Transitional effects add impact to PowerPoint presentations

Transitional effects can increase a PowerPoint presentation's effectiveness and visual appeal by focusing the audience's attention and breaking up the monotony. But don't overdo it. Find out how to use this feature appropriately and effectively.

Whether you use PowerPoint yourself or simply support PowerPoint users, you should learn how to use transitional effects. The judicious use of these effects can significantly improve a PowerPoint presentation's effectiveness and visual appeal. The effects can:
  • Emphasize a point.
  • Reveal bullet points separately to focus audience attention.
  • Add a dramatic effect.
  • Encourage discussion.

The keys to successfully using transitional effects are careful planning and restraint. When planning a presentation, pick one or two effects and stick with them throughout the presentation. Using too many different effects can confuse or frustrate your audience and generally lead to an unprofessional presentation.

With these precautions in mind, let’s take a look at how easy it is to create transitional effects. To help illustrate the various types of effects, I've put together a sample PowerPoint presentation based on a popular TechRepublic article about motherboard components. I recommend that you download the presentation, open it in PowerPoint, and follow along as I explain why and how you might use different animation effects.

Choose effects that add to the presentation
Before you create your presentation, you should draw a quick storyboard. Nothing too elaborate, simply sketch out the order in which your slides will appear and on which slides you’ll use the transitional effects. Because various effects require the slide to be constructed in a particular manner, a storyboard can save you from constantly having to recreate slides. After deciding on the order, you should next plan which effects you will use.

Remember, less is more when using transitional effects. If you download our sample presentation, you’ll notice it contains a wide variety of transitional effects to illustrate the different types of effects. But don't do this with your presentations. As I mentioned, transitional effects can add to a presentation when used appropriately and in moderation.

There are two basic decisions you must make with every effect: which effect to use and how to time the effect. The organization of your slides and information on each slide will help you decide this. For example, bulleted lists are particularly well suited to transitional effects, as illustrated by the sample presentation's third and fourth slides.

In the third slide of the sample presentation, each bullet point appears individually, which helps emphasize the points separately. You can do this by using the Zoom Out effect paired with the Grouped By First-Level Paragraph option to have each line of the bulleted list zoom in from large letters to smaller letters, one bullet point at a time. On the third sample slide, I timed this effect to occur one second after the title was presented.

On the third slide of the sample, as the speaker tackles each bullet point in turn, he or she can click the mouse and a color-coordinated shape flies in from the left to encircle the appropriate object on the motherboard image, which is next to the bulleted list. This focuses the audience's attention on the specific motherboard component the speaker is discussing. To accomplish the same effect without using the animation would require five separate slides, each highlighting a particular motherboard component.

The fourth slide in this example uses similar transitional effects, but each bullet point requires a mouse click to be displayed and is immediately followed by its accompanying color-coordinated shape.

How do you do that?
When a slide is constructed, it’s divided into separate elements. There is typically a title box, a text box, and sometimes a chart or art box. Once these elements are on the slide, click one of them, and then either right-click the mouse and select Custom Animation, or go to the Slide Show menu at the top of the window and select Custom Animation. The resulting screen will have four tabs, including the Effects tab and the Order & Timing tab.

From the Effects tab you select the particular effect you wish to use. You also set the effect to be used with sound or with a group of text within the selected element (Figure A).

Figure A
The options selected here will cause the title to fly down from the top all at once without any sound.

The Order & Timing tab designates the order in which each individual element appears on the slide and whether it appears by mouse click or automatically after a specified amount of time. Note: If an element is to appear automatically, the time specified is from the point when the previous element appears (Figure B).

Figure B
In this example, the options will cause the title to appear automatically, followed one second later by the text and image.

The Preview button allows you to view the transitional effects as they would occur if no mouse clicks were required. To get a better feel for how the slide will actually appear during a presentation, you must switch to PowerPoint's Slide Show view.

Construct your slides to match the effect
Remember when I mentioned how creating a storyboard can save you the trouble of constantly re-creating slides? Here's why.

People are often tempted to put all of the slide's text into one big box so the bullet points will line up correctly. But if you want the second bullet point to come in at a timed interval after the first bullet point, you need to put the bulleted information into two text boxes so the second box can be activated by a mouse click.

You can still make the bullet points line up exactly by highlighting each box, clicking on a move handle, and then using the arrow keys on the keyboard to position the text boxes so the bullet points align

Experiment with our sample presentation
You can use the basic PowerPoint transitional effects I’ve discussed in this article to go through the sample presentation and check on the settings and see the results. Pay close attention to how long each effect takes and whether it adds or detracts from the presentation. Try removing or rearranging each slide's effects to find a combination that works for you. Then you can incorporate that into your next presentation.