PowerPoint Secrets – Using Transitions as Animations


In my last post, I used a slide transition to simplify construction of a “photo carousel” effect. This post is about using transitions in other unusual ways.

But first, I beg your indulgence for a short rant about transitions. To wit: transitions are like animation in general; using transitions just because Microsoft says they are “exciting” is poisonous. They should be used only for a reason (see this post for a more complete essay on this subject). See this article for a similar view. Finally, see this source to see how bad this kind of thing can get.

The carousel post used a “dynamic content” transition; this essentially allows you to specify which objects on the slide are affected by the transition effect. Other objects (e.g., the slide title, background and your logo) remain fixed during the transition. So, the effect looks like an animation rather than a transition.

In the usual transitions, the entire slide is affected. Of course, in some cases, this not apparent. Here’s an example using a transition to a second slide to mimic an Entrance animation:

This is a Random Bars transition but, since the two slides are identical except for the “review” box, only the review box “appears.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t add much to our toolbox, since only 8 of the 45 available transitions (in my version of PowerPoint) work this way. And these don’t add much to our animation repertoire.

In some cases, a transition that affects the entire slide can be used effectively. Here’s an example:

This is a version of an effect I developed in my earlier breakthrough post. This one uses a Fracture transition and is much simpler to create.

Only a few dynamic content transitions (7 in my version) are available. Is there a way to use the other transitions as animations? The answer is, as you might expect, sort of.

The trick is to build the transition effect in a separate file, convert it to video, and then insert into your presentation where needed.

Whoa, you might say. Isn’t this overkill? Is it worth it to get involved in the complications of video?

Don’t be intimidated, dear reader. PowerPoint video conversions are easy and work quite well. How do you think I made all the demos you see in these posts? In fact I think I’ll look at some more video-related projects in upcoming posts.

Here is a project that uses a video for the “curtain” effect:

Here’s how:

  • The basic slide is created first, with the text.
  • In a separate presentation, create two slides. The first is the customer service agent, and the second is a rectangle with the text “PLEASE WAIT.” The rectangle is sized and positioned so that, after the transition to the second slide, the rectangle will cover the agent. The slides look like this:



  • On slide one, set the transition to None, and check the Advance Slide/After 00:00:00 box. This will make the transition to the nest slide occur automatically, immediately after the presentation starts. On slide 2, set the transition to Drape and set the Duration (2.75 sec in my case). Also, check the Advance Slide/On Click box; this prevents the presentation from ending with a black screen.
  • Run Slide Show to check the results. Edit the slides as needed.
  • Now convert to video: select File/Export/Create a Video.
  • Select Internet Quality; this is usually sufficient for presentations.
  • The Use Recorded Timings and Narrations box should appear; this means that the conversion will  use the transition timings you have set. If this box doesn’t appear automatically, go back and make sure that the slide transitions are timed rather than “on click.”
  • Click Create Video. I usually use the filename of the PowerPoint file (the default) for the video. Conversion may take a while; there is an indicator that the conversion is happening at the bottom of the PowerPoint window.
  • Here’s what the video looks like:
  • Next, insert the video in the original slide. Select Insert/Video/Video on My PC… and select the video created above. I used the same slide size for the video as the original so the inserted video placeholder will cover the whole slide.
  • In Video Tools/Playback, set Start to Automatically. This will put the video in the Animation Pane like an animation effect.
  • Click on the video placeholder and use Video Tools/Format/Crop and resize to get the video placeholder to the right shape, size and location. This is just like working with a Picture.
  • Open the Animation Pane. You will see the video as an event and as a “trigger” item. The trigger is not needed in this application; Remove it from the animation pane.
  • Animate the text and set the timing relative to the video as needed. Note that the duration of the video does not appear, unfortunately.  Here’s the slide and animation pane:


  • Run Slideshow to verify the effect: the second line of text and the “curtain” should appear on click.

Here are some additional notes on this technique:

  • In the example, the backgrounds of the presentation and the video are the same (white); that is, the background of the PowerPoint file used to create the video is the same as the background where the video will be used. You can get away with this for a uniformly colored background but a more complicated (e.g., gradient) background may cause problems.
  • Some transitions involve extra “background” elements. For example, Gallery moves the slide images against a black background that you may not want and there is no way to make this disappear.
  • Using a bigger crop of the video may increase (or not) the impact of the effect. You can set the aspect ratio (slide size) of the PowerPoint file used to create the video so that you can use the entire slide if you desire.

Wow. This is getting more complicated than I intended. So, I’ll show some more examples in a follow-up post. You can try experimenting with the technique in the meantime.

As usual, if you want a free copy of the PowerPoint files used in this post, use the form below:








Slide Transitions: A Photo Carousel


In a previous post, I described a project where a client wanted to recreate an effect on his website in PowerPoint: a “carousel” display of photos representing the company’s global locations. My approach turned out to be fairly complicated; this post uses a much simpler technique to produce a similar result.

Here’s my new sequence:

This project uses a series of slides with slide transitions to create the effect rather than animations. In particular, “dynamic content” transitions are used. This feature was introduced in PowerPoint 2010; here’s how it works:

Slides contain two different kinds of objects (content). Some of the objects originate in the slide Layout (typically, backgrounds, bullet list placeholders, logo, slide number, etc.) and appear when a New Slide is created. These objects cannot be edited directly on the slide. Other objects (content) are created on the slide itself. In this project, the Title, Acme logo and the gold bar under the title are “layout content.” The “slide content” is the photograph and label. When a Dynamic Content transition is used, the layout objects do not move during the effect, as in the example above. So, the effect appears to apply to the photos and the slide remains fixed:


By the way, slide transitions are a lot like animations: there are a lot of loony effects available and haphazard use will distract and possibly nauseate your audience – not a good thing. Use transitions only when they add to your message (or when the client tells you to). For more on this view, see this rant.

Here are some notes on the “carousel” effect:

  • To keep the title text from moving, I created a new Layout with the desired title as a text box rather than the title placeholder. Go to View/Slide Master, select the slide layout you are using (Title Only Layout in my case), right click on it and select Duplicate layout. A new layout name will be supplied but you can edit the name as needed. On the new layout, delete the title placeholder and create a text box in its place; the text is now part of the layout and will stay put. Use this layout for your carousel slides.
  • For the smoothest result, all the photos should be the same size. An easy way to do this is to create a Rectangle of the appropriate size, and use it as a “cookie cutter” to get properly sized photos.
    • Place the Rectangle over the photo and position and/or resize the photo until the part of the photo inside the Rectangle is what you want; here’s an example with the Rectangle outlined in yellow for contrast:
  • trans1
    • Now, select the Rectangle and then the photo and apply Merge Shapes/Intersect.

A reader has informed me that Merge Shapes doesn’t work on pictures in PowerPoint 2010 and earlier. You can use Crop and resize to fix the pictures.

  • Position the photos in the same place on each slide in the series (use Drawing Guides to help).
  • A Rectangle with a semi-transparent fill is used as the photo label. This is a good way to assure legible text over a “noisy” background.
  • For each slide, except the first, apply the Dynamic Content transition Rotate (in the Transitions tab).
  • Since you probably don’t want to click through each slide, set Advance Slide/After… with an appropriate timing. You can also adjust the transition Duration to your liking. Here are the settings for this project:


Although this effect is not exactly the same as the one I did using animations, it is a bunch easier.

This project makes me wonder if I can use some of the other transition effects in a similar way. I’ll look at that in the next post.

If you want a free PowerPoint copy of this project, use the form below. Also if you want a notification of new posts on this blog, please click on Follow Powerpointy at the top of this post.

Let There Be Light (in PowerPoint)


Flashlights, searchlights and lamps can suggest searching, discovery, revelation and even celebration in presentations. This post is about creating these dramatic effects in PowerPoint.

Creating light beams and lighted areas involves gradient fills and transparency. The PowerPoint gradient fill tools are clumsy but I can get acceptable results with very simple gradients, using Soft Edges as a shortcut.

I don’t have a lot of experience with graphics software, but I have seen tools for creating gradients that are a lot more intuitive than PowerPoint’s. I usually struggle with how the sliders relate to the actual object and what the options (Type and Direction) are actually going to do. It doesn’t help that the Pre-sets are pretty complicated and difficult to use as starting points. Ah, well.

Look at photos of flashlights, searchlights, etc., in action to get an idea of what beams and other light effects look like. As a matter of style and practicality, you will probably want to simplify these in your presentation.

The most dramatic effects are with very light (!) colored shapes against a fairly dark background. Here’s an example “beam:”


This Trapezoid has a gradient fill with white ranging from 0 (at the small end) to 55% transparency. Soft Edge is also applied. Here are the Fill settings for the Trapezoid:


I’ve used only two transition points for this effect;sometimes I use three. Any more than that is confusing. And, make sure that Rotate with Shape is checked.

This shape is used in my first project:

Here are some details:

  • The flashlight is a circle with some 3d effects applied: a top and bottom Bevel, Depth and Rotation. Here’s an overview showing the effect of the Bevels:


  • Here are a couple of rotations of the flashlight:


This is an example of the kind of object that can be created with “3d bevels.” Other kinds of objects can be created with additional techniques; see this post on toy blocks. However, PowerPoint 3d is limited; some of your ideas for 3d objects may be impossible.

  • The lit area is simply a gray oval (no transparency) with soft edges.
  • The oval, beam and text are grouped so that a single animation works.
  • A semi-transparent rectangle is placed over the flashlight; it disappears in the animation. Here’s the slide:


  • Here’s the animation pane. A fast (0.1 sec) Fade (exit) is used for the masking rectangle and a 0.1 sec Wipe for the beam group. The wipe is not strictly accurate (light is much faster that this) but it has a nice effect.


Here’s the next project:

Here are some details:

  • The lamp is made from standard shapes; the shade is a Chord and the wire is a Curve:


  • The bills in the pile of cash are Block Arcs with a green fill and border, flattened:


  • The coins are a couple of Rounded Rectangles with a shadow Line:


  • The beam is the Trapezoid used in the last example but it has been converted to a picture (Copy/Paste Special) and Cropped to give it a sharp lower edge.
  • The “glow” is a circle with a gradient fill, converted to a picture and cropped. This represents reflected/scattered light from the lamp and adds to the overall effect.
  • The animation for the light effect is a quick (0.1 sec) Wipe for the beam with a simultaneous entrance Fade for the cash and the ambient glow.

Here’s another project – a flashy (!) introduction:

Here are the details:

  • The slide has 5 “layers:”
    • The slide background is formatted with one of the presets. I used blue rather than dark gray for this slide.
    • Two searchlight beams are in front of the background.
    • The skyline is next – a series of black rectangles.  (You might want to add lighted windows to the buildings.)
    • The marquee is in front of the skyline.
    • Two searchlights are in front of the marquee.
  • The searchlight beams are gradient-filled Rectangles with Soft Edges like the flashlight beam in the first project. (Search lights are more tightly focused than the typical flashlight so I used a rectangle rather than the trapezoid.) I added a Rectangle to the beams in front to represent the searchlight.
  • I often group an invisible circle with objects so that the center of rotation is where I want it to be. I added a circle to the beams so that they “sweep” properly:


  • The beam animation for the searchlights is a Spin of around 60 degrees with Auto-reverse and Repeat/Until end of slide selected. The duration is around 6 seconds. The timing and Spin amount vary slightly.
  • The marquee is composed of a couple of Rectangles and some stars and circles:


  • A blinking light on the marquee involves two circles, one white-filled in front of one blue-filled. The white circle appears and disappears over the blue one to give the effect of blinking. Here are two sets of three circles:


  • The animation for the white circles is a quick (0.5 sec) entrance Fade. The timing parameters are set to “rewind” the fade and repeat. The start time for each circle is offset by 0.2 sec. Here’re the animation setup and the fade parameters:


  • I copied the 2 sets of three circles and placed them around the edge of the marquee to finish the effect.

If turning on a light means something, maybe turning one off means something, too. Here’s the last project:

I used the same techniques for this effect, observing that a shaded lamp casts light upwards and downwards along with creating an ambient glow.

If you want to try some of these effects, use the form below to request a free copy of a PowerPoint file containing these slides. Please double-check your email address.

PowerPoint Secrets: Pictures in Shapes


Several of these posts have used Shapes filled with pictures; for example, the popular jigsaw puzzle series and this one. I have also filled text with pictures (see this post). Since this process is not simple in PowerPoint, I decided to document the options and recommend the easiest method.

There are four separate ways to fill a shape with a picture:

  1. Format Shape/Shape options/Fill/Picture or texture fill – this “fill” option seems the most obvious approach.
  2. Merge Shapes/Intersection – this is not so obvious but it works well.
  3. Crop to Shape – an option that allows you to select a shape (other than a rectangle) for the result of a Crop operation.
  4. Placeholder – this is a special shape in SmartArt layouts or in a slide layout that is “pre-programmed” so that it can be filled with a picture with a single click (or at least that seems to be the intent).

I’ll demonstrate the methods with this example:


Starting with the image of the woman with a laptop and shopping bags, I want to capture the woman’s face and the hand holding the credit card. And, I want the result to be a circle.

These are the steps using the Fill/Picture option:

  • Create the circle and Copy the original image to place it on the clipboard. Under Fill, select the Picture or texture option, and Insert picture from/Clipboard. (I use the Format Picture pane to access this function; of course, there are other ways. Also, you may want to Insert from/File.) Here’s the result:


  • Oops. The fill function has re-sized and distorted the entire original image to fit it into the circle. Not what I had in mind. The solution is to select the Tile picture as texture option.

WTF, you may well say. Tile? Texture? What this astoundingly obscure option means is that, rather than resize and ignore the proportions of the original image, the fill process will use the unscaled, undistorted original image to fill the shape, repeating it in a grid (tiling) as necessary to fill the shape. For some reason, this is not the default.

  • Here’s the result of using the Tile… option:


  • Oops again. But, have patience; there is a way out. The Fill has retained the size and proportions of the original picture but its position relative to the circle is not what I want. Trying the Alignment/Center option (Top Left is the default!) yields this:


  • Now I can use the Alignment and Scale options to get the result I want. About a hundred clicks later, here it is:


This is all very clumsy. A workaround that I have used in some of my previous posts is to Crop and scale the original picture before using the Fill. I resize and crop (click and drag operations) the image to “fit” the circle. Here’s what I mean (a blue outline has been added to the cropped image):


Now, using the pre-cropped picture as the source (via the clipboard), I can create the desired result immediately using Fill/Picture without the Tile... option and associated fiddling.

Either way, the result retains the characteristics of the shape including adjustment handles, if any, as well as a picture; that is, both Picture and Drawing tools can be used. In particular, the Edit Shape options are available.

The same method, including the pre-cropping workaround, applies to text filling – just make sure you are using text formatting tools rather than shape formatting (see this post for details). The result of a text picture fill is a text box with picture characteristics (i.e., drawing, text and picture tools all apply).

Beginning with PowerPoint 2010, Merge Shape tools are provided. The Intersection option provides a simple, intuitive method for picture filling a shape (or text). Here’s the method:

  • Create the shape (no fill) and resize and position it over the picture so that the desired part of the picture in in the shape outline:


  • Now, select the picture, then the shape, and use Merge Picture/Intersection. You’re done!

I call this the cookie cutter method. Note that the result is a picture, not a shape. Also, the order of selection (picture first) is important.

A reader has informed me that that the Merge tools do not work on pictures in PowerPoint 2010. Sorry; 2010 users should probably use the pre-cropping method described above.

The cookie cutter method also works with text:


Again, the result is a picture; in particular, the text can’t be edited.

Crop to Shape also provides a way to create, for example, a circle-shaped picture. Here’s the process:

  • Under Crop, select the desired Aspect Ratio; for my example, it’s 1:1:


  • In the Crop pulldown, select the desired Shape (Oval). Essentially all pre-defined shapes are available (except Freeform and Lines). Move the the cropping mask to reveal the desired part of the image:


  • Resize the cropping shape to get the desired result (use Cntl/Shift or reset the Aspect Ratio to retain the circle shape):

picf11The result of these operations is a picture.

Placeholders show up in some slide layouts or in SmartArt layouts. If you click on a Picture placeholder, you will be invited to select a picture to be placed in the placeholder. Since placeholders have a shape, the resulting picture will have that shape.

Here’s how this works with a Smart Art layout:

  • Select a layout; this is Circular Picture Callout in the Picture group:


  • Each of the circles with the picture icon is a picture placeholder. Click on the placeholder and you will be presented with options for locating the picture (it must be a file on your computer or elsewhere). I located the picture and get this result:


  • Now,use the Picture Fill tools as described above to get the desired result. Pre-cropping the picture will make this easier but remember that you must save the pre-cropped picture as a file since filling from the Clipboard is not an option with this method.

In the unlikely case that you are using a Picture Placeholder in a slide layout, the process is the same as for SmartArt except the file must be located on your computer; the other global search options are not provided.

Here’s my summary (the easier method gets a higher score). Of course, the rating is subjective; you may disagree:


Adventures in PowerPoint – Not-so-SmartArt


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:”


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:


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


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:


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:


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:


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:


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):


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


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:


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


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:


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):


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


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):


Lines that loop don’t make a convincing wire:


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


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


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


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:


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:


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:


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


  • 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:


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


  • 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:


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:


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


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.

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