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What Is Microsoft PowerPoint? +How to Start Using It For Presentations (Now)

This post is part of a series called How to Use PowerPoint (Ultimate Tutorial Guide).
PowerPoint 101: Everything You Need to Make a Basic Presentation

Microsoft PowerPoint is a professional tool for making presentations that's been around for decades. It's got a number of features that make it a powerful presentation tool. 

In this tutorial, you'll learn about Microsoft PowerPoint's origins and the best version of PowerPoint that fits your needs. You'll also discover tutorial resources to start learning how to use its deep toolset. 

Yooga PowerPoint
If you're wondering what is PowerPoint and how you can use it, look to example presentations like Yooga to set the standard.

We also won't leave you confused on how to make a top-notch presentation with PowerPoint. We've all sat through a boring PowerPoint presentation. It's important to use it the right way, as a visual aid that complement your ideas. 

Guide to Making Great Presentations (Free eBook Download)

Before you read on, be sure to grab our free eBook: The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations. It'll help you master the presentation process, from: initial idea, through to writing, design, and delivering with impact.

PDF Making Great Presentations eBook Free Download

What Is PowerPoint & What Is It Used For?

Microsoft PowerPoint is the most popular presentation software. You'll find it everywhere from Fortune 500 boardrooms to college classrooms. PowerPoint is a part of Microsoft Office, which also includes apps like Excel and Microsoft Word. 

PowerPoint started as a Mac-only app in 1987 and was quickly acquired by Microsoft to help bolster the Office software package. It quickly gained a foothold in the work world as an easy way to put together a slide deck with supporting points.

PowerPoint drag and drop
PowerPoint allows you to create professional presentations using simple drag and drop tools.

Make no mistake: PowerPoint is the market leader, but its widespread usage is more than simply habit. Competitors like Apple's Keynote and Google's Slides have improved to challenge PowerPoint, but Microsoft has responded with updates of its own to maintain its leadership.

PowerPoint's popularity is largely driven by its ease of use. Most of its features simply involve dragging and dropping content boxes and filling them with your own information. However, PowerPoint also has plenty of deeper features under the hood. I'm yet to find a feature I need missing from the app.

The Many Types of PowerPoint PPT Presentations Can You Make

What is PowerPoint? You might know it as the presentation tool that your professors or business colleagues use to show their information. But the reality is that PowerPoint is used to build all kinds of presentations. Let's look at examples that run the gamut.

One common Microsoft PowerPoint presentation type that you might want to build in PowerPoint is a pitch deck, a special presentation that many startups and entrepreneurs use to garner support. Jump to the link below to learn how to start using PowerPoint for pitch decks.

Another common Microsoft PowerPoint presentation type is a slideshow. These could span many types of content, but if you're planning a presentation for your big day, the example below is worth checking out. Thanks to smooth transitions and animations, it's an ideal choice.

Finally, another important example of a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation is to explain complex concepts. That's made much easier thanks to infographics, the sweet spot between showing information and using graphics to do so. Use the example below to get inspiration.

To see even more types of graphic presentations that you can build in PowerPoint, check out the links below:

What is PowerPoint? As you've seen in the examples above, it can really be used to build any type of sequenced slides. 

If you want to learn PowerPoint, we also have some of the best resources. Keep reading to find out more.

How Can I Learn PowerPoint? (& Get a Quick Start)

The Tuts+ Business section has an abundance of Microsoft PowerPoint tutorial resources that'll help you build your skills and get comfortable using this popular presentation app. 

Dive into our PowerPoint beginner tutorials series and our quick-start PowerPoint videos. Get started using PowerPoint quickly: 

Or, check out some of my favorite beginner tutorials to start learning more about PowerPoint's powerful set of presentation tools:

What PowerPoint Version Should You Use?

Microsoft's business model has changed significantly in recent years. Instead of buying the latest version of Microsoft Office, they now heavily promote Office 365. This is basically a subscription to use all of the Office apps, including PowerPoint.

The advantage of Office 365 is that you'll always have the most up-to-date version of the entire suite of apps. In fact, Microsoft is constantly updating its Office apps and the Office 365 version even includes features that you won't find in the perpetual license version.

For Home users, there are really three unique packages to choose from:

  • Office 365 Home. If you're purchasing Office for your household, this package is a great choice. It includes five licenses that you can use on your account and is perfect for families.
  • Office 365 Personal. This is the least expensive version of Office and includes just one license to use. 
  • Office Home & Student 2016. This is most similar to the traditional "buy and own" model of Microsoft Office. You'll pay a one-time feel for Office and have it to use indefinitely but won't be able to access upgrades as Microsoft releases them.

Office 365 subscriptions also include 1 TB (terabyte) of storage space in OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage app. Going with an Office 365 subscription is the least expensive way to get access to PowerPoint.

One other key advantage of Office 365 is that it enables additional features on the mobile apps for iOS and Android. You can view and edit documents for free without a subscription, but Office 365 unlocks the full power of the mobile apps.

PPTX on iPad Screenshot
PowerPoint on the iPad is an example of how far PowerPoint has come; it's basically a fully featured version of PowerPoint that is available for free.

However, if you're a casual user of Office and don't need to stay up-to-date, the "Home & Student 2016" can be a worthwhile option. The value comes down to comparing how long you think you'll keep the version versus the monthly costs of Office 365.

What Is PowerPoint Online?

Another option is PowerPoint Online, the totally free version of PowerPoint that you can use inside a web browser. If you've used Google Drive's productivity apps like Docs or Sheets, this is Microsoft's answer.

PowerPoint Online is free to use regardless of the option you choose to license PowerPoint. As long as you make a Microsoft account, you can use PowerPoint Online to build and view presentations.

Yooga Updated
PowerPoint Online is the free, browser-based version of Microsoft's presentation software and offers most of the features of its desktop counterpart.

Hit this link to check out PowerPoint Online. Even if you use the desktop version of PowerPoint, the Online counterpart represents an easy way to get to your files from any web browser.

For Microsoft, PowerPoint Online signals a big shift. It's the first time that you can access the majority of PowerPoint's features at no cost at all. The company's focus seems to be to hook people into using the product, versus selling one-time licenses to users.

What Are MS PowerPoint PPT Templates?

PowerPoint Templates (frequently also called "themes") are the quickest way to add style to your Microsoft PowerPoint presentation and one of the reasons that PowerPoint is so popular.

We're not all graphic designers. And even if you're a talented artist, you likely don't have time to illustrate everything from scratch when you're preparing to present. You should be focusing on the content and message that your audience will hear.

The easiest way to add a design to your slide is to use a template, which you'll find on PowerPoint's ribbon on the Design tab. Click on one of the template thumbnails to apply it to your presentation.

Themes and Variants on PowerPoint ribbon
Themes live on PowerPoint's ribbon on the Designs tab and can be applied with one click.

These are just Microsoft's built-in options, however. With the help of premium templates, you can build your best Microsoft PowerPoint presentation yet. On Envato Elements, you can source thousands of MS PPT templates.

Envato Elements Offer
Choose from thousands of premium PowerPoint templates on Envato Elements for your next PowerPoint presentation.

When you start with a premium template from Elements, you've got most of the hard work already complete. Talented graphic designers contribute MS PPT templates that already have all of the placeholders you need. Just update them with your content specifics and you'll have a great Microsoft PowerPoint presentation in no time!

PowerPoint custom template
Use custom templates like Yooga from Envato Elements to bring your presentation to life.

The best way to learn PowerPoint is really to skip the learning curve altogether by using templates. If you're wondering what is Microsoft PowerPoint when it's done properly, premium templates give you a perfect example.

Using Professional PowerPoint PPT Templates

Microsoft's built-in themes are a good enough start, but there are far better alternatives available to use. You can use premium presentation themes that are available through Envato Elements and GraphicRiver to supplant the built-in themes. 

Elements is a subscription service that allows you to download and use unlimited PowerPoint templates and creative assets—a powerful offer. GraphicRiver is another option that allows you to per pay template.

Discover more great Microsoft PowerPoint template designs from these sites in this curated selection of the best: 

The themes that you'll find on Elements and GraphicRiver are heads and shoulders above Microsoft's built-in options. These are ready for professional presentations at any level. 

Try out any of the 150 slide designs from Yooga for ideas in your MS PPT presentation.

Above all, themes from these sites include ideas for your slides. Many times, I know what the slide should contain, but need ideas for how to show the content.

Take, for example, the Yooga PowerPoint theme. Yooga comes with over 150 slide design ideas, as well as a variety of color schemes. Buy it once and use it repeatedly for all of your presentations; there's enough variety for it to be used in many cases.

One note about these custom themes: they don't always appear in PowerPoint's ribbon the way that Microsoft's templates do. They are often packaged as standalone PPTX files that you can open and re-work for your own presentations. 

Start Working With Pro PowerPoint PPT Templates Today

Learn all about how to make great presentations quickly with professional PowerPoint templates: 

Why Do Many People Dislike PowerPoint? (Does PowerPoint Suck?)

A number of people decry PowerPoint as a bad tool. Some of that reputation is on the mark, because I think we've all sat through many boring presentations in which the presenter reads directly from the slides.

However, this is also an unfair reputation because PowerPoint can be an excellent aid. Like most tools, it all comes down to how you use it.

Most PowerPoint presentations go south because the presenter uses the slide as a replacement for giving a presentation. The key is that slides should support and reiterate your talking points, rather than serve as a crutch.

Here are some of my most important tips to avoid during your PowerPoint-driven presentation:

  • Don't read directly from your slides. PowerPoint slides should have key points that summarize your talking points.
  • Don't put too many objects on each slide. This will confuse or distract your audience from your message.
  • Don't overdo it with animations, either! You can make objects fly on and off slides, but it'll distract from your message.
  • Don't speak for too long. No matter how good your slides look, an audience will eventually tune out.
  • Don't bury the lede. Reveal the key idea early and spend the rest of the presentation supporting it, instead of making your audience sit through a long talk and find the conclusion at the end.

Discover more helpful PowerPoint presentation tips: 

How Can You Build Visual Presentations Quickly in PowerPoint?

Your audience is sure to expect a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation loaded with visual elements. Slides that are overburdened with text and too many details will lose the audience's attention. The solution is to create more visual presentations that feature eye-catching graphics and imagery.

Let's look at three key elements of building a visual presentation: 

  1. graphics
  2. images
  3. slides.

1. How to Use Graphics in Microsoft PowerPoint

SmartArt is one of my favorite PowerPoint features, mainly because I'm not a graphic designer. But even for those who are experienced with Photoshop or Illustrator, the SmartArt feature deserves a look.

Basically, SmartArt is the best of both worlds between charts and images. They've got the professionally polished look of a designed graphic, but maintain the flexibility of a chart. You can add or remove points at any time.

PowerPoint SmartArt Example image
SmartArt is a hybrid of charts and simple text and remains editable.

Another option that I've already mentioned above is using an infographic to explain detailed ideas. SmartArt allows you to build some infographics but check out the tutorial below for more advanced options.

Check out the tutorials below to learn more about using SmartArt to build a variety of graphics, such as timelines, pyramids, hierarchies, and cycles.

2. How to Use Images Effectively in PowerPoint

Imagery can make or break a presentation. That's why it's so important to source great photos when you're building a PowerPoint so that the images match the tone and content of your presentation concept.

If you checked out Envato Elements earlier in this tutorial, you might be surprised to learn that it features far more than just PowerPoint templates. In fact, your subscription gives you more than 700,00 stock photos at no additional cost.

Yoga Photo
Stock imagery is a great added bonus of subscribing to Envato Elements with more than 700,000 images included at no additional cost.

Most of the premium templates that you'll find on Envato Elements include easy-to-update image placeholders. Download a template, pair a few stock photos from Elements, and you'll quickly have your best Microsoft PowerPoint presentation yet.

For a complete guide to working with images in PowerPoint, check out the link below:

3. How to Work With Slides in PowerPoint

Slides are the individual units that build up a PowerPoint presentation. Learning how to work with them holistically is key to building a great PowerPoint presentation.

Each slide should serve a purpose of its own, with a new aspect of your idea on each slide. This helps you keep a good flow in your presentation, as advancing each slide will bring to light a new angle of your perspective.

Read the tutorial below to learn how to build slide decks and use each slide to its full potential:

How Does PowerPoint Make Giving Presentations Easier?

Contrary to popular belief, PowerPoint is much more than a tool to develop presentations. It's also your best friend when you're giving the presentation. 

Instead of scrambling to prepare note cards or printed versions of your slides to reference, PowerPoint keeps all of those essentials nearby.

Presenter view
Presenter View keeps the most important tools visible, such as the speaker notes and a preview of the upcoming slide.

Presenter View is one of the most powerful features for sharing your PowerPoint presentation. Imagine having all of the most important tools on your screen.

Oftentimes, you'll have two displays while you're giving a presentation: your own laptop or tablet screen, and the screen that you're presenting on. While your audience will see the finished presentation, you'll have your own Presenter View where you can see your notes and upcoming slides.

For a complete tutorial on Presenter View, check out the link below:

How to Use Advanced MS PowerPoint Tools

PowerPoint does a good job balancing between user-friendly and full of features. It's easy to start using, but you might be surprised by some of the more advanced features that it includes. Let's look at a few advanced features.

1. Link PowerPoint and Excel

If you're a numbers person, I'll bet that you love Microsoft Excel. But it's just as likely that your audience would appreciate a more condensed version of your data in presentation format.

That's why the linkage between PowerPoint and Excel is so powerful. In fact, when used properly, your PowerPoint presentation can automatically refresh with the latest data in your Excel spreadsheet. Jump to the tutorial below to start using this feature.

2. Use PowerPoint in a Browser

As mentioned earlier in this tutorial, PowerPoint has a fully-featured browser version that's a fairly new addition to the Microsoft family. Saving your presentation to the cloud and using it in a web browser helps you collaborate with others.

Both of the tutorials below can help you start using PowerPoint Online. Whether you're looking to save your presentations safely or share them with others, these two tutorials will help you advance beyond PowerPoint's desktop apps.

3. Customize Slide Layouts

Think of slide layouts as a blueprint for the overall slide design. When you choose a layout, PowerPoint populates the slide with pre-built elements that are ready to fill in. 

Advanced PowerPoint users customize slide layouts so that they can be re-used over and over. This is how the best presenters save time in developing their presentations. Read the tutorial below to customize your slide layouts.

These advanced features can really make you a professional presenter. Make sure to try them out, and pretty soon you'll be teaching your peers what Microsoft PowerPoint is used for.

Recap & Learn More About Making Great PowerPoint Presentations 

In this tutorial, I shared some of my favorite reasons that I use Microsoft PowerPoint. Whether it's the sheer familiarity or the polish of over 30 years of development, PowerPoint won't be going anywhere soon.

Learn more in our PowerPoint beginner tutorials series or our quick-start PowerPoint videos. You can also get our free eBook now: 

Need Help? Grab Our Making Great Presentations eBook (Free)

You can find more information in our eBook on making great presentations. Download this PDF eBook now for FREE with your subscription to the Tuts+ Business Newsletter. 

Making Great Presentations Free PDF Guide Download

It'll help you master the presentation process, from: initial creative ideas, through to writing, design, and delivering with impact.

Do you use PowerPoint, or one of its competitors? I'm always interested to find out why, so feel free to do so in the comments section below.

This tutorial has been updated to include new information—with special assistance from Andrew Childress.

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