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PowerPoint 101: Everything You Need to Make a Basic Presentation

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Presentation Fundamentals.
How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking
Preparing Your Mac for a Presentation

PowerPoint is practically synonymous with digital presentations, and for good reason. It's been around since 1987, comes included with every copy of Microsoft Office, and for better or worse is the app that powers most of the presentations you've ever seen. With features for everything you could want in a presentation, and more, it can be a rather daunting program to get started with.

But it doesn't have to be that way. If you want to create and edit a basic presentation in PowerPoint, you can do it with just a few clicks. All the fancy features and animation take some more time to learn, but this tutorial will at least get you started. We will create a new presentation, apply basic formatting, type some text, and run a simple slide show. That's plenty to help you make your first PowerPoint.

So let's get started.

Screencast


The basics of PowerPoint are essentially the same, whether you're using PowerPoint for Windows, Mac, or the free PowerPoint Web App. It might look a tad different, depending on which version you're using, but if you have PowerPoint 2007 or later, anything you see here that isn't exactly the same on your computer will at least be similar. And yes: everything in this tutorial works almost the exact same in the PowerPoint Web App, so you can use it and get started with PowerPoint for free.

Getting to a Slide that You Can Edit

When you first start PowerPoint, you'll have four basic choices:

  • Create a new, blank presentation
  • Create a new presentation based on a formatted template
  • Open a recent presentation
  • Open a presentation somewhere else on your computer or network

On the left side of the screen are presentations you had open recently. Click one to reopen it. At the bottom of the list, click Open Other Presentations to open one that isn't in this list.

On the right side of the screen, the Blank Presentation will give you exactly what the name says: a screen that's blank except for a content placeholder, and has no formatting. If you want a presentation that's already formatted, click one of the others. Even if you choose the blank one, you can still apply any of the formatting that's on this screen.

So to start with, choose Blank Presentation, and that's what you get:

Formatting a slide

To apply the formatting from a template in the Windows version of PowerPoint, click the Design tab.

In the Mac version, click the Themes tab.

In Windows, if you roll the mouse over any of the samples, you'll get a live preview of the presentation with the theme applied. As long as you don't click, nothing gets applied. You're just seeing a preview. The Mac version doesn't display previews. You have to click one and apply it to see how it'll look, but you can always undo (press Command-Z).

There is more here than immediately meets the eye. To see several rows of templates, in Windows click the Down Arrow on the right side of the list, and on the Mac, roll the mouse pointer over the themes to see a down arrow just under the list. Click the arrow to see more themes.

To see some alternate formats for the theme you chose, do the same in the Variants section on the right. Roll the mouse pointer over a few of them, then click one you want.

If you click the Down Arrow of the Variants list, you can choose different color schemes, fonts, effects and background styles for the template you just chose.

For example, you can choose Colors, and get previews of different color sets.

You can also preview and choose font sets from the same menu:

And you can also preview and choose a background style, if you want.

In the Mac version, the buttons for Colors, Fonts and Backgrounds are on the right side of the ribbon, in the Theme Options section.

The Windows and Mac versions have different themes and other formatting options, but if you bring a Windows PowerPoint file onto a Mac or vice versa, the design and colors will remain intact. Fonts may or may not come through OK, depending on what fonts are installed on the machine.

Adding Text and Inserting Slides

Now let's enter some text. Even though the slide says "Click to add title", you don't have to click anything. Just start typing! The text will automatically go into the Title placeholder.

There is also no need to click to add a subtitle. After you type the title, with the text cursor still at the end of the line, press Ctrl-Enter (Command-Option-Return on the Mac) to put the text cursor in the subtitle box, and type.

Notice that as you edit and format slides, the thumbnails on the left side get updated.

To add a new slide, just press the same shortcut: Ctrl-Enter (Command-Return on the Mac). In the slide that appears, do like before: type a title. As with the title slide, you don't have to click in the "Click to add title box". Just start typing.

For the slide content, you have a choice. You can create a bullet list or you can click one of the six symbols in the middle to insert a table, image or other type of media.

For this exercise, let's create a bullet list. As with a title slide, press Ctrl-Enter (Command-Option-Return on the Mac) to put the text cursor before the first bullet.

Type an item and press Enter to get another bullet. Until you type, the new bullet will be a grayed-out placeholder.

Then type a second item. As soon as you start typing, the bullet will look normal.

To create a second-level bullet, use the Tab key: press Enter to get a third line and a new bullet, then immediately press Tab. Now type a sub-item.

Second level (and third, fourth and fifth level) items work just like first level items. Press Enter to get a new line for another item, then type.

How do get the text cursor back to the first level? Use Shift with the Tab key: press Enter to get another second level item, then press Shift-Tab to bring the cursor back to the left margin. Now you can type more first level items.

At any time, you can go to a slide, click at the beginning of a line of text and press Tab or Shift-Tab to increase or decrease the outline level.

When you're done typing the last bullet, again press Ctrl-Enter (Command-Option-Return on the Mac) to get another slide.

Using these techniques, create one more bullet slide. If the text cursor is no longer inside the text box, here are two ways to create a new slide:

  • Press Ctrl-M (Control-M on the Mac)
  • On the Home tab, click the New Slide button on the left side of the ribbon

Using the techniques described above, create one more slide.

Creating a Slide Show

Before running the show, we can apply some simple effects. PowerPoint has two distinct type of effects:

  • Transitions: how one slide gives way to the next slide
  • Animation: the motion of text and objects within a slide

In the thumbnails on the left side, click Slide 2 (the first bullet slide). Then on the ribbon, click the Animations tab. We'll make the title come in first, then make the text come in second.

Click inside the title, then choose an animation. Notice the slide does a quick preview. Now click inside the text and choose the same animation. The slide now shows numbers indicating the order that the items will appear.

Now click the thumbnail for the third slide (second bullet slide) and apply the same animations.

Now we'll apply a simple transition to all three slides. First, select all the thumbnails on the left side one of several ways:

  • Click the last thumbnail, then Shift-click the first (or vice-versa)
  • Ctrl-click each thumbnail (Command-click on the Mac)
  • Click inside the thumbnail area, then select all by pressing Ctrl-A (Command-A on the Mac)

Click the Transitions tab on the ribbon, then choose a transition from the list.

Now it's time to run the show! Either leave all the thumbnails selected, or select just the first one. This will make sure that the show starts with the first slide.

Click the Slide Show button. In Windows, it's in the lower, right corner of PowerPoint, and on the Mac, the button is in the lower, left corner.

There are several ways to advance to the next text item or slide:

  • Click the mouse
  • Press the Enter or Return key
  • Press the Right Arrow or Down Arrow key on the keyboard
  • Press the Spacebar

You can also press the Up Arrow key to go backwards. If you want to exit the slide show before it's finished, press the Esc key.

By default in Windows, after the last slide, PowerPoint will display a black screen (by default on the Mac it won't, but you can go into the Preferences/View section and set that as an option). When you're on the last slide or the black screen, advancing to the next slide will exit the show, as if you pressed Esc.

Conclusion

You now know the basic steps of creating and running a basic PowerPoint presentation. Even long, complex and fancy presentations start the same way. And if you prefer, you can create the content first, then apply the formatting later, since PowerPoint themes make it easy to tweak the design of your entire presentation without changing your content.

If you would like to tweak the presentation I created for this tutorial, download the Domestic housecats.pptx from the top corner of this page.

Extra Resources

If you're new to business presentations, we'd recommend a number of introductory tutorials to get you up to speed with the basics:

If you're interested in getting some help with your presentation project, Envato Studio has a great collection of presentation design services providers that you might like to explore. You could also take a look at the presentation design templates on Envato Market.

Graphic Credit: Presentation icon designed by Alexander Bickov from the Noun Project.

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