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How to Make a Timeline in PowerPoint With Templates

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Read Time: 8 mins
This post is part of a series called How to Use PowerPoint (Ultimate Tutorial Guide).
How to Make a Flowchart in PowerPoint With Templates
How to Embed (YouTube & Other) Videos into PowerPoint PPT Presentations

Timelines and presentations go hand in hand. One of the best ways to tell a story in your presentation is to give your audience a timeline that connects the past to the present. 

When you're crafting your story, share the key events that led you to the current moment. Timelines can also bridge the gap to the future; explaining these past milestones can help you explain why you've reached a decision or chosen a new direction.

Motagua Timeline PowerPoint Presentation Motagua Timeline PowerPoint Presentation Motagua Timeline PowerPoint Presentation
A timeline graphic like the one built into the Motagua PowerPoint theme is ideal for walking an audience through a series of events over time.

PowerPoint is synonymous with presentations, and it's not surprising that you can build timelines using its features. This tutorial will teach you how to make a timeline with multiple milestones right inside of PowerPoint.

I'll walk you through creating a timeline from scratch that adapts to your content using PowerPoint's SmartArt feature. We'll also look at how to use custom PowerPoint themes to build professional timelines quickly.

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Making Great Presentations Free Guide DownloadMaking Great Presentations Free Guide DownloadMaking Great Presentations Free Guide Download

How to Quickly Make a Timeline in PowerPoint (Watch & Learn)

In this quick two-minute screencast video, I'll teach you an easy way to add a timeline to your PowerPoint slide. You'll learn to use SmartArt to add a timeline with points for key dates. These timelines are easy to edit, so if your points change, you can adapt your timeline without having to start from scratch.

We'll also take a look at using a great-looking PowerPoint template to add a unique timeline to your presentation quickly.

If you want an annotated walkthrough for building two different timelines, check out the written tutorial with screenshots below.

Create Your Own Timeline in PowerPoint

You can build your own timeline in PowerPoint using the SmartArt feature. SmartArt is a PowerPoint feature that helps you build charts and graphics, but it adapts to your content. 

Instead of building charts and graphs in another app and bringing them over to PowerPoint, you can create them inside PowerPoint with the SmartArt feature.

To get started, go to the Insert menu on PowerPoint's ribbon, and find the SmartArt option. Go ahead and click on this option to start adding your own piece of SmartArt to your presentation.

Insert SmartArt in PowerPointInsert SmartArt in PowerPointInsert SmartArt in PowerPoint
Find the Insert tab on PowerPoint's ribbon and choose SmartArt to add a timeline.

On the SmartArt window, you can choose from a variety of different designs for your timeline. There is one built-in design specifically for timelines, called Basic Timeline that I'll use for this example.

Choose the Basic Timeline if you want to follow along with me in this tutorial. There are other styles for SmartArt that could also be used for a timeline that you can see in the screenshot below; anything that resembles an arrow with points along it are ideal for using as a timeline.

PowerPoint Timeline SmartArt GraphicPowerPoint Timeline SmartArt GraphicPowerPoint Timeline SmartArt Graphic
There are many options for a PowerPoint timeline, but I typically use the Basic Timeline SmartArt option.

After you find the Basic Timeline, click on OK to add the template to your slide and begin adding your milestones to the slide. A SmartArt timeline is a single object that you can combine with other elements like photos, text boxes, and more to create a full slide design.

Basic Timeline Placed in PowerPoint SlideBasic Timeline Placed in PowerPoint SlideBasic Timeline Placed in PowerPoint Slide
When you're working with SmartArt, you'll have a text box on the left side that you can add new points to the slide.

SmartArt adapts the shape and graphic as you change the text in the box on the left side. Each bullet point is a new key point on the timeline itself. You can press Enter on your keyboard to add an entirely new point on your new PowerPoint timeline.

For a timeline, you can simply add key dates or years and then a description of the event that occurred. You can also add as many points to your timeline as you need to tell your story.

SmartArt Added in PowerPointSmartArt Added in PowerPointSmartArt Added in PowerPoint
Add new bullet points and text to add new key dates to the SmartArt timeline in PowerPoint.

If you need to change your PowerPoint timeline later, no problem; simply click on the timeline again and you'll see the text box open that you can use to modify and add or remove key dates. 

The best part of SmartArt is that it's never a finished product; you can simply reopen it and add more timelines as your events evolve.

After you've finished adding your point to the timeline, you can also tweak the style for your SmartArt. While you have your timeline selected, you can change the Layout by clicking on a different thumbnail above the chart. Your content won't change—only the timeline style will.

Change Timeline Layout in PowerPointChange Timeline Layout in PowerPointChange Timeline Layout in PowerPoint
If you want to try out another style for your timeline, you can click on a different layout thumbnail without changing your original content.

One other option to change styles is to use the same layout, but try out a different SmartArt Style. This dropdown menu is adjacent to the Layouts menu. Click the dropdown arrow to show other styles for the timeline chart. 

Timeline SmartArtTimeline SmartArtTimeline SmartArt
I've used the SmartArt style dropdown to change the standard timeline graphic to a 3D style.

In the example above, I've chosen a 3-D style from the options to change the design for my SmartArt. All of the points on the chart and text are preserved, but the chart design changes slightly.

As you can see, it's very easy to create a timeline in PowerPoint using the SmartArt feature. It gives you the look of a professional chart, but the flexibility to continue editing it.

Learn more about working with PowerPoint SmartArt: 

Advanced Timeline Effects

SmartArt is a great way to get started with building timelines in PowerPoint, but some PowerPoint presentation templates include more creative ideas for the same type of slide.

For this example, I'm going to use the Motagua presentation theme. This is an inexpensive theme that you can purchase on GraphicRiver and use for your own presentations. 

Motagua PowerPoint themeMotagua PowerPoint themeMotagua PowerPoint theme
The Motagua PowerPoint theme has 400 different slide designs that you can add your own content to.

Discover more great Microsoft PowerPoint templates with numerous infographic slide layouts: 

The best part of choosing a premium PowerPoint theme like Motagua is that it includes 400 ideas for slide designs. Instead of drawing all of your slides from scratch, you can simply use the pre-built slides and add your own photos and text quickly. 

Motagua includes some great looking slides with timeline template PowerPoint designs built in. Slides 16 through 18 are great starter templates for building a timeline.

If you're working with the Motagua presentation design, open up one of these slides to experiment with your own design. You can add your own points to the pre-built timeline. 

Timeline SlidesTimeline SlidesTimeline Slides
Motagua includes several starter templates to work with timelines in PowerPoint.

This is a vertical timeline design that can even span multiple pages. All you have to do is simply copy and paste the blocks and text boxes to add more points to your timeline. Duplicate a slide to add more room for your timeline points.

Slides 19-20 are additional design options for a professional timeline. These also have the advantage of image placeholders that you can use for a more graphic look for your timeline.

Image TImeline in PowerPointImage TImeline in PowerPointImage TImeline in PowerPoint
Motagua has alternate options for how you can present a timeline, including these alternate slide designs with image placeholders.

Slide design 21 is an additional choice for a simplified timeline, with a single page approach to presenting your events.

In addition to the timeline slide, Motagua has a litany of other slide designs that you can use. If you aren't a graphic designer, it's usually best to buy one of these templates and use them for inspiration.

Other presentation templates available on GraphicRiver that include built-in timelines are Simplicity, Eureka, and Business Proposal. Try out any of these for a different take on PowerPoint timelines. 

Or, browse through Envato Elements for PowerPoint templates, web themes, and unlimited downloads of creative resources: 

Enato ElementsEnato ElementsEnato Elements

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Recap and Keep Learning More PowerPoint Skills

A timeline is a great way to step your audience through the past into the present. In this tutorial, you learned two ways that you can easily create them in PowerPoint. Whether you're using SmartArt or adapting a template to your liking, a timeline is a powerful storytelling tool that you should consider for your next presentation.

These tutorials are a great way to learn other skills to help you connect better with your audience in presentations:

How do you create your own timelines in PowerPoint? Let me know in the comments below if you have a favorite tip to share.

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