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10 tricks for working more effectively in PowerPoint

PowerPoint is a powerful presentation package, but most of us don't use it often enough to learn its many timesaving tricks. The good news is that you don't have to be an expert to get more mileage out of PowerPoint features. Here's a look as some of the shortcuts and tricks you can use to put PowerPoint to work for you.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: If you don't like the design, pick another

You can build a presentation from scratch, but most of the time a design template is more than adequate. These templates apply consistent design and formatting attributes from the first slide to the last. Click the Slide Design button on the Formatting toolbar to open the Slide Design task pane to get started. (In PowerPoint 2007, choose a design template from the Design group.)

You're not stuck with a design once you choose it. At any time, even after the presentation is complete, you can choose another design. Simply select the one you want; you won't lose any content.

You can also change the design for only selected slides, without actually removing the template from your presentation. In the Slide pane or Slide Sorter View, select the thumbnails that represent the slides you want to change. Next, click on the drop-down arrow beside the desired design in the Apply A Design Template list and choose Apply To Selected Slides (Figure A). (There's no drop-down arrow in PowerPoint 2007; just right-click on the design.) PowerPoint will immediately update the selected slides.

Figure A

#2: Hone for focus

Resist the urge to crowd as much text as you can onto a single slide. If a busy slide doesn't overwhelm your audience, it will most certainly distract them. Instead of listening to you, they'll read ahead.

Once you have a rough draft of your presentation, review it with the following goals in mind:

  • Replace complete sentences with key words and phrases
  • Get rid of unnecessary clip art
  • Remove punctuation

By following these steps, you may reduce content by as much as half, and your presentation will be more focused.

#3: Don't forget The end!

When you come to the end of your presentation, what comes next? If you click out of Slide Show View, your audience will get a behind-the-scenes peek at your work, and you probably want to avoid that. Instead, end your presentation with a slide that maintains the presentation's master slide details but displays a simple message such as Thank you for your support or Thank you for coming.

Of course, the end slide doesn't have to display a message. A blank slide might be adequate. You might even consider combining two end slides: Display a short thank you, or otherwise appropriate message, and follow it with a blank slide. That way, if you click out of the message slide, you're still covered.

Professional presentations include a slide dedicated to ending the presentation. It protects you and cues your audience.

#4: Create your own AutoContent template

The AutoContent Wizard is a great place to start when you're not sure what a presentation should cover. This wizard creates a new presentation using built-in templates, and you can customize the results.

What you might not know is that you can add an existing presentation to the AutoContent Wizard's library. To do so, complete the following steps:

  1. Launch the wizard by choosing New from the File menu.
  2. Click the From AutoContent Wizard link in the New Presentation task pane.
  3. Click Next in the wizard's first pane.
  4. Choose the most appropriate content template category and click Add (Figure B).
  5. Locate your presentation file and click OK.
  6. Quit the wizard.

At this point, the presentation you added is available to use as a content template. Don't let a good, generic presentation go to waste. Most likely, you'll have to customize it, but that's true of any content template you choose.

The AutoContent Wizard isn't available in PowerPoint 2007. Instead, use a themed template. Choose File from the Office menu and select New to get started.

Microsoft offers more free templates.

#5: Send a presentation to Word

PowerPoint can print views, but you can't modify the results much. For instance, you can print handouts or even individual slides, but PowerPoint just prints a hard copy of your exact slides. If you want to enhance or format handouts, send the presentation to Word, which offers more flexibility. To do so, complete the following steps:

  1. Choose Send To from the File menu.
  2. Select Microsoft Office Word from the resulting submenu.
  3. In the Send To Microsoft Office Word dialog (Figure C), choose one of the many send options. The Outline Only option sends only the content.
  4. Click OK.

Figure C

Once your content is in Word, you can apply formatting and printing options that aren't available to you in PowerPoint.

In PowerPoint 2007, you use the Publish command to send content to Word. Choose Publish from the Office menu and then choose Create Handouts In Microsoft Office Word.

When you do supply handouts, consider handing them out at the end of the presentation instead of at the beginning. Some people will pay more attention to your handouts than your presentation.

#6: Reverse those points

You probably know that you can display bullet points one at a time by choosing an animation scheme in the Slide Design task pane. Specifically, choose Fade In One By One from the Subtle section. What you might not know is that you can display bullet points in reverse order. The easiest way to reverse point order is to choose Show In Reverse in the Moderate section of the Animation Scheme task pane.

It's a good idea to spend some time viewing all of the Animation Scheme options. It won't take long, just a few minutes. Being familiar with all the effects is the key to using each appropriately. In addition, where animation is concerned, less is better than more -- go easy and use animation only when you have a specific reason to and not just because you like a particular scheme.

You'll find animation options on PowerPoint 2007's Animations tab in the Animations group. Use the Animate drop-down list to choose the desired effect. The interesting advantage in 2007 is that as you choose an effect, PowerPoint displays it, so you can see it at work before you select it.

#7: Beware of busted GIFs

PowerPoint 2000 was the first version to support animated .gif files, but the viewer didn't. (PowerPoint Viewer is a support application that lets others view your PowerPoint presentation, even if they don't have PowerPoint installed locally.) Unfortunately, the older viewers don't support .gif files. This limitation has the potential to spoil your otherwise flawless presentation.

The good news is that more recent viewers do support .gif files. In fact, they offer full-feature support all the way back to PowerPoint 97. If you're still using an older version of PowerPoint -- 97, 2000, or XP -- the latest viewers will run your presentations, .gif's and all. Microsoft offers a list of the different PowerPoint Viewer versions.

#8: Reverse slide print

Most printers allow you to print in reverse, but you can't always get to individual printer options -- especially with networked printers that are configured for all users by an administrator. If printing options are limited, you can still have PowerPoint print your slides in reverse order, with or without help from your printer:

  1. Choose Print from the File menu. (In PowerPoint 2007, choose Print from the Office menu.)
  2. Click the Slides option in the Print Range section.
  3. Enter the range of slides in reverse order. For instance, if you want to print slides 1 through 10 in reverse order, enter 10-1 instead of 1-10. It's an easy solution to implement.

PowerPoint will remember this setting until you change it or exit the presentation. Even if your printer has a reverse option available, you might find the PowerPoint route easier to take if you consistently print the same range of slides during the same work session, as your printer might not remember the setting.

#9: Reduce file size

PowerPoint files can be huge. If you send them via e-mail, you might find it takes a while to upload and download a presentation, especially if you or a recipient is still using a dial-up connection.

You probably use special software to compress the file before sending. You can also reduce the size of the original file by deleting the slide thumbnails. To do so:

  1. Choose Properties from the File menu.
  2. Click the Summary tab.
  3. Locate the Save Preview Picture check box at the bottom of the dialog box (Figure D) , deselect it, and click OK.

Figure D

Doing this will save a huge hunk of KBs, even before you compress the file. If you disable the thumbnails, you can't preview the file in the Open dialog box, but that seems like a small tradeoff for the KB savings.

This option is harder to find in PowerPoint 2007. From the Office menu, choose Prepare and then Properties. From the Document Properties drop-down list, choose Advanced Properties to find the Summary tab. You'll still save some space, but not as much.

# 10: Control the pointer from the keyboard

During a slide show, PowerPoint hides the pointer five seconds after you display each slide, and then it disappears. When you click to view the next slide, the pointer becomes visible for another five seconds. You can control pointer display by clicking the icon in the bottom-left corner of the screen, but that's a bit distracting in the middle of a presentation. Instead, consider controlling pointer visibility from the keyboard:

  • Ctrl + H hides the pointer immediately.
  • Ctrl + A displays the pointer immediately.

Once you use Ctrl + A to display the pointer, it's fixed. There's no five-second delay. You must use Ctrl + H if you want it to go away.


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.


Even easier than creating a .pps file is to use the context menu in Windows Explorer to initiate the Show command. Simply right-click on your .ppt or .pptx file and choose Show. The presentation goes directly into Slide Show mode; when you are done, it collapses back to the Desktop (or the window from which it was started).


I agree with putting a blank screen at the end of the presentation but another way to stop accidental clicking to "behind the scenes" is File> Save As> and from the Save As Type drop down select Powerpoint Show(*.ppsx). This will package up the slideshow as one file and at the end will close back to desktop or folder it came from.


Some nice tips, but why would you ever want to 'reverse print' your presentation?


I couldn't quite make up my mind whether 'effectively' in the title was meant to belong more to 'working' or 'PowerPoint' (as representing the continuum of activity from design to presentation). I concluded from the tips that it was probably the former, although these wouldn't all have made my top 10 choices for effective or efficient working. However, the other end of the continuum, that is making an effective presentation - one that holds the attention of one's audience and communicates with them - is a much more interesting activity to consider. The reality is that an effectively constructed presentation in the terms of this article may not be delivered effectively, and vice versa. Now, there are lots of other places one can seek out information on effective presentation delivery, but may I draw attention to two relatively recent developments? The first is my Opazity add-in for PowerPoint which enhances presenters' ability to interact with the audience by tantalizingly withholding full view of an image until the presenter chooses to reveal it, and the other, for presenters who want to go fully interactive with their audiences is a technique called 'Relational Presentation', details of which can be found on the Aspire Communications website. I'm assuming it is either not polite or not allowed to post links to sites in comments in TechRepublic, but readers can easily find them courtesy of Google. Effective presentation construction is certainly important, but it doesn't actually get you very far along towards effective presentation delivery.


Thanks for the alternate solution. It is an excellent way to force an ending.


I don't know how many presentatins I have been in where the first thing you see is the PowerPoint window with the title slide in the main window and the rest of the slides in the left organizer window. That is how they end it also. Instead, save as a Powerpoint Presentation to the desktop. Then just click on the icon and the show starts immediately. When you are done, you are back at the desktop.


If you are doing handouts, you will not have to re-collate all the pages into the correct order of the presentation. This allows you to print as many as you need and collate the sets rather than the pages. So when your print is done you are ready to go.


I was aiming for both, and not trying to group the tips in any specific category. That they all are presentation related is just a product of the software I suppose. Good luck with your new product!

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