You can animate just about anything in PowerPoint, but he process isn’t quite as intuitive with charts, because the options aren’t right out in front. Once you know how to tell PowerPoint you’re working with chart elements and not the entire chart, it’s a piece of cake.

The first thing you need is a chart. To keep things simple, let’s insert one of PowerPoint’s default charts, as follows:

  1. With a blank slide current, click the Insert tab and click Chart in the Illustrations group. In PowerPoint 2003, Chart is in the Insert menu.
  2. Select a chart type; the example uses a Clustered Column. Then, click OK.
  3. PowerPoint will launch Excel, so you can enter the chart data. For our purposes, there’s no reason to change the default values and settings so close Excel without making any changes.
  4. The slide now displays a simple column chart.

If you right-click the chart, you won’t find animation options. If you add an animation from the Animation tab, PowerPoint will apply the animation to the entire chart. Using the mini-toolbar, you can select each series, but when you add an animation, PowerPoint still applies that animation to the entire chart. You have to explicitly tell PowerPoint to work with the chart’s elements individually, as follows:

  1. Click the Animations tab and then click the Animation Pane option to display that task pane. In PowerPoint 2003, choose Custom Animation from the Slide Show menu.
  2. Click the Add Animation dropdown in the Advanced Animations group.
  3. From this list, choose an Entrance effect-the example uses Appear. At this point, there’s one animation, Appear, for the entire chart.
  4. Now you’re ready to tell PowerPoint that you want to work with individual chart elements. Click the chart animation dropdown and choose Effect Options.
  5. In the resulting dialog, click the Chart Animation tab.
  6. From the Group Chart dropdown, select the elements you want to animate. This example will animate the series, so select By Series, and click OK.

Now PowerPoint knows you want to animate the chart’s series. There are three series and PowerPoint forces you to also animate the chart’s background for a total of four animations. To see them, click the small dropdown under the chart background animation. (Earlier it was an entire chart object animation.) Now you’re ready to start animating the series, as follows:

  1. With the three series animations visible, select them all by holding down the [Ctrl] key while you click each.
  2. From the last animation’s dropdown, choose Start After Previous. That means, PowerPoint will display each series, one after the other.
  3. From the same dropdown, choose Timing and enter .5 in the Delay option, and click OK. Again, you set this for all three series.

With the current settings, here’s what you’ll see when PowerPoint displays this slide. When you click the slide, PowerPoint will display the chart’s background. A half second later, PowerPoint will display the first series. A half second later, PowerPoint will display the second series. A half second later, PowerPoint will display the third and final series.

To keep the example simple, I used the Appear animation and kept the delay times short.

Now, here’s the most important thing to remember about animating charts: just because you can animate a chart doesn’t mean you should. Animate chart elements when doing so helps you illustrate a point or helps viewers draw a conclusion. Don’t throw it in, just because you think it’s cool.

Editor’s note: An example presentation file is provided as an aide to understanding this technique.