5 advanced PowerPoint tips for awesome presentations

Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA

Q. I've been using Microsoft PowerPoint for years, but I feel like there's so much more I could be doing with it. Do you have any tips that could help even an experienced PowerPoint user?

A. Almost 35 years after it was first released, the application known today as Microsoft PowerPoint continues to be a go-to presentation software for accountants worldwide. Yet many of those users, even ones who regularly make presentations, haven't scratched the surface of PowerPoint's real power.

Think of PowerPoint as a guide companion. You are sharing your expertise on a certain subject, and PowerPoint is there to help you drill home the details. Keep in mind that your attendees need to pay attention to what you're saying, not to flashy images or extensive text on the screen.

For the greatest success, keep your presentations clean and consistent and follow these general best practices that even the best and brightest among us still ignore:

  • Use a theme to ensure consistency.
  • Limit the on-screen content.
  • Avoid excessive animations.

With the proper principles in place, you can make the most of PowerPoint's many features. The following five tips may help in that process. To watch them in action, download this sample PowerPoint file with short, non-narrated videos of each tip.

1. Create a master slide

Some of us, myself included, have been guilty of building one decent slide and simply duplicating it over and over to create an entire presentation. This creates a lot of extra work when you want to go back and change the font or adjust your logo positioning on all the slides. We've got to stop doing this.

Using PowerPoint's master slide section allows you to be consistent throughout your entire presentation. Apply your logo, set your font sizes and colors, and create background styles all in one place. If you need to make a change later, one simple edit to the master slide will update your entire deck. This is much better than the old copy/paste route.

Master slide can be accessed by going to Master Views > Slide Master, which will take you to the Ribbon shown in the screenshot below.

As you get comfortable with the master slide, you can build out a fully personalized template of master slides for all layout options.


2. Use the Selection Pane to manage multiple boxes

Even if you follow my advice and keep your presentations minimal, you'll still probably have some trouble with items overlapping on your slide. This can make editing a pain. The Selection Pane tool is much easier to use than trying to click at just the right angle to get to that object box.

To access the Selection Pane, click any item on your slide, then select the Picture Format (or Shape Format) Ribbon on the top menu. From there, you can choose Selection Pane from the Arrange group, as shown in the screenshot below.

This tool is great for testing animations and hiding elements you don't need at the moment. By clicking the small eyeball on the right side, you can temporarily hide an object from view. You can also rename objects by double-clicking the name on the right, or simply use the pane to easily select the item that you need.


3. Make super smooth transitions with the Morph tool

OK, I know I've preached simplicity and minimalism already, but some animations and transitions are acceptable and can even improve your delivery and your audience's attention span.

Morph transitions are more than just a "slide in from right" option. They allow you to dynamically move individual objects on the slide in whatever way you'd like, and even animate multiple objects simultaneously.

To get started, create a slide containing the objects you want to "morph" and duplicate it. After that, select the second (duplicate) slide, click Transitions, then Morph, as shown in the screenshot below. Select Effect Options and choose the words, characters, or objects that you would like to animate. Move the items you want to animate to where you'd like them to end up, and you're done.

Be sure to check your slideshow after doing this, to ensure the morph effect has worked as you expected. If done correctly, this can really add something special to your presentation. It takes some time to fully grasp, but once you give it a shot, you'll be hooked on the Morph.


4. Dive deeper with the Zoom option

Much like the Morph transition, the Zoom tool adds awesome dynamics to your presentation if used properly. I tend to use the Slide Zoom option and think of it as a "learn more" button. This method allows me to have a slide that acts as an overview slide with multiple subjects. As slides advance, PowerPoint will zoom into the slide thumbnail as if zooming into a deeper layer of the slide.

To use the Zoom tool (not to be confused with the videoconferencing application), select a slide you would like to use to add slide thumbnails. Under the Insert ribbon, select Zoom and then choose Slide Zoom, as shown in the screenshot below.

On the ensuing prompt, select the slides you would like to embed a thumbnail of into the main slide and then arrange as desired.

If you are familiar with using Sections in PowerPoint, the Section Zoom option is a simple way to approach using this feature. This can really help a slideshow feel like a fluid learning experience.


5. Fine-tune your presentation with Presenter Coach

No one around to provide feedback on your presentation? The Presenter Coach is available in the online version of PowerPoint, provided you are using a compatible browser (i.e., Microsoft Edge version 15 or later, Chrome version 52 or later, or Firefox version 52 or later). Once you have access to the Presenter Coach, it can help you with everything from your delivery to your timing.

Each time you rehearse, you'll get a report with your summary information about your presentation and suggestions to help you improve for the next time. These can include things like "try to avoid using filler words," or "try adding more context to your slide rather than reading the screen."

To access the Presenter Coach, go to the Slide Show ribbon and select Rehearse with Coach, as shown in the screenshot below.

My advice is to practice your presentation once alone and then rehearse it again with the Presenter Coach turned on. After you read the Presenter Coach report and make adjustments to your presentation as needed, go through it one more time. Odds are you'll notice a great improvement over when you started.


As an additional tip, if you are like me and like to stand up and pace the room, use Presenter Coach on the Office mobile app, as shown in the screenshot below. This will give you the freedom to walk around and ensure the coach hears you loud and clear.


I hope these tips help you to get more out of PowerPoint. Remember to keep your slide decks precise and clean.

Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is general manager at Botkeeper.

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