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The Text to Speech features or ‘TTS’ for short can be used within Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. The TTS engine is installed by default when Microsoft Office is installed so we just need to make it easier to find within each tool.
For Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and OneNote, we can add the Speak command to the Quick Access Toolbar. Next to the Quick Access Toolbar, click the down arrow and select More Commands (Figure 1). In the dropdown box labeled Choose commands from select All Commands.
Scroll through the list on the left and click Speak. Click the Add button so it appears in the right hand list (Figure 2). Click OK and now you should see the Speak button in your Quick Access Toolbar.
Excel offers five different buttons to control speech. In addition to the basic Speak Cells button four additional buttons exist. Excel lets you specify if you want to read cells by row or column and whether or not it should read cells back to you after you hit ENTER.
To add the speech functionality buttons to Excel follow the same procedure that we followed for the other Office applications. This time, you can add any or all five of the Speech buttons to the Excel Quick Access Toolbar (Figure 3).
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Using Text to Speech
The base Office applications of Word, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook all work the same when it comes to TTS. Once you have the text to speech button on your toolbar, you can easily have your programs read to you by selecting the text you want read and then press the Speech button. The easiest way to select all text in a document is to place your cursor in the document you want to highlight and then press the CTRL+A button. This will also work for emails in Outlook.
As mentioned earlier, using text to speech in Excel is a bit different. Selecting the first cell in a table and pressing the Speak cells button will automatically highlight all cells in that table and will read across each row before moving to the next row. You can read down each column instead by pressing the Speak cells by column button.
The Speak cells on Enter does just that – with the button toggled it will speak the contents of each cell as you type and press Enter.
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Modifying Reading Speed
As natural speech is a complicated thing, it is difficult and costly to replace the built in voice with a different voice. One thing you can easily do however is change the speed at which text is read.
Click on the Start button and type speech. Click on the Change text to speech settings option. The Speech Properties window will open (Figure 4). To change the speed, simply drag the slider towards ‘slow’ or ‘fast’ under the Voice speed heading. Click OK.
Although the text to speech feature is extremely easy and useful to use, it is an often overlooked feature in Microsoft Office. Take a look and try to free up your hands and eyes to be more productive!