There’s nothing worse than a PowerPoint presentation that seems to never end. How many of us can say we really take much away from those kinds of presentations?

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but how effective is a picture if your audience is asleep? Graphics can enhance your presentation, but only if they are effective.

Using animations in PowerPoint is one way to make the best use of your presentation time. Animations are more valuable than only adding fancy transitions between slides or making text fly onto the screen. If done correctly, text and graphic animations can be used to build layers within your slides to tell a story or illustrate a concept.

This article will cover how to use simple animation layering to make your presentations say more using fewer words.

Our example
Let’s start with a sample presentation that will explain a new data transport system designed to help different computer systems communicate across a network.

Instead of using several slides of bullet points or multiple slides showing a before and after view of the data transport system, we’ll use one slide that shows the system before and then builds to show the system after. Figure A shows the first stage of the slide.

Figure A

This is a simple diagram with four rectangles and eight double-headed arrows showing the many different paths of the data in the system. (It also features a Quad Arrow AutoShape that we will see later in Figure C.)

Then, in the same slide, you can use custom animation to “remove” the arrows showing the existing complex set of communication links between the systems (see Figure B). Use the Exit animation effects in PowerPoint to accomplish the task.

Figure B

Then you insert, using animation, an element that describes the new transport (see  Figure C).

Figure C

During your presentation, you can add the slide elements individually using mouse clicks or with preset timings. Either method allows the presenter to build the slide along with their presentation, a strategy that should increase interest and help maintain audience focus. These kinds of builds are great for showing changes between two states.

How does it work?
Office XP makes it easy by using one of its Task Panes to show the animation settings for your slide. You get to the Custom Animation Task Pane by using the Slide Show | Custom Animation menu item. This brings up the Custom Animation task pane (see Figure D).

Figure D

The next step is to select the elements you want to animate. Most likely, you have the element you want to show last on top of the list of other elements. Select this last element and click the Add Effect button on the task pane.

When you click the button, it expands to show you the options for how it should animate onto the screen. The first submenu asks if you wish to set up the Entrance, Emphasis, Exit, or Motion Paths for the element. For this example, we will pick Entrance and then from that submenu we will pick Appear for our effect (see Figure E).

Figure E

Once you click on Appear, the element will appear in the Task Pane. Its entry displays symbols that show you at a glance what type of effect is being used and how it will appear (e.g. mouse click, timing). Figure F illustrates the entry created for our first entry.

Figure F

Now we need to add an entry that removes the group of lines representing the old paths of data transport. The tough part is that it is “under” the shape we just added, so it is hard to select.

To reach it, select the shape that is on top, right-click, and select the Order menu item.

From the submenu pick Send Backwards. This will push it “back” and let the shape just behind it be on “top” of the stack. Now you can select it and repeat the Add Effect steps above except we will choose Exit from the menu instead of Entrance. Then pick your effect.

When you are finished adding it to the animation list in the task pane, make sure you remember to send it back so that the shape representing the new system is on top. If you do not, then the build will show that shape behind the blank rectangle.

Next, we put our two elements in the correct order. Because of the way they were arranged on the page, they are now in the wrong order in the animation list in the task pane.

Click on one of the entries in the list and use one of the two Re-Order buttons at the bottom of the task pane to move the elements into the correct order, with the rectangle showing first and the quad arrow showing second. Now click on the rectangle entry and click on the drop-down list symbol on the right of the entry to show a list of Start methods that will control when the animation starts. (See Figure G).

Figure G

By default, it should read Start on Click. This means that the group of lines will disappear the first time the mouse button is clicked after the slide has been displayed.

Having this shape disappear on a click is a good idea because it will let the presenter control when it appears rather than using a preset timing. This also gives the presenter time to answer questions about the diagram that shows the initial state of the system.

Now click on the drop-down list for the Quad Arrow shape. Here you have a choice: You can choose Mouse Click so you can control the appearance manually, or you can choose Start With Previous to have this shape appear at the same time as the rectangle. With this option, Quad Arrow shape will appear along with the rectangle .

Now you have a simple build slide that lets you layer the shapes in your presentation and use animations to control them. This strategy may also help keep your audience awake.

Do you have other tips for livening up PowerPoint presentations?

Are there ways you’ve discovered to make your PowerPoint presentations more interesting? Share them with us. Send us your tip in an e-mail or post it below in a discussion.