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09 August 2021

PowerPoint

Lately I’ve been spending a fair bit of time in PowerPoint. Here are some tips I’ve collected for working efficiently, with thanks to my friends in consulting for initially pointing me in the right direction. These tips work on Windows – some, but not all, work on macOS.

Alt menu keyboard shortcuts

When you pres the Alt key in Office applications, letters will appear next to entries on the top ribbon. You can type the letters as keyboard shortcuts to navigate menus and press buttons. This is much faster than navigating with a mouse, especially as you start to memorize shortcut patterns for frequently-used buttons.

F4

Pressing the F4 key repeats your previous command. For example, if you have just changed the color of some text to red, you can highlight some other text, press F4, and it will also be made red. If you have just inserted a slide, pressing F4 will insert another one.

Ctrl-click and drag

Holding the Ctrl key while clicking and dragging on an object or group will duplicate it. Holding Shift at the same time maintains alignment. You can use this technique to create nice-looking slide templates with little effort.

Automatically align and distribute

Avoid trying to position or align objects on a slide manually. The arrange menu has everything you need to do it automatically. You can group and ungroup objects tactically to make the align and distribute commands do what you want.

Automate content layout

This is more of a general principle than a specific tip, but it’s also the best way to build presentations efficiently. The idea is to focus on creating slide and graphic templates that you can adapt for different content and presentation requirements with minimal time spent tweaking design.

For example, it’s fairly common to make a presentation that has a number of similar slides. A normal PowerPoint user might spend time making a single slide look good, then copy and paste it so that they only have to replace the content for all similar slides. This is obviously much better than designing all of the similar slides from scratch, but it’s still not great. If the presentation’s design requirements change, our user has two options. They could make the change manually to each similar slide, or make the change to one slide, copy and paste it, and re-replace the content for each similar slide. Both options waste a lot of time.

A better way to design similar slides is to go into the slide master view and create a layout that can be used for all of them. A layout has fixed elements as well as placeholders for text and graphics that are unique to each slide that uses it. With a layout, you spend time on the design of one template then only have to worry about content for the specific slides. And when design requirements change, you can just change the template and all of the slides that use it get updated automatically.

Similarly, for simple graphics, you can use SmartArt. SmartArt allows you to provide content as standalone text and images and then automatically lays out the graphic. You can then tweak the graphic type and style with much less effort.

VBA and Excel

The best way to make slides that need to be updated based on data that change over time is to put the data in Excel and automate the creation of the slides using a VBA script. This requires a significant initial effort, but it eliminates all manual work from future updates. VBA can make arbitrarily formatted slides based on whatever data are in the backing Excel file. For example, you could write a VBA script to populate slide titles and bullets from spreadsheet cells, or to make complex graphics that would take a lot of time to produce by hand.