Building a presentation is a time-limited exercise. I usually find myself rushing to polish up presentation slides before sending them off for review or updating content at the last moment.
The last thing I have time for is drawing my own illustrations in a slideshow. This is where Powerpoint SmartArt comes into play.
You may be wondering: What is SmartArt in PowerPoint exactly?
Think of SmartArt as a time-saving graphic tool, built into PowerPoint—which allows you to choose among various ready-made layouts and preset styles to help you visualize your ideas with. SmartArt comes with ready-to-use charts, diagrams, process maps, and more.
In the screenshot below, you can see a simple example of SmartArt, where I've added a graphic illustration to show several steps in a process:
In this tutorial, I want to teach you how to use SmartArt in PowerPoint. With it, we can add flexible and great-looking illustrations to our slideshows quickly.
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How to Use SmartArt in PowerPoint (Quick-Start Video)
If you want to learn more about how to use SmartArt in Microsoft PowerPoint, check out the quick screencast below. I'll walk you through examples of how you can use it to improve your presentations.
Keep reading for a written step-by-step tutorial on how to use SmartArt in PowerPoint, and some more ideas on how to leverage it to quickly visualize information in your presentation.
How to Make Your First SmartArt Graphic in PowerPoint
To add your first piece of SmartArt, go to the Insert menu on the PowerPoint ribbon. Find the SmartArt menu option and click on it to launch the SmartArt menu.
The next menu that pops up allows you to choose what type of SmartArt to add to your PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint has a variety of SmartArt graphic styles to work with.
You'll notice that PowerPoint has a variety of categories for SmartArt. On the left side, you can choose from styles such as "List", "Process", "Cycle." Choose one of these categories based on the content that you're working with (more on that later.)
The thumbnails in the center of the window are various types of SmartArt. Click on one to preview it on the right side of the window. There are helpful descriptions that explain what the SmartArt can be used to present.
Once you've selected a SmartArt type, click on OK to insert it into your presentation.
How to Add Meaningful Content to Your SmartArt
You've added SmartArt to your presentation. Now what? It's time to add some content and make it meaningful to your audience.
When SmartArt is added, a context menu opens up to the left of your data. If you can't see this menu, click on the small arrow to open it up. (The menu is labeled "Type your text here" in the screenshot below.)
This menu is used to populate the SmartArt. You can type over the bullet points to add text to the SmartArt. As you add that text, the SmartArt will automatically update with the text you type.
Another way to modify your SmartArt is to simply double-click on an individual object and type in it.
Ready to customize SmartArt objects? Let's keep moving.
How to Modify SmartArt Elements
In the example above, the default SmartArt object has three bullet points that populate the SmartArt arrow. But, what if we wanted four, or five, or more objects on it?
To add another object to the SmartArt, you can do it one of two ways; the first is to find the Add Shape option, which is on the far left side of the Ribbon when you've selected Design. Click on Add Shape, or click the dropdown arrow and choose to add a new object After or Before.
Additionally, if you're working in the context menu ("Type your text here" on the left side) you can simply press return on your keyboard to add a new bullet point to the list, and a new object will be placed into your presentation.
If you had too many objects on your slide, simply click on one and press delete on your keyboard. PowerPoint will remove it from the presentation.
You can also manually reposition individual elements in the slideshow. Click-and-drag to move objects around within the SmartArt. In the screenshot below, you can see how I've moved the boxes around to show the steps as descending.
How to Change SmartArt Layouts
What if you start working on your SmartArt and realize you chose the wrong layout? You can easily change the layout and preserve your content.
With a SmartArt object selected, find the Layouts section of the Design tab. Simply click on a new layout, and PowerPoint will convert your content to the new selection.
In the screenshot above, I'm working with the same SmartArt I've been using throughout this tutorial. The only thing that's changed is the layout I've applied to it.
How to Style Your SmartArt
Don't like the default style for your SmartArt object? No problem. Make sure that you've got your SmartArt selected and click on the Design tab on the ribbon.
There's a SmartArt Styles section of the menu where you can choose from preset SmartArt styles. Click the dropdown arrow to view all of the available styles for your selected SmartArt.
Click the dropdown arrow and choose a new style to change your SmartArt to. In the screenshot below, I selected a more three-dimensional style and applied it to my SmartArt.
Although the original SmartArt layout is preserved, you can change the graphic style with a single click.
Finally, you can also change the colors used in a SmartArt presentation. Click on Change Colors in the dropdown and choose a new color scheme for your SmartArt object.
If you want to restyle individual elements, click on the Format tab. You can change the fill and outline colors of individual objects in your SmartArt chart.
8 Important Types of SmartArt (And When It's Best to Use Them)
As you can see on the SmartArt window, PowerPoint has a litany of options for presenting data with SmartArt. With so many options, you might wonder what the right type of SmartArt to use is.
Depending on the type of data that you're presenting, some types of charts work better than others. Keep in mind though, there are no rules on how to use SmartArt—only suggestions.
Let's look at the important types of SmartArt and the right situations to put them to best use:
If you have a simple bulleted list of data in PowerPoint, the SmartArt list style is an easy upgrade to make the data more visually appealing.
Lists are pretty versatile. There's a wide variety of SmartArt styles in PowerPoint, ranging from simple "Basic Blocks" to "Vertical Lists" that show things in a sequenced, descending order. If you aren't sure what style to use, start with a list style and iterate from there.
Process flows are one of my favorite ways to use SmartArt. When I'm working with teams to document how a process should work, SmartArt is a great visual map to capture processes.
The Process SmartArt styles can help you record how things should happen, step by step. If you're making a product for example, use a Process to show how the product goes through each steps of the manufacturing process.
Cycles are similar to process maps, but the idea is that they are continuous. Use a Cycle type chart when you're mapping a process that will keep on going.
Cycles are continuous, ongoing processes. If you run a company where processes flow similarly each month, use cycles to capture those processes.
Hierarchies are designed to show how things descend in an organization or process. One natural use for this type of chart is building an organizational chart for a company or group of individuals.
Another use for a hierarchy is to show the individual parts of a larger whole. Imagine using a hierarchy to show the raw materials inside of a finished product.
A relationship SmartArt is designed to show how individual parts relate. In the examples below, you can see that there are a variety of relationship charts: balance charts, funnels, and hexagons.
The common thread is that these charts show how parts relate to one another.
Matrix charts are similar to relationship charts, but it's more about taking one object and splitting it into equal parts that make up the whole.
Pyramids are kind of like hybrids between process charts and hierarchies. Each of the pyramids are unique and show how the parts of the pyramid fit together.
The Picture category in PowerPoint SmartArt is a bit of a wildcard; it contains styles from a variety of categories, but makes it easy to add images from your computer.
Make Use of SmartArt in PowerPoint
SmartArt is one of those shortcuts to great looking presentations in Microsoft PowerPoint. Stop drawing your own custom illustrations and look for opportunities to use SmartArt to craft quick visualizations with instead. It's a great time-saver that results in good quality graphic results.
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More PowerPoint Presentation Resources
Giving a presentation isn't a genetic trait; it's a skill that you can build like any other. Here are more great tutorials on building your presentation skills:
- Brad Smith has a great list of quick-wins to improve your presentations, with 37 Effective PowerPoint Presentation Tips.
- Animations are another great skill for sequencing your presentations, and can even be used in combination with SmartArt.
- Jump in our quick 60 second PowerPoint video tutorials to learn more presentation tools fast.
- Microsoft PowerPoint20 Best PowerPoint Presentation Templates—With Great Infographic SlidesSean Hodge
Have you been using SmartArt? Feel free to share any tips or ask a question in the comments below.