Pro tip: Create a callout in PowerPoint

Publishers use callouts to give emphasis to an important quote or fact. Susan Harkins explains how you can use the same technique to distinguish important values from other details on a PowerPoint slide.

PowerPoint tip

Displaying lots detailed data on a PowerPoint slide isn't a great idea, but sometimes you have no choice. If you need to emphasize a specific value or detail, you can use a publishing element — known as a callout — to ensure your viewers can distinguish the details you want to discuss. A callout is a short string of text that's displayed using a larger font than the rest of the printed page. You can focus your audience's attention to an important detail using the same technique.

You can work with most any PowerPoint slide that has a few lines of detailed text — or you can download the example .ppt or .pptx file.

The problem

Figure A shows a table of detailed information on a single slide. There are lots of reasons to not display data this way, but you might have no choice. Hidden in all those details is information you want to highlight. As you can see, a simple highlight doesn't help.

Figure A

Figure A

There's not much you can do to make this slide more readable.

A built-in zoom

If you're lucky, PowerPoint's built-in zoom might be all you need. During the slide show, right-click the slide and choose Zoom In. PowerPoint will display a rectangular highlight that you can drag where you want it. Then, simply click to quickly zoom in on a specific area of your slide. If it's adequate, use it and don't work harder than you have to. However, if you want something larger or more distinct, you might try the callout solution.

The solution

If you must show all the details, you can emphasize a specific string or set of values by creating a duplicate, cropping out everything but the emphasized data, and then enlarging the cropped area. First, you need to duplicate the original table or document. To do so, simply select it and press [Ctrl]+[C] to copy it to the Clipboard. Then press [Ctrl]+[V] to paste it. Drag the copy to a convenient area so you can work with it, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Figure B

Once you have a duplicate, you're ready to crop all the extraneous details.

If you're working with an inserted picture, you can skip the following step. However, if you're working with a table of text, you might want to save the duplicate as a picture so you can easily crop it:

  1. Select the duplicate table.
  2. Right-click it, and choose Save as Picture (Figure C).
    Figure C
    Figure C
  3. Enter a name for your picture file, select a location, and click Save.

At this point, you can delete your duplicate. Next, insert it as a picture file:

  1. Click the Insert tab.
  2. Click Pictures in the Illustrations group.
  3. Using the Insert Picture dialog, locate your picture file, select it, and click Insert.

Now, you're ready to crop the duplicate picture file, as follows:

  1. Select the duplicate picture file (if necessary).
  2. On the contextual Format tab, click the Crop tool in the Size group.
  3. Use the cropping marks (circled in Figure D) to remove the details, leaving only the record you want to callout (Figure D).
    Figure D
    Figure D
  4. When you've removed everything but the detail you want to emphasize, click Crop to permanently crop the picture.

With the cropped picture still selected, add a border:

  1. Click the Picture Border drop-down in the Picture Styles group.
  2. Choose an outline weight (Figure E).
    Figure E
    Figure E

Resize the cropped picture to enlarge it. Simply grab one of the corner resize handles and stretch it, as shown in Figure F. At this point, you can continue to resize and crop as necessary until the cropped picture shows only the details that are important to your audience.

Figure F

Figure F

Enlarge the cropped picture.

As you can see in Figure G, I cropped out everything but one value — the total number of one specific species. The end results will depend on your needs.

Figure G

Figure G

Remove everything but the most important details.

A variation

If you want to keep more of the information but still draw attention to a specific value, you can do so by adding a bit of color to your callout. Figure H shows this type of arrangement. I stacked an appropriately sized yellow rectangle with a transparency setting of 75% over the value I want to emphasize. Although it's easy, the text loses a bit of its sharpness. If the quality is good enough, that's great.

Figure H

Figure H

Adding a color rectangle.

If you want the text to retain its crisp quality, you can employ a second callout. First, select the callout and copy it. Select the copy and do the following:

  1. Choose Recolor from the Adjust group.
  2. Select More Variations and choose a color from the resulting palette (Figure I).
    Figure I
    Figure I
  3. PowerPoint's Live Preview feature shows the color in the object as you hover. When you find the color you like, click it.
  4. With the color duplicate selected, use the Crop tool to reduce it to the size of the emphasized value.
  5. Drag the reduced duplicate to the original callout and drop it on top of the original value (Figure J).
    Figure J
    Figure J
  6. To keep the two callouts together, select them both and choose Group from the Arrange drop-down (in the Drawing group).

After creating the callout, you'll probably spend a bit of time dragging it around until you find just the right spot for it. For better or worse, it might obscure some of the table's data. That won't always be the case, but in this example, it is.

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

About Susan Harkins

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.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox