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10 Key Microsoft PowerPoint Features (To Make Better Presentations)

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This post is part of a series called How to Use PowerPoint (Ultimate Tutorial Guide).
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How to Make an Accessible PowerPoint Presentation

Presentations take time to build! Even though Microsoft PowerPoint is one of the most user-friendly and popular apps, it has plenty of power hiding underneath the hood. It takes time to find those features and make the most of them.

Every app comes with a learning curve. Wouldn't it be great to skip that learning curve and know everything you need to build professional presentations? In this tutorial, that's exactly what you'll get: 10 of my favorite PowerPoint features and PowerPoint tools to build great-looking presentations.

10 tips for PowerPoint10 tips for PowerPoint10 tips for PowerPoint
Background graphic from Envato Elements.

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You'll learn how to create and give effective presentations. Before you dig deeper into learning about PowerPoint tools, don't miss our free eBook on presentations: The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations.

Complete Guide to Making Great PresentationsComplete Guide to Making Great PresentationsComplete Guide to Making Great Presentations

Now, let's take a closer look at some of the PowerPoint features and tools you can use to become more efficient.

1. Start With a Built-in Layout

There are really two directions you can go when you're building out a new slide in Microsoft PowerPoint:

  • Design the slide from scratch, dropping in individual placeholder boxes one after another, adding them one by one until you've got a slide.
  • Try out a built-in layout that includes all of the content boxes that you need from the beginning.

It's really a no-brainer to start your slide design with a pre-built layout. It's a time-saver, and it also improves the look of the presentation because all boxes and content are aligned neatly.

From the Home tab, choose a Layout from the menu option:

Showcase layouts from Dropdown on Home tabShowcase layouts from Dropdown on Home tabShowcase layouts from Dropdown on Home tab
Most PowerPoint themes include enough layouts to address practically any scenario.

I think one of the reasons that presenters avoid layouts is that they want to customize the slide. There's nothing stopping you from taking a layout and tweaking it, moving boxes around as needed or adding other content placeholders.

It's a simple PowerPoint feature, but I've seen far too many presenters draw and redraw boxes onto the slide. You're far better off using a starter layout and adjusting it as needed.

2. Use Slide Master View to Update Designs Consistently

Most of my favorite PowerPoint features not only save time, but also ensure that slides are consistent. It's a huge advantage if the logo is in the same spot on each slide, for example. 

Slide masters control the design for multiple slides at the same time. When you adjust a slide master, each slide that uses that master will have the same changes.

Go to the View tab and choose Slide Master. Now, add something that you want to appear on each slide (like a logo or footer text) to the master:

Logo added to the slide masterLogo added to the slide masterLogo added to the slide master
In the top screenshot, I've added the logo to the slide master, and you can see how it is added to multiple slides in the same spot.

When you return to Normal view, you'll see the changes on each slide that uses the same master.

Again: it's all about making clean slide designs with consistency. Adjusting the slide master is a sweet spot of productivity and design excellence.

3. Use Someone Else's Presentation as a Starting Point

Picasso is credited for having said, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." There's nothing wrong with using the hard work of others to build a great presentation.

That's exactly what Envato Elements is for. Elements is an all-you-can-download subscription service made for every creative. For one flat rate, you'll get access to over 700 PowerPoint themes.

I use Envato Elements on literally every creative project that I work on. I always start browsing on Elements to get ideas for what I'm working on. With one of the PowerPoint templates, you have a huge head start on creating a presentation.

Hero slide exampleHero slide exampleHero slide example
This screenshot uses the Hero v1 PowerPoint theme that is included as part of the Envato Elements subscription package.

The price of Envato is worth it for the PowerPoint themes alone. But for those who create presentations frequently, you benefit greatly from the stock photos, graphics, icons, and other assets that can really spice up a presentation.

Using one of these pre-built templates isn't stealing—it just feels like it because it makes it so easy. With Elements, you skip the hard work of designing everything from a blank slate.

4. Rearrange Slides for Effectiveness

Most presentations can become markedly better in just a few seconds by simply rethinking the order that your slides are sequenced. Over and over, I coach presenters to remember the BLUF principle: bottom line up front.

How many presentations have you sat through where the message was unclear? By the time you've sat through 30 minutes, you're so inundated with data that it can be hard to remember the point. Instead, give your conclusion up front and then share why you feel that way.

Slide Sorter ViewSlide Sorter ViewSlide Sorter View
A top-down view of all the slides in your presentation can help you understand if they're in the best order, and resequence them easily.

The best way to do this with PowerPoint is to switch to Slide Sorter view.  There's no better way to have all of your content in view at the same time. Switch to it by clicking on View > Slide Sorter.

When I switch to Slide Sorter view, I'm taking a long hard look to ensure that I'm not burying my conclusion, and I'm building a story that makes sense sequentially. Drag and drop the slide thumbnails to reorder them in a concise and BLUF-friendly order.

5. Follow the Guides

Earlier versions of PowerPoint made it somewhat difficult to align things consistently on a slide. Now, the guides that you'll see pop up as you drag and drop objects help ensure that your objects are nice and neat.

In the screenshot below, you can see an example of what I mean. The small red arrows and dotted lines show how objects relate to each other, and you'll see them when an object is equidistant between them.

Align with Guides PowerPointAlign with Guides PowerPointAlign with Guides PowerPoint
Try to align objects using these red arrows.

Keep an eye out for these helper lines when you're working in PowerPoint. Using them to align objects will result in a cleaner slide.

6. Set Slide Sizes

The key consideration when setting slide size is to consider the size of the screen you'll present on. Some different types of screen have slightly different aspect ratios.

To change slide size, go to the Design tab and choose to change the slide size from the Customize dropdown:

Change slide size on customize dropdownChange slide size on customize dropdownChange slide size on customize dropdown
Set your slide dimensions to align with your screen, whether that's a projector, LCD, or laptop.

Setting the size of your presentation is important. When you align the two, your presentation will fill the screen or projector that you're using.

7. Resize Multiple Objects

As I mentioned earlier, I think consistency in slides is important for maintaining a clean look. If you've got multiple images that need to be the same size, there's an easy feature for doing just that.

A great example of this is when you've got several profile images that need to be resized consistently. To do this, start off by holding Control on your keyboard (Command on Mac) and click on all of the images that should be resized.

Now, make sure that you're on the Format tab on PowerPoint's ribbon. Next up, find the Size area, and type a number into one of the boxes and press enter. All of the images will be resized to the same size that you set in the box:

Image size change from Format RibbonImage size change from Format RibbonImage size change from Format Ribbon
Make sure all images are selected before you change the size to keep them all consistent in size.

After you set a starting point on size, you can tweak it to get things perfect. The important thing is that you keep them all selected, and tweak the size in lockstep.

8. Clean Up Tables Quickly

Data tables in PowerPoint are one of the most effective ways to present data. They're easy for your viewer to quickly glance at and understand numbers with an easy row-column view. 

As you start resizing and tweaking the look of a table in PowerPoint, it's likely that your rows and columns may become a bit disjointed or messy. I like to fix this with Distribute Rows, which evens up the sizes of the rows:

Distribute Rows PowerPointDistribute Rows PowerPointDistribute Rows PowerPoint
I used the Distribute Rows feature to make each row the same size in my data table.

Highlight the rows, and then go to the Layout tab and click Distribute Rows to apply an easy fix to your rows.

9. Learn to Use SmartArt

Without a doubt, SmartArt is one of my favorite PowerPoint features. Think of this feature as the sweet spot between infographics and text-only diagrams.

Basically, SmartArt is a way to create flexible graphics that you can update right inside of PowerPoint. You don't need a separate app to build out your own graphics and charts.

SmartArt Example MenuSmartArt Example MenuSmartArt Example Menu

SmartArt allows you to build out a variety of diagrams, such as hierarchies, processes, cycles, and more. Basically, you can build out a simple bulleted list, and the art will adapt to include the points you add.

I'm all about doing as much as you can directly inside of PowerPoint. Features like SmartArt are a great bridge that cut out one more app like Illustrator or Photoshop from your workflow.

10. Try a Theme Variant

What do you do when you get to the end of designing a presentation, and it just doesn't feel right?

The easiest solution might be to try a new variant. This simply tweaks the color scheme and style of the presentation. On the Design tab, click a different thumbnail from the Variants selection.

When you change a variant, it will change the entire presentation's color scheme as you can see below. One simple click is the easiest way to try an alternate style:

Change theme variantChange theme variantChange theme variant
Changing the theme variant overhauled the entire presentation's color scheme.

Changing the Theme Variant is yet another step you can use to quickly and consistently apply a new look to your presentation. You may not have time to redo the presentation from scratch, so try out a variant as an alternative.

Download Our New eBook on Making Great Presentations

We have the perfect complement to this tutorial, which will walk you through the complete presentation process. Learn how to write your presentation, design it like a pro, and prepare it to present powerfully. 

Download our new eBook: The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations. It's available for free with a subscription to the Tuts+ Business Newsletter.

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Recap & Keep Learning

Don't stop now! There's plenty more to learn about Microsoft PowerPoint. I truly believe that building up your presentation skills is one of the most valuable steps you can take when you're trying to advance your career.

Check out some of the tutorials below to keep learning more about presentations with PowerPoint:

What do you want to learn about PowerPoint next? Let me know in the comments section below if you've got any questions. 

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