How to expose parts of a PowerPoint slide for emphasis

Draw your audience's attention to a specific area of a slide using this easy exposure technique.

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Two earlier articles, How to use color in a PowerPoint slide to highlight information and How to use 3 PowerPoint animations to wow your audience review several simple ways to emphasize text. They're simple to implement and can have a huge effect. But how do you emphasize objects or specific areas of a slide? There are many ways, but in this article, I'm going to show you a creative way to expose selected areas with a quick click.

We'll work with two pictures: A colored one that becomes the slide's background and a black and white version that floats on top of the slide. Your viewers will see the black and white floating picture. When you click, specific areas will magically colorize—the colored area stand out from the black and white. It sounds hard but it's actually very simple.

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I'm working with Microsoft 365, but you can use earlier versions. You can create and run this slide in the browser edition. For your convenience, you can download the demonstration .pptx file. (Don't expect the animations to work exactly the same in the menu version.) This article assumes you have basic PowerPoint skills, such as knowing how to insert a picture and set properties. 

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How to set up the pictures

This technique requires two copies of the same picture. The slide shown in Figure A is a single-color picture (which you can distribute for educational purposes only). We're going to focus on the adult monarch butterfly. 

The demonstration file uses a photo, but you can create a composite of graphics. If you go that route, save the finished slide as a picture and then insert the picture. To save a slide as a picture, select the slide, press Ctrl+A to select everything on the slide, right-click, and then choose Save As Picture. Note the location where you save the picture because you'll need it in a bit.

Figure A

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  Insert the picture or create a slide using multiple components.

Once you have inserted the picture and sized it to completely fill the slide, make any color or lighting corrections to the picture and then set it as the background as follows:

  1. Copy the picture to the Clipboard by pressing Ctrl+C. 
  2. On the Design tab, click Format Background in the Customize group, select the Picture or Texture Fill option in the Fill section and then click the Clipboard option under Picture source. 

You could've inserted the picture again, but this route saves you a few clicks because now the picture is the slide's background and you still have the floating color picture, as you can see in Figure B.

Figure B

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  Use the picture as the slide's background.

Right now, you have two color pictures of the same scene: One is the slide's background, and one is a floating picture that you can move around. It's time to change that floating color picture to black and white. That way, when you expose an area of the black and white picture, the color pops through.

First, select the floating picture and then do the following: 

  1. Click the contextual Picture Format tab, and then click Color in the Adjust group. 
  2. Choose Black and White (saturation 0%), which is the first thumbnail on the first line. 

Right now, you have a black and white copy as a floating picture on top of the multi-colored background (Figure C). We're ready to start emphasizing specific parts of the slide.

Figure C

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  We'll expose the colored selections through the black and white picture.

Identify the section

We're ready to start selecting the area(s) to emphasize by exposing. In this case, it's the monarch butterfly. When using this technique, you can emphasize as many areas as you like and then use a timed animation to expose the colored sections below. We're going to expose only one—the butterfly. 

The first step is to make a cutout—of sorts—of the component you want to emphasize. To do so, we'll use the Scribble Shape to draw around the adult butterfly:

  1. On the Insert tab, choose Freeform: Scribble from the Shapes dropdown. (It's the last item on the second line).
  2. Click somewhere near the outline of the butterfly. Hold down the Shift key and drag (draw) around the butterfly (Figure D). Don't worry if you're not exactly on the edge of the butterfly—you don't need to be perfect; you'll see why in just a bit. Once you've drawn all the way around to the beginning PowerPoint will fill in the selected area.

Figure D

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  Draw around the area you want to emphasize.

Remember when I said you didn't have to be perfect? Here's why: We're going to soften the edges a bit as follows:

  1. Click the contextual Shape Format tab.
  2. From the Shape Effects dropdown in the Shape Styles group, choose Soft Edges.
  3. Next, select one of the more subtle point sizes—1 to 5. For this example, choose 2.5. You'll see the edges soften just a bit. (If you can't find Soft Edges, you're probably looking at the Text Effects dropdown—the wrong option.)

You're almost there. The next step is to add some simple animations to make the drawn selection expose the color below. 

Expose the section 

Now we're going to make the selected area disappear using a neat tool that I seldom see used:

  1. With the drawn shape selected, click Fill & Line in the Format Picture pane (to the right).
  2. Click the Slide Background Fill option (at the bottom of the list and watch the drawn shape disappear allowing the colored background to shine through. 

Right now, it might not look so great. By increasing (or decreasing) the Soft Edges setting, you can probably improve the edges enough that it isn't necessary to redraw the selected area. I ended up using 50 point (Figure E). Doing so cleaned up the edges, and the adult butterfly really stands out. If necessary, you can redraw at this point until you get the hang of using that tool. 

Figure E

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    This option exposes the background behind the drawn shape.

At this point, you could quit, but you might want to display an informational label. It can identify the emphasized object, or it can add additional information. For example, the label might display, "Monarch butterfly" or "Butterflies consume nectar from blooms." On the technical side, it's an instant prompt! Add a text box, enter and format the text, and position the label (Figure F). During the actual presentation, all eyes will be drawn to the adult butterfly while you're sharing information about the creature.

Figure F

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  Add an informational label.

Add animation to run it

Right now, the slide isn't as meaningful as we'd like—all the pieces are there, but we want to add some timed animation that will expose the butterfly's color and informational text to add just a bit more drama. Don't worry if you're not familiar with timed animations; I'll walk you through the process.

Select the adult butterfly shape, the one you drew earlier, and do the following:

  1. Click the Animations tab.
  2. In the Animation gallery, click Fade in the Entrance section.
  3. Select the label and choose Wipe from the Entrance section. Then, from the Effect Options dropdown (in the Animation group), choose Left to Right.

If you play the slide right now, you must click to emphasize the butterfly and then again to display the label text. This might be exactly what you want, or not. Let's mix things up just a bit by displaying the label after we expose the butterfly, automatically. It's a simple change:

  1. In the Animation pane, you should see both animation items: The freeform shape (the butterfly) and the text box. If you don't see the Animation Pane, click Animation Pane in the Advanced Animation group.
  2. Select the second item (the text box).
  3. In the Timing group, click the Start option and choose After Previous.
  4. For our purposes, change the Delay setting to .75 so there's a slight delay between the two actions. In a working presentation, you might want to set this timing option to allow a bit more time for you to talk. The complete slide is shown in Figure G.

Figure G

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  The adult butterfly stands out against the black-and-white background.

When running the presentation, you'll click one. Doing so will expose the butterfly, and after a short delay, display the label. 

You don't have to stop with one object; you can add several as long as there's a method to it. Don't emphasize a lot of unrelated areas in a single slide. Instead, emphasize related areas, as if completing a picture or emphasizing steps one by one.

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