Animating PowerPoint Tables

PowerPoint tables are used to display data with a row-column relationship.  For example, columns might represent years and rows represent financial data for those time periods.   Or a table might be used to compare features and options for a set of products with rows representing products and columns representing features. Of course, PowerPoint tables can be more complicated, reflecting other kinds of relationships.  And tables can also be used simply as a convenient way to align text.

However, PowerPoint tables have a few annoying shortcomings.  First, cells can only contain text.  You may have discovered this by unsuccessfully trying to paste another PowerPoint object (an icon or a photo, say) in a table cell to add some visual interest.  Then, reasonably, you place the object over the table cell and then try to group it with the table discovering  another flaw:  tables cannot be grouped with anything else!

But the biggest annoyance with tables is that individual table elements (cells, rows or columns) cannot be separately animated.   Since tables usually contain a lot of information, presenting a table all at once is a classic way to lose your audience’s attention while they try to figure out what’s in the table and what it means.  Put another way, tables need to be “chunked” – presented in easily digestible pieces to avoid overloading and distracting your audience.

There are three (four – see Andrew Greaves’ comment) common work-arounds for this problem (Ellen Finklestein’s  popular post on table and chart animation, along with the comments, discuss these solutions).  To demonstrate the techniques, I’ll use a typical financial table:

By the way, every time I see a table like this, I wonder if a graph (PowerPoint “chart”) might not be more easily comprehensible.  What is the message in this data?  And, do we really need that extra digit of accuracy?  But, financial types seem to love this kind of thing and are not easily moved.

To avoid overloading the audience, we want to show the header row and the “Sales” row first, followed by the other rows, one at a time.

Method 1 – Overlaying

The first technique is to overlay the rows with background filled rectangles and apply an Exit animation to each rectangle, revealing the row.  Here’s the scheme with a Wipe/From Left exit animation:

This works – here’s what it looks like:

There are some issues with this method:

  • It is very fiddly work to position and size the overlay boxes, especially when your table has borders.
  • The slide, when printed directly from the presentation, has all but the first rows hidden (covered by the overlay boxes).  Also, your clients may be confused when editing the slide.
  • Generally, animating background-filled objects doesn’t always work properly – specifically when the background is not uniform and animation moves or reshapes the object against the background.  However, this is not an issue if the background is uniform or when using the Wipe animation as above.

Method 2 – Decomposing the Table

This method relies on a workaround that allows constructs like tables to be broken apart into PowerPoint objects.  To apply it,  convert (Copy and Paste Special) the table to wmf or emf and then Ungroup the resulting object into its components.  Unfortunately, this is not as convenient as it sounds.  Here are the details (using a simpler table for the demonstration):

  • First, Copy the table.  Then select Paste Special and click the “emf” option.   The file formats “wmf” and “emf” are Microsoft Window formats intended to allow images to be shared among Windows applications.  However, the formats are not widely used and are used inconsistently.  Microsoft recommends the “emf” variant although it doesn’t seem to matter in this exercise.
  • Select the pasted version and Ungroup it (answering Yes to the dialog box).
  • Ungroup the result.

As you can see, there are more parts to the converted table than you might expect.  This exploded view shows the parts:

Note that the text is separate from the rectangles forming the cells.  There is also an empty rectangle.  Note that the table borders are not converted to object outlines for each cell.  In fact the borders are not lines at all but narrow rectangles (shown by the red arrow above) . Sometimes, more components show up.   The easiest approach seems to be to re-build the table rows from the components.

One way to do this is:

Rather than struggling with the “border” parts, I discarded them and applied outlines to the cells.  Now the result can be animated by rows.

This seems pretty complicated but the main drawback is the inevitable editing of the table – you will probably go back to the original table (you saved it, didn’t you?) and rebuild the affected rows.

Method 3 – Multiple Tables

This method creates separate tables for each animated element (in this example, rows).  Simply select the rows, copy and paste for each element:Align the rows (overlapping the borders), being careful not to disturb the table formatting, and animate each one; animation is straightforward since each element is a table, not a row.  The alignment is a little fiddly but, to me, not as bad as the overlay method.


Which is the best method?  My vote goes to the multiple table method; it uses standard/ordinary PowerPoint and seems fairly quick.  Reasonable persons may disagree.

2 Responses to “Animating PowerPoint Tables”

  1. 1 Andrew Greaves November 21, 2012 at 3:58 am

    A fourth way is to fill the table with all data. Duplicate the slide as many times as you have rows, Delete a row from the penultimate slide, 2 rows from the one before that, 3 from the one before that, etc. As you present the slides you get the appearance of a build but are actually just changing slides. When printing or sharing for reading just delete all but the final slide in the sequence. Much easier for the less technically gifted ppt user.

  2. 2 pptcrafter November 21, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Thanks – sometimes simple is best. .

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