Power Tips for PowerPoint

We can’t get away from it. It doesn’t matter whether we’re designing for face-to-face or online: we’re going to have to use PowerPoint at least once in awhile.

I know, I said that like it’s a bad thing. And truly, it’s not that PowerPoint is that bad; it’s the way most people use it. GIANT SCREAMING BOLD HEADINGS. Five levels of bullets and walls of text. Gradients and shadows everywhere. Make it stop!

(Exhale) Now that I’ve got that out of my system, here are some tricks to bend PowerPoint to your will. Or at least avoid some of the most tedious and vexing issues.

Import Slides From Outline

If this isn’t the coolest thing PowerPoint can do, then I don’t know what is. Create your content as an outline in Word. Make each level of your outline a Heading. Save as an rtf.

When you’re ready, open PowerPoint and go to the Insert menu. Choose Slides From > Outline…


Locate and select your rtf file and watch the magic happen. PowerPoint automatically creates a new slide whenever it sees text formatted as Heading 1, putting that text in the Heading placeholder. Heading 2 and so on are automatically placed in the Content placeholder, until it sees the next Heading 1.

Set the Default Master First

When you use the import feature, all slides are automatically formatted as “Office Theme Slide Master,” that large slide master at the top of the stack in Slide Master view. Which makes sense, right? Because the vast majority of slides are going to be this title-plus-content format.

You will save yourself hours (perhaps even days) of work if you set this Master first. Add your background, set your colors and fonts, adjust font sizes… whatever. Do it here first. If you want to have a different background on some other layout, don’t worry. There’s a fix for that – keep reading.

Stop the Madness

If I’m going to fault PowerPoint with anything, it’s the insane font sizes and bullet madness. Unless you’re giving your presentation in an arena with thousands of attendees, you don’t need 44-point headings. Arguably, headings should never be so big that they distract from the text or image on your slide, regardless of the size of your venue or audience. Scale the heading down, and then scale the heading placeholder down. Give your content some room to grow – experience teaches that you’ll need that room.

Also insane is the number of bullet levels and the indentation given to each. Do you need a bullet at the top level? Probably not. Do you need five levels of bullets? I hope not. So get rid of those things and then use the ruler slider to reduce the amount of indentation for the remaining bullet levels.

Baby Got Back(ground)

If you’re the creative type who likes to design your own themes, here’s a nifty way to add a background image. In Slide Master view, click the Styles button, then click Format Background. You can change the background color here, or add a picture or texture. The nifty thing about this is that, if you want to use a picture for your background, you won’t be perpetually selecting it when you mean to select a content placeholder.


Caveat: Beware of file sizes if you’re putting pictures on your background. You don’t want your presentation to be so huge that you can’t forward it to the next person who needs it. Some guidelines:

  • 72 pixels per inch is usually adequate resolution
  • PowerPoint’s “preferred” image size is 10 inches by 7.5 inches
  • If you’re using Photoshop to re-size images, and you need to retain sharpness, resample using Bicubic Sharper (reduction)

Once you’ve got your default layout set up, have fun with your other layouts. If there’s something on the default that you don’t want to see on another layout, go back to that Styles button and then click Hide Background Graphics. Nifty, yes?

Set Default Shape and Line

Another way to save huge amounts of time: don’t let PowerPoint dictate what every rectangle or line looks like. Want a more modern look without a gradient or shadow? Easy!

Close Slide Master view and pick a slide, any slide. Create a rectangle, set its fill color to the one you think you’ll use most, and get rid of the shadow. Set its text properties too. Then right-click on the rectangle and click Set as Default Shape. Now every rectangle you draw will start out looking like this one. And so will other shapes, like circles and polygons. Draw a line and set its color and thickness, even arrow-head if you like, and set it as your default line.

Test With Enough Text

Just about any layout will look okay with only one line of text at each bullet level, but of course that’s not the real world. I like to test with three top-level items, and 2-3 sub-bullets under each. Make sure you have a few longer lines of text so you can see how it looks when it wraps. If needed, go back and adjust the font sizes and paragraph spacing in the Master. Nobody wants to go through every blinkin’ slide and click “autofit” over and over again. *Shudder*

Reset Layout

So your beautiful template has been passed around through several other sets of hands and now all the slides look like Picasso designed them? Not a prob. Go to the messed-up slide, and click the button that lets you change the layout. At the bottom of that pop-up menu, you’ll see a selection called “Reset Layout to Default Settings.” Click that little puppy and, nine times out of ten, most of the cray-cray will go away instantly.


Want More?

Let us know in the comments if you’d like to see more tips and tricks like these. Or post your own!

(by Rissa Karpoff)


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