Love it or hate it, PowerPoint is a business tool found everywhere. It’s perfectly possible to dive in and get professional-looking results with no formal training, but this means its more advanced features can be easily overlooked.
Here’s a selection of our favourite tips and tricks for PowerPoint, covering everything from creating your presentation to saving, sharing and presenting it. Unless otherwise noted, these features are available in PowerPoint 2007 and later, and in many cases can be used in earlier versions, too.
Creating the perfect presentation
Use SmartArt to show structure
SmartArt lets you quickly turn text and graphics into informative visual layouts
SmartArt can help you create visualisations of lists, processes, cycles, hierarchies, pyramids and more in only a few clicks. Click Insert | SmartArt and choose an appropriate design, then enter your text in the pop-up window at the left of your SmartArt object, using the Tab key to express hierarchies. You can adjust colour and formatting by right-clicking and using the contextual palette. PowerPoint 2010 and 2013 include SmartArt templates for working with graphical content as well as text.
Use sections to keep everything in order
PowerPoint’s Slide Sorter view lets you re-order slides by dragging them around. In PowerPoint 2010 and 2013, you can organise your presentation on a larger scale by dividing it into sections: simply right-click in the Slide Sorter or Slide Pane view and select Add Section (selected slides are automatically moved to the new section). You can move sections around by dragging the section header, and apply design changes to entire sections by clicking a header to select all the slides in that section.
Place elements exactlywhere you want them
You can nudge elements into place using the cursor keys. If you hold down Ctrl while nudging, the element will move in much smaller steps, helping you position things precisely. Hold down Shift and tap the cursor keys to shrink or grow elements; hold down Alt and the cursor keys to rotate pictures and textboxes; hold down Ctrl at the same time to nudge the scale or rotation by smaller increments.
Use the Animation Painter
Animations are best used sparingly, and if you want to animate multiple elements in your presentation it’s best to keep things consistent. In PowerPoint 2010 or 2013, you can set up one element with your desired animation, then click on it, select Animation Painter (in the Advanced Animation section of the Animations tab) and click on a second element to apply the same animation settings. This works with all types of animations, including custom motion paths of your own choosing, and it also works with complex chains of effects.
Align and distribute
If you need to line up boxes and images neatly, simply select the elements you want to tidy up (use Shift+click or Ctrl+click to select multiple elements), then click the Arrange dropdown on the Home tab. Under the Align submenu, you’ll find options to align the tops, middles or sides of all the selected objects. You can also distribute items horizontally or vertically to even out the spacing between them.
Grouping elements together lets you move, scale and format them as one. Simply select the elements you want to group, then right-click and select Group | Group. To select individual objects within a group, click on the group, then click again on the object. To dissolve a group, right-click and select Group | Ungroup; if you later want to recreate the group, right-click on any object that was part of the group and select Group | Regroup.
Edit images within PowerPoint
PowerPoint’s built-in graphic-editing tools help you tidy up and customise the images in your presentation
Imported images can be resized and tidied up directly within PowerPoint 2010 or 2013. From the Picture Tools | Format tab (which appears when you select an image), you can crop out parts of a picture, adjust the brightness and contrast, tweak the colour tone and even apply artistic effects. You can also remove the background from an image: PowerPoint tries to guess which portions of the image should be removed, and, if it doesn’t get it 100% correct, you can add marks to indicate which areas of the image should be cut away.
Customise the ribbon
In PowerPoint 2010 and 2013, you can put your favourite commands on a custom ribbon tab for easy access. Click on the File tab, select Options and go to the Customize Ribbon pane. From here you can use the New Tab and New Group buttons to set up your new tab, then drag your desired commands across from the left-hand column. To find commands that aren’t normally exposed, select “Commands Not in the Ribbon” in the left-hand column.
Insert date and time
A simple tip, but a useful one: on the Insert tab, you’ll see a button for Date & Time. This lets you include the date and time – either fixed or live – in the body or footer of your slides, and separately on notes and handouts.
Use Ctrl+Return to move quickly between fields and slides
Pressing Ctrl+Return while entering text moves your cursor into the next text field on the slide. If you’re in the last field on the slide, this key combination inserts a new slide and places your cursor in the top text field. Using this method, you can set up the framework of a new presentation very quickly, with barely any need to touch
Use grids and guides to help with positioning
In the Home tab, click Arrange | Align; at the bottom of the menu that appears, you’ll see an option for Grid Settings. The dialog that opens includes an option to snap objects to other objects, and also lets you display smart guides (dotted lines that show when the top, bottom, middle or side of an object is aligned with that of another object). You can also enable drawing guides, which show the horizontal and vertical mid-points of each slide. In PowerPoint 2013, these show when the spacing between objects is regular, too.
Use Quick Styles for a consistent look
The Quick Styles dropdown lends a consistent character to panels and textboxes. Select the element you want to style and hover over the Quick Style options to see the effect. Each style is initially offered in a choice of seven colours, but you can use the Shape Fill tool to customise the colour of any styled element.
SAVING AND SHARING
Before sending a large presentation by email or sharing it online, you may want to shrink it down. You can do this by clicking Compress Pictures under the Picture Tools | Format tab. The dialog lets you discard cropped areas of pictures, and reduce the pixel density to suit a variety of purposes. The maximum 220ppi setting may save the space you need, so try this before going lower.
When you view your presentation on a client’s PC, your chosen font might not be available – potentially throwing off the positioning of your text. To ensure this doesn’t happen, go to File | Options, open the Save pane and tick “Embed fonts in the file”. It’s best to embed all characters, even if you don’t plan to edit the presentation: a typeface typically adds less than 100KB to the file, and this way you’ll be able to make last-minute changes if need be.
Choose the right aspect ratio
You may be designing your presentation on a widescreen monitor, but many projectors have a 4:3 aspect ratio. PowerPoint adapts slides to the shape of the display, but it’s best to target the right aspect ratio in the first place to ensure everything will appear in the right place. Under the Design tab, you’ll find the Page Setup button that lets you specify the shape of your slides.
Make your presentation play automatically
For a professional look, you can make your slideshow start automatically as soon as you double-click on its icon. To achieve this, save it in PowerPoint Show (PPSX) format rather than the default Presentation (PPTX) format. You can still edit a PPSX file in PowerPoint by opening it from the File | Open dialog or dragging its icon into the window.
Create a video of your presentation
Want to share or distribute your presentation in video form? This is easy in PowerPoint 2010 and 2013. Under the File tab, click Save & Send; under the File Types options, click Create a Video. You can set options for resolutions and timings, then click Create Video to output the file in WMV format. If you want your video to include narration, you can record it via the Insert | Audio dropdown.
Broadcast over the web
You can easily embed a video in a web page, but if you want people to follow in real-time – perhaps on a live conference call – you can use the built-in Broadcast feature in PowerPoint 2010 and 2013. Click File | Save & Send, select Broadcast Slide Show and then click Start Broadcast. You’ll be prompted to enter your Windows Live ID (your viewers will need ID s too), then a link to the broadcast will be generated. Share this with your audience however you wish and, once everyone’s logged in, click Start Slide Show to begin stepping through your slides.
Use Presenter View
Presenter View lets you see an overview of your slideshow and notes while presenting
PowerPoint’s Presenter View lets you output your slides to a projector or large screen, and still use a laptop or a secondary monitor to see an overview of the slides and any of your accompanying notes at the same time. To activate it, tick the relevant box under the Slide Show tab. Make sure the “Show on:” dropdown is set to the audience’s display, so your notes appear on the correct screen. In PowerPoint 2013, you can rehearse in Presenter View with only a single monitor, then hook up the main display when needed.
Blank the screen during pauses
If you need to take a break while presenting your slideshow, tap W to temporarily turn the screen white, or B to turn it black; pressing any key or clicking the mouse will resume your slideshow. You can also use the comma and full-stop keys to the same effect. To hide the mouse pointer, press A; it will reappear when you click, or when you move the mouse more than a certain distance.
Draw on your slides
Press Ctrl+P while in Presentation mode and your mouse pointer will turn into a drawing cursor, which you can use to sketch annotations on top of your slides. Ctrl+E switches to Eraser mode, while Ctrl+A switches you back to the regular mouse pointer. When your presentation is over, you’ll be given the option of keeping or discarding your annotations, which can be very handy for any educational presentations.
Use your mouse as a laser pointer
In PowerPoint 2010 and 2013, if you want to draw attention to a particular part of a slide, all you need to do is hold down Ctrl, then click and drag the mouse: this activates PowerPoint’s “laser pointer” feature. To hide the pointer, simply let go of the mouse button. You can change the colour of the pointer and the annotation pen by going to the Slide Show tab and clicking Set Up Slide Show.
Jump to a particular slide
If you need to cut your presentation short, or jump back to an earlier point, you can skip directly to any slide by typing its number – don’t worry that you’re seemingly typing into nothingness – and pressing Return. If you type a number higher than the last slide number, PowerPoint will simply jump to your final slide, which is a handy trick in itself. Obviously you’ll need to know the numbers of your slides, so it’s worth keeping a printed overview of your slides to hand, or working on your memory.
It can be useful to assign timings to your slides so they advance automatically as you speak. If there’s an interruption, simply tap S to suspend the timer; press S again when you’re ready to resume. You don’t get any visual feedback to show whether the timer is on or off, so use this feature with care. But at least your audience shouldn’t be aware of any timing issues.
Have a tip? Add yours in the comment area below.