17 Actionable PowerPoints Tips That Will Supercharge You

Published by Steve on

Want to make PowerPoint presentations faster and improve your design skills?

Then you’re in the right place.

Because today, I’ms going to show you the exact PowerPoint techniques that I use to generate high quality slides in minutes.

The best part?

All of these proven tips are easy to learn for anyone - even those who are just starting out with PowerPoint.

Let’s do this!

And here are the links that will take you directly to the PowerPoint tip you want to learn about first.

1. Use advanced SmartArt to create beautiful slides in minutes

SmartArt in PowerPoint…

It’s one of those things that seems good on paper, a thing the professionals (mostly) loathe and a thing that never quite seems to work out. There is always something wrong with it and it just looks template’y whatever you do.

That is, until now.

In fact, you can make beautiful and unique slight in mere minutes with SmartArt.

And here’s the exact recipe.

First off, start with a simple bullet slide like you’ve done so many times before in PowerPoint. Below is our example.

PowerPoint SmartArt

Next, select all the text, navigate to the home bar on the ribbon and select Convert to SmartArt. You can hover over the different examples to see how it looks. In our example, we’ve selected the horizontal bullet list option.

Now, I think you’ll agree that it’s already so much better than the original slide.

However, we’ll make it even better and take it away from the SmartArt look it currently has.

To do so select the SmartArt and press ctrl + shift + g (all at once) two times. This will ungroup the items and make it so they are no longer defined by PowerPoint as SmartArt.

You can now do whatever you want with this.

In our example we have aligned the boxes across the slide and neutralized the box backgrounds as seen below.

Beautiful and professional and it doesn’t even take a minute to make once you know how!

Want it even easier? We've put together a video walkthrough of the conversion from simple bullets to SmartArt. Click Here to see it!

2. Learn to use the format painter tool

“The most important tool for anyone who wants to use PowerPoint for real presentations”.

That was the answer I was given when I started out my life in the business world when I asked:

“Format painter? What’s that?`”

I had been using PowerPoint in college and thought I was pretty good at the program only to realize I had just scratched the surface.

As it turns out, format painter was a HUGE game changer.

Why?

It’s one of those things best described in video so check out format painter in action below.

GIF

In the two examples above you can see two things:

Format painter applied to an object. Here we have a blue and a gray shape. We want both to be blue, and thus select the blue shape, click format painter and click the grey box, and it instantly changes to the same formatting. Note, that is also changes the border to be consistent with what we want!

Format painter applied to text. Here we have two different fonts. We start by selecting the font we want, click format painter and then apply it to the other text - simple as that!

The great thing about this is that it works on any shape, object or text you have in PowerPoint.

What it basically does is to take the formatting from your current selection and apply it to another object.

And despite being such a great tool most people only know about it due to word of mouth - and if you’ve never been lucky enough to work with someone who uses format painter, chances are you don’t use it either.

Bonus tip: Double-click format painter if you want to format more than one object. Double-clicking keeps format painter active until you press the escape key. Check it out below.

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3. Know the PowerPoint shortcuts by heart

A big and fundamental productivity booster in PowerPoint is knowing the most important shortcuts.

Well, actually it is more having them “coded into your fingers” so you don’t even think about it - you just do it.

Ctrl + b: Makes selected text bold

Ctrl + i: Makes text italic

Ctrl + u: Will underline currently selected text

Ctrl + e: Center a paragraph

Ctrl + l: Left align a paragraph

Ctrl + r: Right align a paragraph

Ctrl + z: Undo the last action

Ctrl + y: Redo the last action (most often used after using ctrl + z)

Ctrl + d: Duplicate the current item (faster than ctrl+c, ctrl+v)

Alt + up or down: Moves selected text up or down (a real time-saver)

Ctrl + g: Group the selected items

Ctrl + shift + g: Ungroup the selected items

Ctrl + s: Saves your presentation

PgUp: Go to previous slide

PgDn: Go to next slide

Number + enter key: Works only in presentation mode. For example, if you press “10” and hit the enter key, you will go directly to page 10.

B or W: Works only in presentation mode. Pressing B will make the screen go black and pressing W will make the slide go white. Works well, if you’re answering an unrelated question or want to capture the attention of a sleepy audience.

It can be a bit daunting to learn all these at once - trying to do that is really hard.

Instead, we recommend grouping them into 5 at a time and learn them over a month, focusing on a subset within a given week.

4. Increase maximum number of “undos” in PowerPoint

I’ll be the first to admit it: It’s really weird that Microsoft hasn’t updated this particular setting yet.

By default in PowerPoint, if you hit undo, your computer will “remember” 20 steps. However, if you want to get back to where you were 30 steps ago - well that’s just bad luck. Luckily, we can change that.

Here’s how:

1: To get the show rolling, click file and then options.

2: Click the advanced tab and find the box labelled “maximum number of undos”.

By default, this will be set to 20. I recommend setting this to 100.

After going from 20 to 100 undos, I’ve never run out of them.

One thing to be aware of:

The reason PowerPoint has the 20 undo limit is to be found in the early days of PowerPoint. Back then, computers weren’t as powerful as today and having more than 20 undos could really slow down the computer.

That’s rarely a concern today, however, if you do find your computer more sluggish after changing to 100 undos, try with other numbers to figure out what your computer can handle.

5. Make organizational charts a walk in the park with elbow connectors

Organizational charts… we all know someone who’s spent hours making these (and they were still only half decent).

Here’s the solution: Elbow connectors

To find these, first navigate to the insert ribbon, click shapes and click the elbow connector like shown below.

With this selected you can now see circles on the four sides of a shape when you get near it. Now you simply press down the mouse button.

It will be attached to the point you started.

Next simply hover to where you want to attach the other end, let the mouse button go and voila, you have a connection that will be maintained even if you move one of the two boxes.

Repeat this for your other connections and you are done.

GIF

Want it even easier? We've put together a video walkthrough showing you the secret to quickly making organizational charts.Click Here to see it!

6. Use theme colors and fonts

As soon as you open up PowerPoint you are already behind on points (from a design perspective)

Why?

Because of the default theme colors and fonts in good old PowerPoint.

First off, the font Calibri is not very professional. Also everybody who uses the program defaults to that font because otherwise, they would have to change it for every single one of their boxes.

Which is the true definition of Boring And Repetitive Task.

Luckily, this is very easy to change once and for all so you never have to do it again.

Let’s kick things off by changing the default font in our Presentation

To do so, head to the design tab and pick the arrow down as shown in the picture below.

Hover to fonts, and click the set of fonts you would like to use in your presentation. For standard business presentations I recommend either using Arial or Verdana fonts.

Next up, we want to change the standard PowerPoint colors

To do so, we head to the same design tab and click the arrow down as above.

Once we’ve done this, hover over colors. You will see Excel has a range of predefined color sets to use and you can pick one you like better than the standard ones (shouldn’t be too hard).

How to use colors and themes effectively

Whenever you change the color or font set in PowerPoint, everything in your presentation automatically changes according to your new settings.

If (and that’s a big if)...

… you choose fonts and colors correctly.

What does that mean?

It’s actually very simple. You can select themes and fonts the right way or the wrong way and I’ll show you both.

For fonts, you should only use the two fonts at the very top of your font dropdown as shown below. These change dynamically, when you change the overall font setting whereas every font below will not be dynamic.

The same goes for colors. Here you should only use the top row of colors, as these will change dynamically in the same way as the fonts. You should never use the all the different shadings in the middle.

With these changes, you are all set to start cranking out PPT presentations, that by a simple change of fonts and colors will look anything but the slides put out by +90% of people using PowerPoint.

7. Formatting The Slide Master: From foe to friend

Before we get to the real meat of the slide master, here’s a quick story.

Back in my investment banking days we were doing a HUGE (100+ slides) presentation for a company we were selling.

We were getting closer to the finish line, but we were also pulling all-nighters, working under a tight deadline.

One of my junior associates was sitting with the entire presentation and came to me.

“Steve, I don’t know what I’ve done but I’m not sure it’s good”.

We stepped over to his computer and there was just weird slides with no text on them - further there was only 10 pages in total.

“Oh boy, Mark you’ve really screwed up on this one” were my first words.

He swallowed hard and his shoulders sank…

“but I’ll see what I can do”.

I grabbed the mouse, hovered up, clicked exit slide master and like a magician, there was our entire presentation.

It took more than a couple of seconds for Mark to realize I was just having a little fun at his expense but it tells a story.

After six month of 70 hour weeks working almost only in PowerPoint, he didn’t even know what the slide master was.

And to be fair, in my old job, we never used it.

So what is the slide master and why is it important?

The slide master is a function that is turned on by default in every presentation, it can be really powerful, yet few people use it.

When you click blank presentation, it dictates how the default layout is on the frontpage.

Below, you can see a short sequence of the default slide master in every standard PowerPoint presentation.

As you can see, you can select different layouts for a slide based on those defined in the slide master.

This can be really powerful.

Say you have a slide you reproduce again and again. Instead of copying an old slide with old text, or building the slide again, you can use the slide master to once and for all, define this slide.

A quick example.

Let’s say, I produce slides every quarter showing the financial development over the last twelve months.

On the left I have some text, and on the right I have a graph.

Fairly simple and basic stuff, right?

And something you would either build every time, or copy from an old presentation, leaving the risk of text or numbers being there that should have been deleted, right?

What we’ll do now, is build this slide in the slide master, so every time we have to build that slide, we just right click, select layout and find it from the slide master.

Now you simply fill in the data and you’re good to go.

8. How to easily make screenshots in PowerPoint

Did you know PowerPoint has a screenshot capture function for quickly inserting images?

If you answered yes, you are one of the few in the know.

For the rest of us mortals, the screenshot function in PowerPoint can be a real time saver.

This is especially useful if you’re often showing demos or making walkthroughs in PowerPoint.

First off, you go to the insert tab in and click screenshot, like shown below.

This will show you a snippet of all other open windows on your computer.

Next you go and resize the window you want to copy, to show exactly what you want in your presentation.

Then you head back to good ol’ PowerPoint, click screenshot, select the appropriate window and it’ll be right there in your presentation.

As someone who’ve played around with snippet toys for days, squinting my eyes, trying to capture screenshots that had to be perfect from pixel to pixel, this was a real lifesaver - both for my eyes and my sanity.

9. Making tables work for you in PowerPoint

For many years, I had a large problem with tables in PowerPoint.

I would format them nicely in Excel, get all the data right and basically, I’d have something really good.

And then I had to insert the tables into PowerPoint.

There were basically two options:

Copy-paste the table: This always lead to weird sizing of columns and rows and often, the font size would be really small.

Copy-paste as a picture: There was a workaround, however: I could paste it as a picture. It would not look as good as it could, but it worked okay. However, if I wanted to change something, I’d have to do it in Excel and then re-paste back into PowerPoint.

Basically, none of the options were ideal.

That was until today.

Today, I’ll give you the quick fix, once and for all for PowerPoint. It’s called Distribute Rows and Distribute Columns.

But first off, here’s what should work but doesn’t:

1: Set up the table in Excel or start with a simple table in PowerPoint.

2: Copy-paste the table from Excel.

3: Now, in my example, my perfectly formatted Excel table looks like this when I press ctrl+v.

This is very, very bad.

My exact recipe for tables in PowerPoint

Instead, here’s the exact recipe where you can also watch me do it, step-by-step in the gif below.

1: Right click and insert as “Keep source formatting”

2: Move the table to the upper left of your screen

3: Make it span the entire slide (or how much you want it to fill). Notice, it doesn’t look very good

4: Make the text bigger to fit the table. In my example, it is size 18

5: Navigate to layout tab (while the table is selected) and press “distribute rows” and “distribute columns”

6: Finally, to add the extra touch, center the text vertically (also under layout tab) and press ctrl + e to center text horizontally.

Voila. You have a working table that is so much better than the standard copy-paste from Excel.

GIF

10. Use the grid and guides

Have you ever seen a presentation where headlines and text boxes seemed to jump from slide to slide?

Or maybe you’ve made one yourself?

The good news?

It’s very easy to fix…

… and it will ensure you don’t even have to think about where to put your text boxes the next time around.

There are two ways to fix this: The standard and the advanced. Naturally, we’ll start with the standard solution.

Using gridlines in Powerpoint

First off, we are going to use the grid to ensure graphical consistency in PowerPoint.

Here’s how:

First you go to view and then click gridlines.

In the standard blank PowerPoint presentation, your screen will now look like this.

You can now use the gridlines to always place your text boxes the same places in the grid, which will ensure graphical consistency between slides.

Gridlines are a good solution, however, they are also rather limited - and they take up a lot of space on your screen.

Luckily, there is a solution for this.

Using guides in PowerPoint

The answer is guides.

Guides help ensure graphical consistency, while taking up minimum space on your screen.

Here’s how to use them:

First off, go to view and click guides.

This will bring up a horizontal and vertical line, as shown in the screenshot below.

However, at the moment they aren’t of much use and instead, they are more of a nuisance.

To make them help us, we first go to the good ol’ slide master.

(If guides have been unchecked, recheck the guides field).

Your screen should now look something like this:

You can now drag the guides to where you want them on the screen. And you can add extra guides as show in the screenshot below.

When you have the guides you need, it’s a good idea to recolor to make them stand out on your screen. Simply right click the guideline and set the color like below:

Now you’re good to go and you’ll always have these guides so you know where to place your headlines and text boxes...

... and this is really critical to ensuring a uniform look across your presentation slides.

11. Use new window to navigate a large presentation

This one’s a short one.

Ever had a large presentation where some information was presented more than once but not in the same format?

An example would be an executive summary, with some but all numbers or a sum up either at the start or end of a presentation.

In these situations, I would go to “page 20”, find my numbers, remember them and then enter them on my summary page - which, I of course then would recheck again as I was solely relying on my memory.

That was until I discovered the new window function in PowerPoint.

Here’s how to use it.

First, navigate to view and click new window.

You will now have two versions of the same presentation opened and if you edit in one window, it will automatically make that change in the other version.

Tip:

For optimal use of this function, have the two windows side by side on one or ideally two screens.

12. Quickly change shapes

Sometimes a little change can make a large difference to the visuals in a presentation.

And one of the most often used changes is from rectangles with a round border to a rectangle with sharp corners.

I’ve seen this done in a variety of creative ways with the most popular being:

  • Replacing one textbox with another, reformat it and copy-paste the text into the new box
  • Putting the box you want “behind” the other button so it looks like square corners

Creative?

Without a doubt.

Efficient?

Without a doubt, no!

Here’s our setup and situation:

You of course want the efficient method and I’m outlining it below:

1: Select the shape you want to convert

2: Navigate to drawing tools as shown below

3: Click edit shape → change shape and then select the shape you want to convert it to. In our example we are changing from a triangle to a square, but you can also select any other shape you want (including callouts and even hearts!).

Now, the attentive reader might be thinking:

“Why not use format painter instead?”

And I’m glad you asked. However, format painter only takes the format of an object and does not alter the shape of a box.

13. Use the build-in icons to spice up your slides

Ever wanted to give that extra spice to a presentation filled mostly with text and boxes, but didn’t know where to start?

That’s where icons come in.

A relatively new addition to PowerPoint they are still underutilized and looked down upon. However, this is quickly changing and I am no stranger to using icons even in the most formal, financial presentations.

Here’s how to use icons.

1: Navigate to the insert tab on the ribbon and click icons

2: Select the icons you want to insert.

  • Tip: You can select more than one icon by holding down the ctrl key.

3: Place the icons across your slide

4: You can recolor icons using shape fill and shape outline. You can find these under drawing tools.

To see the effect of icons in your presentation we’ll find our good old, trusty SmartArt converted slide.

Now we’ll spice it up with representative icons.

We’ve found some that match and now our presentation has that extra wow effect and it took less than a minute to enhance it.

Bonus tip: Another great thing about using the build in PowerPoint icons is that you can color them any way you want using shape and outline fill!

14. The shift key is your new best friend

The shift key on my keyboard is probably worn out by now…

… and it’s not because I don’t know how to use caps lock.

In PowerPoint the shift key helps in so many ways. And once you know how, you never know how you lived without it.

Here’s how.

Hold shift to ensure horizontal and vertical lines

Have you ever drawn a vertical line in PowerPoint only for it to not be truly vertical?

That’s where the shift key comes into play.

The next time you draw a line in PowerPoint simply hold down the shift key and start drawing your line. You will notice it can only be in eight directions and thus, it becomes very easy to draw a vertical, horizontal or diagonal line.

We’ve demonstrated it below.

GIF

Resize a shape or group of objects while keeping its dimensions

The shift key is also a lifesaver when you have an object or group of objects.

As an example, say you have a group of pictures that are perfectly aligned - only problem is they are too small.

To make them larger - while keeping the alignment - simply select the object(s).

Now hold down shift while you resize them and voila, they will still be perfectly aligned and the size you want them to be.

Move shapes or objects in a horizontal or vertical line

The last quick shift trick we’ll cover today is so beneficial when moving objects.

I often use this when I have two boxes that are already aligned but I want to move a box in one direction.

When you do so, simply hold shift while moving the object. The object will only be able to move horizontally or vertically while doing so, as demonstrated below.

GIF

Resize a shape or group of objects while keeping its dimensions

The shift key is also a lifesaver when you have an object or group of objects.

As an example, say you have a group of pictures that are perfectly aligned - only problem is they are too small.

To make them larger - while keeping the alignment - simply select the object(s).

Now hold down shift while you resize them and voila, they will still be perfectly aligned and the size you want them to be.

Move shapes or objects in a horizontal or vertical line

The last quick shift trick we’ll cover today is so beneficial when moving objects.

I often use this when I have two boxes that are already aligned but I want to move a box in one direction.

When you do so, simply hold shift while moving the object. The object will only be able to move horizontally or vertically while doing so, as demonstrated below.

GIF

15. Eye-dropper tool: Identify and match exact colors

Ever been told:

I want the headline to be this exact color?

With your boss or client pointing at the color of a logo.

You say “yes boss” thinking you’ll figure out what color it is…

… and 10 minutes later you have something that’s close enough.

Sounds familiar?

I for one have been guilty of this. And as you’ve probably already guessed, there is a very simple solution to this problem.

The eyedropper tool (also known as match color).

Here’s the exact recipe for using it (with text color as an example, but also works for shapes and outlines).

1: Right click and insert as “Keep source formatting”

2: Move the table to the upper left of your screen

3: Make it span the entire slide (or how much you want it to fill). Notice, it doesn’t look very good

4: Make the text bigger to fit the table. In my example, it is size 18

5: Navigate to layout tab (while the table is selected) and press “distribute rows” and “distribute columns”

6: Finally, to add the extra touch, center the text vertically (also under layout tab) and press ctrl + e to center text horizontally.

Below we have an example showing this exact technique.

GIF

16. Know your textbox options

Let me demonstrate one of the single most annoying things in PowerPoint by pressing the gif below.

In the situation, we want one textbox to have the same vertical length as the other one.

GIF

However, simply dragging it to be the same length as the other one doesn’t work.

And you can’t figure out why.

Here’s the solution:

1: Right click the textbox

2: Navigate to format shape

3: Once clicked a new menu will open on the right (or in a pop-up in older PowerPoint versions)

4: Click text options

5: There will now be three options. Click the one on the right (named textbox)

6: Once here, set the option to Do not autofit

Now you can set any shape to be any size it wants without it reverting to the old standard.

Tip: We recommend playing around with the options above to figure out exactly how they each work.

17. Align and distribute functions = your new best friends

The align and distribute functions are absolutely fundamental to any PowerPoint user.

Why?

Click the example below and watch the slide go from a mess to a beautiful slide in mere seconds by only using these two functions.

GIF

Now, this is of course an exaggerated example, but it shows the power of the functions.

However, for being cornerstone and absolutely fundamental functions in PowerPoint, the program sure does a good job of hiding the align and distribute functions.

In fact, to align or distribute anything you have to click your mouse three times.

And here’s where the functions are:

How does the align function work?

First, we’ll start with showing how the align function works.

There are 6 different options when it comes to alignment. They are:

  • Align left
  • Align center
  • Align right
  • Align top
  • Align middle
  • Align bottom

The first three will align objects vertically while the bottom three aligns objects horizontally.

And the way PowerPoint works, is that it will always align the most “extreme value”. For example, if you say align left, it will align all the objects to the left-most object, align top to the top-most object and so forth, as you can see below.

GIF

How does the distribute function work?

The cousin of the align function is the distribute function and with these two, you’ll be designing beautiful slides in seconds.

The distribute function has two options and only works if three or more objects are selected. The options are:

Distribute horizontally: Distributes the selected objects horizontally across a slide

Distribute vertically: Distributes the selected objects vertically across a slide

Now I want to turn it over to you:

Which of the 17 PowerPoint techniques from today’s post are you going to try first?

Are you going to use the SmartArt trick?

Or maybe you start to realize the power of the format painter tool?

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

Categories: PowerPoint