeX proves that I am smart/diligent enough to do that. But it’s also for stylistic reasons: Beamer can automatically put a little index at the top of my slides  so people know where I am going, and I like the default fonts and colors.

Moreover, Beamer forces me to obey the First Law of Slidemaking: get all those extra words off your slides. Powerpoint will happily rescale things and let you put tons of text on the screen at once. Beamer – unless you mess with it heavily – simply won’t, and so forces you to make short, parsimonious bullet points (and limit how many you use).

Not everyone is on the same page about which tool to use all the time, which in the past has occasionally meant I needed to take my coauthor’s Powerpoint slides and copy them into Beamer line-by-line. Fortunately, today I found a solution for automating that process.

StackExchange user Louis has a post where he shares VBA code that can quickly move your Powerpoint slides over to Beamer. His code is great but I wasn’t totally happy with the output so I made a couple of tweaks to simplify it a bit. You can view and download my code here; I provide it for free with no warranties, guarantees, or promises. Use at your own risk.

Here is how to use it:

  1. Convert your slides to .ppt format using “Save As”. (The code won’t work on .pptx files).
  2. Put the file in its own folder that contains nothing else. WARNING: If files with the same names as those used by the code are in this folder they will be overwritten.
  3. Download the VBA code here (use at your own risk).
  4. Open up the Macros menu in Powerpoint (You can add it via “Customize the Ribbon”. Hit “New Group” on the right and rename it “Macros”, then select “Macros” on the left and hit “Add”.)
  5. Type “ConvertToBeamer” under “Macro name”, then hit “Create”
  6. Select all the text in the window that appears and delete it. Paste the VBA code in.
  7. Save, then close the Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications window.
  8. Hit the Macros button again, select “ConvertToBeamer” and run it.
  9. There will now be a .txt file with the Beamer code for your slides in it. (It won’t compile without an appropriate header.) If your file is called “MySlides.ppt” the text file will be “MySlides.txt”
  10. You need to manually fix a few special characters, as always when importing text into TeX. Look out for $, %, carriage returns, and all types of quotation marks and apostrophes. I also found that some tables came through fine while others needed manual tweaking.

One issue I had with the output was that it didn’t have any indentations, making it hard to recognize nested bullets. Fortunately I found this page that will indent TeX code automatically.

I found this to be a huge time saver. Even with figuring it out for the first time, tweaking the code, and writing this post, it still probably saved me several hours of work. Hopefully others find this useful as well.


About Jason Kerwin
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