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Four easy tips for PowerPoint users

PowerPoint users of all expertise levels can benefit from applying a few of Susan Harkins favorite shortcuts.

Everyone agrees that PowerPoint is a powerful presentation tool. Knowing your way around is the key to working efficiently and productively. Whether you use it all the time or infrequently, you can probably put a few of my favorite tips to work for you. These tips aren't related in nature, but you'll likely find them useful.

Tip 1: Don't print the slide background

Most presentations share a common background, whether it's a simple color, a graphic, or a built-in design theme. Using the same background is a good practice, but it can get in the way when you're printing. Printing the background wastes ink, and not everything that looks good on screen prints equally as well. Often, the slide background renders the printed material difficult to read.

If you're printing handouts via the Print tab, PowerPoint will exclude the background graphics automatically. On the other hand, if you're printing the actual slides, you might want to hide the background while printing. Here's how:

  1. Right-click a slide's background and choose Format Background.
  2. Check the Hide background graphics option (Figure A).
    Figure A
    Figure A
  3. Click Close or Apply to all. Close will hide the graphic of only the current slide. Choosing Apply to all will hide the graphic for all of the slides.

Tip 2: Make pictures seem to fit the slide

Pictures (and other large graphics) don't always completely fill the slide. These files either fit or they don't. Trying to force a fit usually distorts the picture. When this happens, the background graphic or color shows, which you might not want. A picture can look a bit out of place surrounded by the presentation's other design features or a background color that competes or even distracts, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Figure B

The contrasting background draws the viewers' attention.

It's true that you can't force the fit, but you can give the illusion that the picture fits. The technique is incredibly simple: change the slide's background color to black. That's it! Because the screen is black during a presentation, the slide's black background disappears and all your viewers see is the picture, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Figure C

The black background allows the picture to stand out and the viewers see the picture, not the contrasting background.

Tip 3: Name objects

When you add an object — picture, shape, and so on — PowerPoint assigns it a default name. These names aren't descriptive, and if you have only a few, that won't matter. However, if you have numerous objects, it's helpful to give them names that mean something to you. That way, you can easily select them. Figure D shows a few overlapping oval shapes of different colors. In the Selection pane, you'd not know one from the other.

Figure D

Figure D

PowerPoint's default object names aren't particularly meaningful.

Giving each object a meaningful name will help you find and select the objects you need quickly. You can name objects as follows:

  1. Click the Home tab.
  2. In the Editing group, choose Selection Pane from the Select drop-down menu.
  3. Double-click an object, slowly. The first click will select the actual shape. The second click will insert the cursor for editing (Figure E). If that doesn't happen, try again, clicking slower.
    Figure E
    Figure E
  4. Some versions of PowerPoint will select the name, but PowerPoint 2013 doesn't. Replace the name with a more meaningful name (Figure F).
    Figure F
    Figure F
  5. Repeat the above until all the objects have names (Figure G).
    Figure G
    Figure G

Once you give the objects meaningful names, you can quickly select the object you intend the first time. Names are especially helpful when objects are stacked, hiding objects beneath the top one. Simply select the object by name in the Selection pane instead of moving objects on top of the stack to access those buried beneath.

Tip 4: Quick access to the master slide

While working in Normal view, you might want to visit the master slide to make modifications. You can do this the long way or the short way. Using the scenic route, you click the View tab and then click the Slide Master option in the Presentation Views group. When you're ready to return to Normal view, click Close Master View in the Close group. Here's the shorter route: simply hold down the [Shift] key and click the Normal icon (Figure H) on the Status bar. To quickly return to Normal view, click the icon again, without holding down [Shift].

Figure H

Figure H

The Normal icon provides quick access to the master slide.

Admittedly, this route isn't a lot quicker than the ribbon route, but it's easily accessible, and knowing more than one way to do something is always helpful. Here are a few more [Shift] key shortcuts:

  • Hold down the [Shift] key when drawing a line to get a straight line.
  • Hold down the [Shift] key when drawing an oval to get a circle.
  • Hold down the [Shift] key when drawing a rectangle to get a square.
  • Hold down the [Shift] key while clicking Slide Sorter (on the Status bar) to access the handout master.

More tips?

We can all benefit from each other's experience. What are your favorite time-saving PowerPoint tips? Share your favorite tips in the discussion thread below.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise, nor do I ask for a fee from readers. You can contact me at susansalesharkins@gmail.com.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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