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How to Get Started With Using SmartArt in PowerPoint

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This post is part of a series called How to Use PowerPoint (Ultimate Tutorial Guide).
How to Add Text to PowerPoint & Make Amazing Text Effects
How to Make Great PPT Charts & Graphs in Microsoft PowerPoint (+Video)

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:

Example of SmartArtExample of SmartArtExample of SmartArt
SmartArt graphic visualization example. 

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.

Insert SmartArtInsert SmartArtInsert SmartArt
Go to the Insert > SmartArt menu to add a SmartArt graphic in PowerPoint.

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.

Choose SmartArt GraphicChoose SmartArt GraphicChoose SmartArt Graphic
Choose one of the SmartArt styles to insert it into your PowerPoint presentation.

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.)

SmartArt ContentSmartArt ContentSmartArt Content
Type your text into the bullet points in the SmartArt content window.

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.

Add Shape ExampleAdd Shape ExampleAdd Shape Example
Add a Shape to SmartArt.

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.

SmartArt ContentSmartArt ContentSmartArt Content
Modifying PowerPoint SmartArt to make steps descend.

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.

Change SmartArt LayoutChange SmartArt LayoutChange SmartArt Layout
Quick change to a SmartArt layout.

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.

SmartArt StylesSmartArt StylesSmartArt Styles
SmartArt style options.

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.

Updated SmartArtUpdated SmartArtUpdated SmartArt
Three-dimensional style SmartArt applied.

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.

Change Colors SmartArtChange Colors SmartArtChange Colors SmartArt
Changing SmartArt colors.

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.

SmartArt TypesSmartArt TypesSmartArt Types
There are several categories of SmartArt. How do you know which one to use in your presentation?

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:

1. List

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. 

List SmartartList SmartartList Smartart
Here are several types of SmartArt List styles.

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.

2. Process

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.

Process SmartArtProcess SmartArtProcess SmartArt
SmartArt is perfect for process maps, including the preset styles shown above.

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.

3. Cycle

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.

Cycle SmartArtCycle SmartArtCycle SmartArt
Cycles are similar to Process SmartArt objects, but the idea is that the process is continuous.

Cycles are continuous, ongoing processes. If you run a company where processes flow similarly each month, use cycles to capture those processes.

4. Hierarchy

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.

Hierarchy SmartArtHierarchy SmartArtHierarchy SmartArt
Use Hierarchy to show how things descend or how larger parts fit into a whole.

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.

5. Relationship

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.

Relationship SmartArtRelationship SmartArtRelationship SmartArt
Use Relationship Smartart to show how individual parts relate to each other.

The common thread is that these charts show how parts relate to one another. 

6. Matrix

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.

Matrix SmartartMatrix SmartartMatrix Smartart
Use Matrix SmartArt to demonstrate both relationships and how parts fit into the whole.

7. Pyramid

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.

Pyramid SmartartPyramid SmartartPyramid Smartart
Pyramics have characteristics of other SmartArt options, but in a unique triangle shaped design.

8. Picture

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.

Picture SmartArtPicture SmartArtPicture SmartArt
Picture SmartArt is a flexible type that includes a number of image presentation options.

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:

Check out our Ultimate Guide to the Best PowerPoint Templates or jump over to trending best selling PPT templates on GraphicRiver. Also, if you need more visual styles in PowerPoint, check out: 

Have you been using SmartArt? Feel free to share any tips or ask a question in the comments below.

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