5 popular PowerPoint® how-to questions answered in one place

Chariti Canny

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Chariti Canny

PowerPoint® is one of the most misunderstood Office software products on the market. While a majority of business professionals use the product practically every day, many have a strong aversion to the program. Some organizations have banned it altogether.

But PowerPoint is actually a versatile and creative tool when used correctly. PowerPoint’s features enable even non-designers to create beautiful, custom slides that allow users to more precisely convey a message and the brand of an organization.

While conducting research for our on-demand course Slide Design™, I came across some of the same PowerPoint how-to questions again and again. Below, I answer five of the most popular questions that I saw. I encourage you to practice these on your own so you can discover that elegant and effective slide design is right at your fingertips.

1. How to turn a PowerPoint into a video

Building a training deck that you’re looking to share beyond a live presentation? Want to include multimedia with the press release that you’re publishing for an upcoming product launch? You can easily turn your presentation into a standalone video for distribution, with or without recording narration. PowerPoint’s export to video is a standard feature that many people don’t know about.

Start by clicking on the File tab in the ribbon. Scroll down and select Export, and then navigate to Create a Video. Choose your video settings preferences, including video quality, timings and narration, and seconds spent on each slide (this timer is for how long the video pauses on a slide *after* all animations have built through). Click on Create a Video. Finally, choose a file name, saving location, and video type (.mp4 or .wmv).

PowerPoint to video steps

The Create a Video dialog has a lot of options. There’s also a preview video option in the dropdown.

A few notes to keep in mind: When you export a presentation as a video, each slide plays for a uniform period of time that you define in the Create a Video dialog. The default is 5 seconds, but if you want the slides to move through immediately after each animation build, change this to 0:00.

A slide with a Transition set to “After” (i.e., timed) will override the settings in the Create a Video dialog.

PowerPoint Create a Video dialog box

This example is showing a slide that is set to advance to the next slide 14 seconds after the final animation on the current slide.

You can also record yourself moving through the presentation at your ideal pace for each slide. The recording could be made with or without voice narration. If you record yourself moving through the slides be sure you select Use Recorded Timings and Narrations from the Create a Video dialog.

PowerPoint Recorded Timings and Narrations box

Any slide without narration or slide advancement timing will default to the seconds spent on each slide option which you define in the Create a Video dialog.

Pro-tip: When recording and including an audio track, gently use the scroll wheel of your mouse to move through animation builds and slide transitions to avoid a mouse “click” from being recorded into your video.

Also note that some transition effects may play differently in a video, and some animation effects may not play at all. Be sure to review your video before publishing it.

2. How to make a PowerPoint image the background of a slide

In PowerPoint, an emotionally evocative image is worth a thousand words. Make your background images fill your entire slide to enhance the impact like we did to illustrate the power of stats in a presentation that Procore gave at America’s largest construction software conference.

PowerPoint slide with stats

Making this photo of a typical user of Procore’s products the background of a stats slide added emotional power.

Just right-click in the gray area surrounding your slide and select Format Background. (Alternatively, you can select the Design tab in the ribbon and click the Format Background button.) You’ll then see the Format Background panel appear on the right of your screen. Click the Fill button and select the “Picture or texture fill” radio button. Next, click the “File…” button and select a file. Click Insert and your image will become the background for the entire slide.

format PowerPoint background steps

If you copy an image from elsewhere, and it’s the last thing you copied, you can click Clipboard instead of File to quickly paste the image into the background.

If you change your mind about having an image embedded into the background, click the Reset Background button in the Format Background options.


Slideology black button


3. How to make a PowerPoint timeline

How many presentations have you created requiring a timeline? This is a frequent ask among my clients and workshop attendees, particularly when they’ve been tasked with explaining project milestones and process steps. You could rely on one of the pre-made SmartArt process shapes included in PowerPoint. However, these generally won’t give you simple, clean, and customized timelines, like the one we made for Hyperloop One.

Duarte video: Hyperloop One case study: PowerPoint® timeline

To create more unique timelines that can be tailored to your presentation’s message, click on Shapes on the Home tab and select the first option within the “Lines” subheader.

Holding down shift on your keyboard, drag your cursor across your slide to create perfectly straight horizontal and vertical lines. You can apply this same technique to create any perfect shape. For example, you can create a perfectly round circle to function as the first point along the timeline by selecting the circle shape and holding shift while drawing it.

Duplicate this circle by selecting it and holding down Ctrl+shift as you drag it along the line. To duplicate it again with the same distance between the third and fourth circles click F4. This key will always duplicate the exact last action you did in PowerPoint.

Another way to ensure that you create evenly spaced points is by using the Arrange menu. Set your ideal first and last points of the timeline, then select all the circles. On the Home tab, click Arrange and select Align. Click on Distribute Horizontally if your circles are placed on a horizontal line, or click on Distribute Vertically if your line is vertical.

evenly space PowerPoint objects steps

You can apply these alignment tools as you add labels, text boxes, images, and shapes to your timeline. There are vast possibilities for creating clean, custom timelines that convey history, process, and other time-based messages.

4. How to make an PowerPoint image transparent

Making images transparent can add texture and dynamism to your slides. (Check out the images we created in a keynote presentation for RTI International to see what I mean.) Transparency allows layers behind the image to show through, including text, shapes like icons, or other images.

First, click on Shapes on the Home tab and create any shape on your slide. Next, right-click your shape and click Format Shape. In the Format panel that appears, select the “Picture or texture fill” radio button. Select a file and PowerPoint will insert it into the shape. To retain the proportions of the shape you may have to click “Tile picture as texture” and adjust the scale and offset until the portion of the image you want to show does show. Last, drag the meter under the Transparency section to the right to make the image more see-through.

format PowerPoint picture steps
Mastering image transparency enabled a Duarte designer to simulate a Space Shuttle’s exhaust on this slide for RTI International.

5. How to make a PowerPoint master layout

Master Layouts are the baseline structure of a presentation. At the risk of oversimplifying, the PowerPoint master captures the most common ways that presentation elements such as color, fonts, and layout are set up on the slides. Instead of having to place all these elements over and over each time you start a new a slide, a Master Layout puts these common elements into place on each new slide.

Begin by clicking on View in the ribbon, then click Slide Master. In this view, you’ll be able to edit the various Layouts your presentation currently uses.

Any change you make to the first layout (technically named the “Parent Master”) will be replicated in the layouts below it (technically named the “Child Masters”). For example, if you add a logo to the parent master, it will appear on all the Child Masters. To make unique changes to individual layouts, select that layout and adjust as needed. Changes made to Child Masters will only affect each one individually.

The power of master layouts is in streamlining the design of repeated elements. For example, your team may often need to include a quote slide, and you want the text to always be the same size, color, and location on the slide.

Begin in Slide Master view. Right click any master layout (but not the first one, the parent master). Select Insert Layout.

PowerPoint layout steps

From here add editable preformatted elements by clicking Slide Master in the ribbon and clicking the Insert Placeholder dropdown. Select a placeholder type and make formatting changes to it.

PowerPoint Insert Placeholder dropdown

Exit the Master Layout view by clicking Close Master View in the Slide Master tab of the ribbon.

Pro-tip: You can quickly access the master layout view for each slide you are working on by holding shift and clicking the “Normal” view icon on the bottom right of the workspace. Click this same button without holding shift to exit master layout view.

icons to see different PowerPoint views

Now your layout has become a layout option in the layouts catalog (To view or apply the new layout: In the ribbon click Home > New Slide, or click Home > Layouts). The formatting applied to the layout master will always be the formatting in place on the new slide.

PowerPoint slide layout sample

One of the best parts of my job is empowering non-designers to get more out of PowerPoint than they ever thought possible. My hope is that these tips will get you well on your way to designing slides that are more tailored to your story and brand.


Slide Design Colored button

Illustrated by Trami Truong

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