Adventures in PowerPoint – Not-so-SmartArt

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Office 2007 introduced a feature called “SmartArt;” Microsoft said:

“Most content that is created by using 2007 Microsoft Office system programs is textual, even though the use of illustrations improves understanding and memory and encourages action. Creating designer-quality illustrations can be challenging… With … SmartArt graphics… you can create designer-quality illustrations with only a few clicks of your mouse.”

This seems like a really good idea – help users employ graphics to improve clarity, add interest and avoid text-heavy slides. However, SmartArt can be frustrating and usually requires more than a few clicks. This post will explore some of these frustrations and provide a set of guidelines for relatively painless SmartArt. (If you don’t want the bloody detail, you can skip ahead to the guidelines at the end of this post.)

This post was inspired by a post at Presentation-Process.com. However, that post identifies picture-filling as an issue with SmartArt while it is, in fact, a broader issue; I may write a separate post on this subject. By the way, Presentation-Process.com offers SmartArt templates as well as other PowerPoint products.

SmartArt provides a set of graphical models (“layouts”) categorized as processes, cycles, hierarchies, etc. You choose a model and provide a bullet list that will be used to organize and populate your graphic. You can acquire additional layouts online, free and for sale. (SmartArt tutorials are widely available – that’s not my purpose here.)

In many cases, you may decide that none of the available graphics will improve your message. Simply choosing an attractive graphic is a mistake; SmartArt should actually add clarity to the slide.

Using SmartArt to simply replace bullets is not a good idea.  Here are some examples of the 40 layouts in the “list category:”

lists

It’s not clear to me that any of these options add anything other than decoration to the list.

A project description should be a better example for SmartArt:

orig

A “process” layout should improve the slide; here’s the result of choosing the Circle Accent Timeline layout:

sched1

The graphic is obviously too small and the text illegible. Apparently, the size of the graphic is determined by the size of the source text box. It would be better to base the graphic on the source font sizes.

I can enlarge the graphic using corner handle:

sched2

This helps but the second level text is too small. I can change the font size by selecting the text and applying the usual tools:

sched3

Now I would prefer that the “Final System Test” text box is unwrapped and not colliding with other parts of the graphic.  I would normally set the Text Box option but I find it is “grayed out” (not available), along with other options. By the way, Bullets, Numbers, Increase/Decrease Indent, Columns and all of the alignment tools are not available with SmartArt text. Hmm.

So, I stretch the “Final System Test” text box using one of the handles (indicated by the red arrow):

sched4Oops. Not only did the stretch go the wrong way, but there are now side effects (“Procure” and “Sign off”). Trying to stretch in the other direction is even more disruptive:

sched6

At this point I’ve had enough; I’ll convert the SmartArt to shapes and text (Ungroup or SmartArt Tools/Convert/Convert to Shapes) and quickly fix this slide with the usual predictable and unrestricted tools.

Next, I tried a simpler model for the project schedule. I selected Basic Process and adjusted the overall graphic size and the font sizes:

sched7

This seems to be a pretty stable layout; I can move and adjust objects without side effects. However, I am stuck with the black circle bullets on the second level items (bullet tools are disabled). So, I can’t use bullets that match my theme or delete them altogether. I can fix this, of course, by ungrouping the SmartArt graphic.

Also, although the boxes look like Rounded Rectangles, they aren’t; they lack the adjustment handle. Most of the shapes created by SmartArt are not what they  look like. Ungrouping does not solve this; however, it is simple enough to Change Shape to get an adjustable shape.

Next I tried another (appropriate) model – the Basic Chevron Process. This is what it looks like after resizing and adjusting text sizes (again, the chevrons don’t have an adjustment handle):

sched8

After moving some objects and gingerly adjusting the chevron heights, I got to this reasonable layout:

sched8

Even though alignment tools are disabled, Drawing Guides will work for elements of SmartArt layouts.

It is possible to get into trouble with this (and most) layouts. I don’t remember how I got to this result:

sched9

It is a really good idea to reveal these kinds of graphics step by step (progressive disclosure). SmartArt supports two useful animation orders: “by level” (horizontal) and the usual order (vertical). (See any of the dozens of SmartArt tutorials available for details). Here’s a demonstration:

SmartArt animations are created in the Animation Pane and can be freely edited. Only a few text-oriented Emphasis effects are unavailable.

Here’s the bad news: animations are lost if you ungroup the layout. Since I suspect you will be ungrouping most SmartArt, this is a cruel choice by the PowerPoint designers.

Overall, I would recommend that you use SmartArt as a source of ideas for meaningful graphics and use SmartArt to create a “draft” version. Then ungroup and edit the graphic elements to get your final result. Here are some more specific guidelines:

  • Avoid layouts that simply “decorate” your slide; use a layout that actually improves clarity.
  • You will most likely edit the SmartArt to get legible text and clean layouts. If you begin to get unexpected results, don’t waste time and energy; convert (ungroup) the graphic and fix it.

I think there is about a 90% chance that you will end up ungrouping the graphic.

  • Use animation to progressively reveal the graphic. Since you will probably abandon SmartArt and lose animations, don’t waste time with animating within SmartArt.
  • From point of view of design and clarity, avoid the elaborate “styles” (3d effects, for example) and random color choices offered “at a single click” by SmartArt. Keep it simple.

Drawing in PowerPoint – Wires and Pipes

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Wiring and plumbing are used as metaphors and icons for connections, relationships and processes. And you may want to represent an actual pipe or wire; who knows?

I used wires and connectors in my famous post on meters and gauges.

Wires can be created by drawing a Curve, adjusting the line width, and applying 3d Format/Top Bevel/Circle; here’s what this looks like:

wire1

The line is 20 pts wide; the bevel is 10 pts wide (half the line width) and 10 pts high. You will have to pay attention to these dimensions to get the desired appearance.

But what about the ends? They don’t look like a wire.

There are a couple of ways to eliminate the unwanted bevel; both involve first converting  the line to a picture (Cut/Paste Special/Picture (png) or (jpg)):

  • Cropping: use the Crop tool to eliminate the offending parts of the converted line image; as  you can see, this isn’t the best result (although it’s easy):

wire2

  • The second method is to use another object and Merge Shapes/Subtract to “trim” the wire image (I have added red outlines to clarify):

wire3

The”subtraction” method makes it possible to make the cut at right angles to the wire.

You can use these techniques to create an exposed conductor (starting with a 16 pt line for the conductor):

wire4

Lines that loop don’t make a convincing wire:

wire6

You can fix this by creating a clipped segment and laying it over the intersection:

wire7

You can also use the bevel effect on text. Using simple “skinny” fonts creates a wiry effect; these examples are Gulim and Comic Sans:

wire8

I used simple shapes with mild bevels to create a USB connector:

wire5

You can make other connectors, too, but let’s wait until after we do some plumbing.

The most familiar kind of plumbing uses rigid pipes along with other pieces (“fittings”) to connect the pipes. Creating a pipe is easy; I used a rectangle 1 inch high with a Circle bevel (width and height 36 pts = 1/2 inch), converted to png and cropped to remove the unwanted bevel on the ends:

pipe1

This pipe image can be resized and also used as parts of other piping components. Another useful shape is a Donut with a bevel effect. Converting it to a picture and cropping it results in an elbow shape:

pipe2

The red rectangle (1 inch high) is used to help set the thickness of the Donut to match the  pipe.

Here is the coupler – the element used to attach the pipes and fittings:

pipe3

Creating this piece is a little tricky; here’s how I did it:

pipe4

  • Start with the pipe image; resize it.
  • Apply a narrow Circle bevel to the image (8 pts).
  • Convert to png (Copy/Paste Special).
  • Create a Rounded Rectangle (shown in red) to use as a “cookie cutter” to get the right shape (Drawing Tools/Merge Shapes/Intersection). Set the round corners to match, more or less, the bevel. The result has the right shape as well as the rounded corners.

Use the pipe image, the elbow image and two “couplers” to get this:

pipe5

Here’s how I made a more complicated fitting (a “sanitary wye”):

pipe6

  • Create the Rectangle and the Block Arc; align as shown.
  • Use Merge Shapes/Union to create the combined shape. (The Union operation may create extra points if the two source shapes are not sized and aligned carefully. This can lead to unwanted artifacts in the “3d” version.)
  • Apply the Circle Bevel.
  • Convert to png and Crop.
  • Group with the couplers.

You can create other parts with the same techniques; here’s a valve:

pipe7

You can make additional pieces like tanks and pumps to complete your metaphor.

Some of these techniques help in making wiring connectors; here’s a simple example:

wire9

If you want a free PowerPoint file containing some of these objects, use the form below. If you don’t get a response in a few days, try again after double checking your email address.

Reducing Text Overload – Finding the Pony

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Presentation experts will tell you to reduce the text in your PowerPoint slides. In this audacious and ambitious post, I’m going to try to tell you why and how.

If you don’t understand the title of this post, read this.

Consider this slide:

slide 1

What’s wrong with this? It looks like millions of other PowerPoint slides.

First, imagine yourself in the audience (see this rant) of a typical stand up presentation scenario. What do you do when this slide appears? Obviously, you read it. This has a few implications:

  • While you’re reading ahead, you can’t listen to the speaker, who, at this point is trying to tell you about the first bullet.

Cognitive research has suggested that this is true because the same part of your brain is involved in listening and “silent reading.” Who knew?

Whether you believe this or not, you will probably admit that your attention to the speaker has been compromised.

  • When you are done reading, you must re-set yourself to catch up with the presenter. But, since you missed the introduction, you may take a while to comprehend the speaker; this adds to your “cognitive load.”
  • You may even decide that, since you have read the slide, there’s no need to pay attention at all and drop out.

From the presenter’s point of view, this is a disaster.

What can you do about this? In this post, I’m going to demonstrate some approaches that will help, using the slide above and another from the same PowerPoint file.

First, some caveats:

  • I found this file on the Internet a few years ago; my intent is not to criticize this specific author or his organization.  Believe me, the slides are not unusual; there are millions like them out there.
  • I know little about the subject matter and can only surmise the author’s intent. However, I tried not to change the message.
  • I assume that this file is to be used in the usual “conference room” scenario – a presenter, slides and an audience.
  • I have preserved the “bullet” approach even though many believe this is a deadly way to use PowerPoint. My experience has been that many clients are extremely reluctant to abandon this style so I have tried to improve the presentation within the “bullet” framework.
  • I do not intend the result to work as a handout; good presentations make lousy handouts.
  • I have removed “design elements.” I’m not discussing that subject in this post.
  • It may be that the overall presentation structure could use work as well but I am not attempting that here.

The bullets on the slide are not bad, they are just misplaced. Bullets should be headlines and the speaker should tell the story. This is (partly) how you avoid the disaster outlined above. So, what I usually do first is copy the bullets to the notes section where they might become the basis for the handout.

Then I identify the action words in each bullet; with luck, these are forms of verbs. Here’s my result:

slide 1a

Making use of these action words, adding a few words from the source and adopting a parallel structure (verb-object) yields this slide:

 

slide 1bI highlighted “diverse” because it is the only word that does not appear in the original text; it seems to capture the author’s intent, though.

Notice the parallel construction – each point is grammatically a verb and object. The original text used at least two different forms.

This is much more digestible but there remains a problem. Even though the text is much shorter, the audience may still read ahead, reset and drop out.

The solution to this is “progressive disclosure.” In this case we use animation to reveal one item at a time:

The animation uses the option to change the text color (“dimming”) after the effect. This helps assure that the audience’s attention is on the current point.

Some experts will advise you to present one idea per slide. I think the problem with this approach is that the context is lost. In this example, the “ideas” are related; showing them each isolated on single slides could cause the audience to lose track of the relationship. In the kinds of presentations I work on, the content is not simple and keeping the audience on track is critical. This may not be important if you’re showing your vacation pictures.

Here’s another slide from the same presentation:

slide 2

As before, I have highlighted the key words in each bullet. The first 3 bullets describe a hierarchy of “services” and resources. The next 3 bullets describe conditions that complicate the hierarchy. Finally, the last bullets state that a solution is important but difficult. This is a common sales ploy: tell the customer that he has a complex problem and that he needs your help to solve it.

I decided to break the original slide into 4 slides, as indicated by the brackets above. Slides are cheap; there is no value (and a lot of harm) in minimizing the number of slides by packing them full.

I replaced the first three bullets with a few words, simple graphics and progressive disclosure to show the relationships:

Based on this concept, the next slide lists the multiplying forces and shows the increasing number of services and complexity:

Adding a simple graphic to represent scrutiny and simply listing the final points completes the series:

If you are adverse to animation, just use the text on these slides.

I have used two techniques to reduce the text overload generated by these slides:

  • Severe editing. You may find the editing process time-consuming and painful. Brevity is difficult; in a famous letter attributed to Pascal (and others), he apologizes because he had not the time to make it shorter.
  • Simple graphics/animation. You know a picture is worth a bunch of words, even a simple one. Simple animation adds even more descriptive power.

Three Golden Principles for Presentations

moses I’ve been looking at presentations for many years and I have concluded that nearly all presentations suck.

I am astonished that all those hard working professional people out there whose livelihood may depend on delivering an engaging, convincing presentation apparently have no clue about how to do it. And it never seems to get better.

It is so bad that some authorities have recommended outlawing PowerPoint, the most popular presentation creation tool, in the desperate hope that this will somehow make presentations more bearable. This is a little like abandoning Excel in hopes of getting better financial results. The simple truth, of course, is that the trouble is with the worker, not the tool.

There is a lot of good advice out there: reduce clutter, use visuals, tell stories, etc. This is all sensible but seems to have little impact on the millions of terrible presentations created every year.

I think the solution is more fundamental than just recommending certain practices, no matter how effective they might be. It is about changing the mindset of the designer/presenter. So, I’ll take a shot at it and come down from the mountain with a stone tablet. Why not?

I will guarantee that, if you follow these principles, the number of deaths and injuries that occur as a consequence of your presentations will be reduced.

Principle 1: It’s about the audience.

Oh, of course, you know that. Who are they, what do they know, what I want them to do, what is their deepest concern, etc. Simple Sales 101. Right?

No, I’m thinking of something more basic; what it amounts to is that you shouldn’t piss off the audience. It seems reasonable to think that if the audience is not bored, irritated or downright angry with you and your presentation, you may have a greater chance of success.

Angry? How could that be?

Have you heard of “Death by PowerPoint?” – of course you have. A Google search for this term yields more than 8 million hits. It has become universal shorthand for the terrible experience of sitting through a PowerPoint presentation. But somehow, you think this doesn’t apply to you. In fact, I’ll bet that you hate to sit in a presentation audience. Go ahead, admit it.

It has become so fashionable to complain about PowerPoint that you have an uphill battle before you start. Do people groan when you turn on the projector? Maybe you should just give up, sit back and join the majority and bitch about how awful PowerPoint is, or claim that “PowerPoint makes people stupid.” That way, it’s not your fault.

On the other hand, if you have the guts to honestly and sincerely put yourself in an audience seat, you will probably not:

  • Present things that cannot comfortably be seen
  • Present too much stuff at once
  • Present stuff the audience doesn’t need to see, even if it makes you look smarter
  • Expect the audience to read more than a few words at a time while paying attention to you
  • Think that your slides are a handout document
  • Read to your audience
  • And dozens of other abusive acts.

Principle 2: You deliver the message, not the slides.

What’s the most effective tool for delivering your message, you or your PowerPoint slides? I hope to god that you agree that it’s you.

PowerPoint is there to support and reinforce your delivery. In the dim past, we used to call this kind of thing a “visual aid.” Frankly, years later, I can’t think of a better term to describe what PowerPoint’s role should be.

If you follow this principle, you probably will not:

  • Use your slides as a teleprompter
  • Complicate your slides with stuff better conveyed by you
  • Wing it without rehearsal or even knowing your content
  • Refuse to deviate from your slide order, even to respond to the audience

In fact, what you will do is create simple, effective slides and take personal responsibility for engaging and convincing your audience.

Principle 3: There isn’t a third principle.

No one wants to read a post about two principles. It has to be at least three.

Animation Projects: Arriving and Departing

carHere are a couple more projects similar to the last post.

Here’s the first animation:

The truck appears to move towards the viewer; this is done by combining motion paths with Grow/Shrink animations. As it comes “forward,” the truck appears to drop behind hills in the scene and rise over them. Using several versions of the truck and arranging the scene in layers makes this effect (the technique used in the “putt” animation in the last post.)

As usual, the truck is constructed of standard PowerPoint shapes (although this is a little more elaborate than usual):

truck1

Since I need three different sizes of this image, I will use a png version in the animation rather than the original.

Faithful readers will recall that re-sizing (scaling) a PowerPoint object does not affect parts of the object that are measured in points (lines, text, etc.). Converting the object to a png or jpg removes this irritation as in this example:

truck2

The slide layout is organized in layers; this makes the animation work. Here’s a sketch:

truck3

Here’s the Selection Pane for this slide; objects in the list are In Front of objects below them (e.g., “front truck” is In Front of “forground”):

truck4

The foreground and background objects are groups of simple shapes.

There are three versions of the truck image. This is because, as noted in the previous post, an object can’t be in two layers at once. So, at the transitions, the truck behind a layer is replaced (Disappear/Appear) by a truck in front of the layer. Since the size of the truck is changing, the sizes of the truck images is important.

Here is the Animation Pane (annotated):

truck5

The last effect uses the Fracture transition effect to reveal the black slide with the text. You may want to try some other “breakthrough” effects outlined in the series starting with this post.

Here are a few details:

  • Start by building the layers of the scene and positioning and sizing the three truck images.
  • Use the Selection Pane to order the elements; naming the elements is also helpful.
  • Add the motion paths; I used the “targeting” technique described in the last post to set the end points of the motion paths.
  • Using the sizes of the truck images, calculate and apply the Grow effect With the motion paths.
  • Adjust the timing so that the animation looks as you want it to.
  • Add the Appear/Disappear effects.
  • Create the next slide and set the Transition effect. Set the first slide to transition at 0:00; this will actually transition after the animations. There is a side effect here; even if you set the animation to start on click, it will start automatically. I have no idea why the PowerPoint designers thought this was a good idea, even if they actually planned it.

Here’s an animation that “reverses” the effect:

Here’s how the car is constructed:

car1

As before, I used png versions of the car image for the animation.

Here’s the Selection Pane for the scene showing how the elements are layered (top of the list = front):

car2

As before, there are three versions of the car.

Here’s the Animation Pane and a enhanced picture of the motion paths:

car3

Some notes:

  • This animation includes a rotation (Spin) along with the Shrink and motion.
  • A few Teeters are used to add some additional action to the motion.
  • The path is not vertical as in the “truck” animation. This makes the car appear to slide sideways a little. You should probably make the motion paths nearly vertical for this kind of animation.  Using diagonal paths realistically would require a 3d version of the object which is a little tough in PowerPoint although I may give it a shot later.

If you want a free PowerPoint file with these projects, use this form:

An Animation for Success: Sinking the Putt

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Here’s a widely understood metaphor for success:

The “secret” to this animation involves dropping the ball into the hole.

The green is in two parts, the foreground and the background; the foreground is In Front of the background. The hole is at the boundary of the two parts. Here’s a sketch:

putt1

The foreground shape is a Rectangle; I Subtracted (a Merge Shapes option) an Oval to get the cutout for the hole. The background is similar; I Edited Points to get the curve on the top. Two Ovals representing the cup are In Back of the background shape.

The ball must start In Front of the foreground shape and move (with a Shrink) to the edge of the cup but it must fall In Back of the foreground. A single object can’t be both In Front and In Back of another object so the ball object must be replaced with another ball before it drops. Another sketch:

putt2

So, after the “front” ball reaches the edge of the hole, it Disappears and the “back” ball Appears before dropping behind the foreground. Here are some details:

  • The front ball is a 0.6 in diameter circle. I drew a “target” ball (0.3 in diameter) at the edge of the hole and set Drawing Guides at the center of the target ball. I drew the motion path (a Custom Path) so that the end point is at the intersection of the target drawing guides. Faithful readers will recognize this technique.

Later versions of PowerPoint display a ghostly image of the object when motion paths are drawn. This is meant to be helpful in constructing the motion path by indicating the location of the object as the path is drawn. In simple cases this is useful but I find that the motion path endpoint can be set more accurately using the “target” drawing guides.

Also, the “ghost” does not take into account other animations (e.g., Grow/Shrink or Spin) that occur With the motion path.  So, when other animations are involved, the ghost image of the original object is not very helpful.

  • I added a 50% Grow/Shrink With the motion path.
  • To make the putt more dramatic, the motion path has a double curve:

putt3

  • Also, I used the “Smooth End” option to make the ball  slow down and come to a dramatic pause on the edge of the cup:

putt4

  • The original ball Disappears and a second smaller ball Appears and drops into the cup.
  • The rest of the slide is made of objects layered as indicated in this sketch:

putt5

This simple, “flat” style is better than a more realistic rendering – it’s cleaner and less distracting. It’s also easier (and trendy). I used several clip art examples from the web for inspiration.

But what about the sound effect??? This is the first time I have used sound in these posts (if you didn’t hear the sound in the video above, you may have your speaker muted) and I don’t think I can get away without some comments on sounds.

In the first place, I am not convinced that sound effects are appropriate in the typical stand-up conference room presentation.  They can easily be distracting and off-putting; especially if they are over-used or used inappropriately. In larger venues, sound from your presenting device/laptop may not be supported. As with many PowerPoint features, some discretion is called for.

On the other hand, sound is certainly useful for web videos and similar applications; narrations and music (as well as sound effects) can be quite effective.

Here’s how the ball drop sound effect is done:

  • This particular sound effect is free from soundfxnow.com. There dozens of sites that can provide a bewildering array of sound effects, not all free but not expensive. A favorite of mine is soundrangers.com.
  • Find out what audio formats are supported by PowerPoint here.
  • After you’ve downloaded the clip, use Insert/Audio/Audio on my PC to insert the audio clip. A speaker icon/image will appear on your slide along with a small player bar.
  • The Audio Tools/Playback tab will appear. Under Start, select Automatically; this option places the audio clip on the Animation pane so that it can be synchronized with the animation.

Apparently, the PowerPoint designers thought the primary use of audio would be that the presenter/viewer would manually click on the speaker icon to hear the audio (I’ve never used sound this way). So, when you select Start/On Click (the default), that’s the way it works. The clip will appear in the Animation Pane but will run only when the icon (the “trigger”) is clicked.

By the way, the Format option under Audio Tools simply provides the usual picture tools  applied to the icon; it has nothing to do with the audio.

  • You can select an option so that the speaker icon does not appear during slide show mode; I usually just move it off the visible slide space.
  • I used the Trim Audio to shorten the clip – the ball rattled around too long in the original clip, I thought. Trimming was surprisingly straightforward.
  • You can apply many of the usual animation options to an audio clip in the Animation Pane. Unfortunately, PowerPoint animation does not recognize the duration of the clip; it treats it as an instantaneous event. This means that synchronizing audio with animation effects may require some trial and error.
  • I positioned the clip to occur With the final ball drop; here’s the final animation pane (annotated):

putt6

Added 7/8/2015: A reader asked if “3d shading could be added to the ball and still make it roll realistically.” First, PowerPoint “3d” and animation don’t play together. There’s an example of applying animation to a 3d object in this post on 3d gears. And I don’t think it can be faked; the Spin rotation is in the plane of the slide rather than “in” to the slide. If the animation were “flat” (e.g. horizontal) a Spin might be convincing. In short, don’t expect too much from PowerPoint animation, Thanks, reader, for the comment.

As usual, use the form below to request a free copy of the PowerPoint file for this project. If you don’t receive a response in a few days, you may have made an error in your email address.

PowerPoint Secrets: My Tools

tools bannerAs a result of years working with PowerPoint, I have some favorite tools and methods that may be useful to you, too.

In versions of PowerPoint that implement the “ribbon,” a “quick access toolbar” is also provided; this remains on the screen regardless of which “tab” is active. The value of this is that you can select a set of commands that is always available, always in the same position, regardless of PowerPoint’s muddling around switching tabs trying to guess what you want to do next.

You can select commands using the pull-down at the right side of the toolbar and clicking on More Commands.

What you select for your toolbar depends on your habits and what you do with PowerPoint. In this post, I’ll tell you what’s on my toolbar and why; you can go from there.

(By the way, my choices are partly determined by the fact that I don’t have the memory or the coordination to make keyboard shortcuts work. Besides, with PowerPoint, my hand is almost always on the mouse.)

So, here’s the list:

  • Undo, Redo. Obvious unless you never make mistakes. Undo is probably already on the toolbar.
  • Copy, Paste. Again, obvious. These tools are on a couple of the tabs but not in the same location on each tab. I don’t seem to use Cut that much but you may want it on the toolbar.

By the way, why doesn’t PowerPoint have a delete tool?? I think there used to be an “Erase” but I can’t find it now.

  • Group, Ungroup, Regroup. These seem to be essential for the kind of work I do which involves a lot of drawing. Leaving the components that make up an object ungrouped is asking for trouble. Also, I tend to use groups of groups and, given the way PowerPoint grouping works, I often have to ungroup to edit a component.
  • Bring to Front, Send to Back. I use these to manage the layering of objects on the slide. If the layering is the least bit complicated, I use the Select Pane (see below).
  • Duplicate. For consistency and appearance, I create a lot of similar objects. Duplicating an object to help create a similar object seems natural. Also, using duplicate several times can create a series of objects with equal spacing (see this post for more).
  • Duplicate Slide.  When I working on a complicated slide, I often duplicate a version of the slide as a backup; that is, if I screw up the next step I can always go back.
  • Format Painter. Again, this useful in creating similar objects.

There appears to be space for about 14 icons in the “quick access toolbar.” I have suggested 12 above so you can add a couple more. Or you can just ignore my suggestions.

PowerPoint also provides a number of persistent “panes;” these are toolsets that, once evoked, stay available on the desk top.

I usually use two monitors: the Normal view is on one and the other is used for the “panes” below. This is not quite as convenient on a single monitor.

  • Format… pane.  This pane collects in one place all the tools used for fills/outlines, object and text effects, size/rotation, etc. Having the pane open avoids some of the clicks and scans it takes to find these functions in the ribbon tabs. You can evoke this pane by right-clicking on an object and selecting Format… or by clicking on the Drawing Tools tab. The pane will change based on the type of object selected. When a object includes text, be careful that you pick the appropriate toolset (Shape Options or Text Options).
  • Selection and Visibility pane. I lauded the virtues of this pane in a previous post. Briefly, it lets you control the layering and grouping of objects on a slide directly. You can also name objects (!) and make them disappear temporarily so you can work efficiently on complex slides.
  • Animation pane. Set effect parameters, sequence, timing, overlaps, etc. using this pane. Indispensable except for all but the simplest animations.

I usually have an Explorer window open on the second monitor, too. Did you know you can drag images directly from the Explorer window onto your slide? Fascinating.


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