Creating PowerPoint presentations that reach out

A slide show doesn't have to tell the whole story by itself. Teach your students this simple yet powerful trick for jumping from a presentation to supplemental information.

Your PowerPoint students may be responsible for developing presentations as part of a sales campaign, to conduct training, or to deliver business-critical information. But regardless of the circumstances, sooner or later they’ll need to include supporting data and examples to illustrate and reinforce their message. One of the slickest ways to incorporate such supplemental information in a presentation is to add hyperlinks to slides. PowerPoint simplifies this task by offering a navigational tool called an “action button,” which allows presenters to quickly jump to another slide, another presentation, or even to a file in a different application (such as a worksheet) or a Web page. Action buttons are simple to set up and fun to demo in class, and they can transform even the most mundane presentation into a sophisticated and effective production. Here’s a basic exercise you can present to your PowerPoint students to help them master this feature. All you need is a sample presentation and an Excel workbook to use as your destination.

The scenario
Let’s assume that you’ve created a presentation that introduces departmental objectives for the next six months. One slide lists several bulleted objectives, including Reduce Spending. To back up this objective, you want to show the audience certain areas where spending can be cut back—so you decide to jump to an Excel worksheet that tracks purchase orders.

To provide supplemental information for the Reduce Spending objective, we’ll add an action button that links to a purchase order worksheet in Excel.

Adding the button
To create a button that will take you to the worksheet from the current slide, follow these steps:
  1. Choose Action Buttons from the Slide Show menu and select a button style. We’ll use the Information button here.
  2. Click and drag on the slide to draw the button. When you release the mouse button, PowerPoint will display the Action Settings dialog box with the Mouse Click tab selected.

When you insert an action button, PowerPoint will present this dialog box.

  1. Select the Hyperlink To option, and choose Other File from the Hyperlink To drop-down list. PowerPoint will display the Hyperlink To Other File dialog box. Just choose the file you want the button to open, click OK, and then click OK again to close the Action Settings dialog box.

At this point, you may want to show your students that they can format the button just as they would any other slide object. They can also resize the button and drag it wherever they want on the slide.

We reformatted the basic Information button and placed it at the bottom of the slide.

When the button setup is complete, you can put it through its paces. But first, a word of warning.
We found out the hard way that if Excel’s AutoSave add-in is activated, it can derail the execution of this technique. If Excel isn’t running when you click the action button to jump to the worksheet, PowerPoint will get tired of waiting for the add-in to load and will present the error,“The action cannot be completed because the application to which you are navigating is busy.” One solution is to deactivate AutoSave by choosing Add-Ins from Excel’s Tools menu and clearing the AutoSave check box prior to delivering the presentation. However, this isn’t a particularly good strategy, because users may forget to turn the feature back on—and AutoSave provides an important safety net. A better approach is to simply launch Excel before beginning the slide show. Of course, these shenanigans aren’t necessary if you’re jumping to another presentation, Web page, or Word document.
Making the jump
To test the new action button, begin by clicking Slide Show to launch the show with the current slide displayed. Click on the action button, and PowerPoint will open the associated Excel file on top of the slide you’re viewing. Instant data! When you’re ready to return to the slide display, you can minimize Excel or click Back on the Web toolbar in the Excel window.

Other actions
After you share this specific technique, you may want to show your class some additional features of the Action Settings dialog box. For instance, you might run through the various entries on the Hyperlink To drop-down list and touch on the Run Program and Play Sound options. You may also introduce the Mouse Over tab—but be sure your students realize how easy it is to inadvertently mouse-over a button during a presentation and jump to an unwanted destination.

Other approaches
You’re not restricted to using action buttons to create links such as the one we’ve looked at here. You can right-click on any slide object and choose Action Settings from the shortcut menu to open the Action Settings dialog box and specify a target location. You can also select any object and then click the Hyperlink button. PowerPoint will open the Insert Hyperlink dialog box, where you can use the Link To File Or URL or Named Location In File options to specify a destination for the link.
Have your students presented you with any unusual or especially challenging PowerPoint questions? Share your PowerPoint experiences with other trainers by posting a comment below or by sending us a note to let us know what’s on your mind.


Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

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