My ten favorite PowerPoint tips

By Geetesh Bajaj

Learn how to create presentations without PowerPoint, put a picture in a star, and other things to add pizzazz to your presentation. This article is an excerpt from Cutting Edge PowerPoint 2007 for Dummies by Geetesh Bajaj. Visit the Wiley Web site to buy this book.


This article is an excerpt from Cutting Edge PowerPoint 2007 by Geetesh Bajaj. Geetesh is the author of several books on PowerPoint and is the owner of the PowerPoint sites indezine.com, ppted.com, and cuttingedgeppt.com. Visit Wiley.com to learn more about this book.

In This Chapter

  • Creating PowerPoint presentations in Notepad?
  • Putting your picture in a star
  • Creating timelines in PowerPoint
  • Creating Star Wars-style credits
  • Counting down
  • Maximizing your presentations with other software

This chapter is all about my favorite PowerPoint tips. I decided to include tips that are quick and easy so that you can get almost instant results.

I start by showing you how to create PowerPoint presentations without PowerPoint! Then, you find out how to put a picture inside a star or any other shape. I then move on to help you add pizzazz to your presentation titles in a Star Wars-style moving, fading crawl.

There’s more — see how to create a countdown timer and add ready-made frames to your pictures. I finish the chapter with a discussion on PowerPoint’s glue-like capabilities.

Create a Simple Presentation in Notepad

You really can create a PowerPoint presentation in Notepad! That statement renders many people speechless, but the technique really isn’t all that difficult:

  1. Choose Start > (All) Programs > Accessories > Notepad to fire up the Notepad application.
  2. Type some text for your presentation — this might help you get started:Indezine for PowerPoint Why, How and Everything Else The PowerPoint Blog What’s New PowerPoint Tips Fresh Template Designs More Stuff PowerPoint Ezine Sample Presentations Interviews
  3. Choose File > Save to open the Save As dialog box. Save the file with a .txt extension by typing notepad.txt in the File Name text box.

Even if you don’t include the .txt extension on the filename, Notepad saves the file with a .txt extension by default.

  1. Launch PowerPoint, and choose Office > Open to summon the Open dialog box that you see in Figure 1
  2. Choose All Outlines in the File Type drop-down list, and then navigate to and select the TXT file.

You see that each line in the text file is now the title of a new slide.

Figure 1: Import your text outline.

Create a Bulleted Presentation in Notepad

The preceding section shows you how to type some text into Notepad and import it into PowerPoint as the basis of a presentation. The problem is that the text you type into Notepad is imported into PowerPoint as slide title — and slide titles don't make a presentation.

Follow these steps to create the presentation text in Notepad, complete with slide titles and bullets:

  1. Open Notepad and add the basic text for your presentation.

Alternatively, if you already created a TXT file, double-click the saved TXT file to fire up Notepad.

  1. Add tabs wherever you need bulleted text. For instance, your text might now look like this:Indezine for PowerPoint Why, How and Everything Else The PowerPoint Blog What’s New PowerPoint Tips Fresh Template Designs More Stuff PowerPoint Ezine Sample Presentations Interviews
  2. Save the TXT file.
  3. Create a new presentation (as detailed in Steps 4 and 5 in the previous section) and then open this text file in PowerPoint.

Every tabbed line becomes a bullet! You can see how this looks in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Tabs become bullets!

So what happens when you want a sub-bullet of a bullet? That’s easy — just press Tab twice at the beginning of a line to create a second-level bullet. Similarly, press Tab three times to create a third-level bullet . . . you get the idea!

Remember

You can create presentations with only text-like titles and bullets using this technique — however, no images, sound, or video can be added with this process.

 Tip   This is a great way to create an outline of a presentation when you have some free time — most PDAs and even mobile phones nowadays allow you to create text files. The next time you're waiting to see a doctor or to catch a plane, you can create the skeleton of your next presentation! Such presentations normally end up as black text on white slides — you can instantly make over a presentation created this way by applying a template or theme.

Put a Picture in a Star

Imagine a rectangle on the slide — now imagine that this rectangle is actually a picture. Now, what’s so imaginative about a picture that’s a rectangle? Almost all pictures are rectangles, but they don’t have to be! You just have to use a little imagination.

You can use any PowerPoint shape as a container for a picture. The following steps show you how to put your image in a star, but you can use any of the shapes available:

  1. Access the Shapes gallery by clicking the Insert or Home tab on the Ribbon and then clicking the Shapes button.
  2. Select any of the star types in the Stars and Banners category.

The five-point star works best for this technique, but you can choose any shape.

  1. Draw the star shape on the slide. Resize the star as required.
  2. Select the shape, right-click, and choose Format > Shape to open the Format Shape dialog box.
  3. In the Format Shape dialog box, select the Fill tab and choose the Picture or Texture Fill option.
  4. Click the File button, and in the Insert Picture dialog box that appears, navigate to and select a picture on your hard drive.

 Tip   Alternatively, you can use one of PowerPoint’s built-in textures.

  1. Click Insert and Close in successive dialog boxes to get back to your slide.

Figure 3 shows how your picture might look within the star.

 Tip   I showed how you how to add a picture fill to a shape. In PowerPoint 2007, you can also go the other way and add a shape to a picture. To do that, double-click any picture to access the Picture Tools Format tab of the Ribbon, click the Picture Shapes button to access the Shapes gallery, and choose your shape.

Figure 3: A beautiful evening star.

Jazz Up Picture-Filled Shapes

Using a picture as the fill for a shape is pretty cool. Try out some of the following ideas to do even more with this technique:

  • Even after you contain the picture in a star, you can change the star shape to something else. To change the shape, select the star so that the Drawing Tools Format tab is visible on the Ribbon. Select this Ribbon tab and choose Edit Shape > Change Shape to access a variation of the Shapes gallery, as shown in Figure 4. Now select the new shape.
Figure 4: Change an existing shape to another shape.
  • To draw a set of similar picture-filled shapes, create the first one and then duplicate it any number of times. Thereafter, edit (resize) the duplicated shapes as required.
  • Picture fills in shapes can be transparent. You can fill a shape with a picture, right-click the picture inside the shape, and then choose the Format Picture option. On the Fill tab of the resultant Format Picture dialog box, apply a Transparency value from 0 to 100 percent. (The higher the percentage is, the more transparent the picture fill will be.)
  • Play with shadows and other effects to add more impact to picture-filled shapes.
  • Use a slide with a dark blue background and draw a hundred tiny stars on the slide. Fill them all with a blue-white picture fill. Then, set the stars to animate one after the other. This makes a great intermission slide.

Create a Sequential Timeline

Although PowerPoint’s shapes can be combined to make effective visuals, they tend to look very uninspiring without the proper fills and animations. In this section, I show you how you can create a timeline using shapes. To add pizzazz to the visual, I add gradient fills to all the shapes.

 Tip   A timeline is something that’s not available as part of PowerPoint’s SmartArt feature. If you want to create a specialized diagram that’s not part of the SmartArt repertoire, you can use the same principle of combining PowerPoint shapes to create any type of diagram.

Sequential timelines are perfect for representing:

  • Product development
  • History timelines
  • Legal processes

A product development timeline typically illustrates the stage progression of a product from idea to release — with all types of research, tests, and prototypes represented in between. Using PowerPoint’s shapes, you can represent most of the tasks involved:

  • Concept
  • Research
  • Licensing
  • Testing
  • Prototype
  • Release

The presentation was created for a fictitious pharmaceutical company that’s working on a new, fictitious drug. In the presentation, you find three slides:

  • The first slide shows you how the timeline has been constructed.
  • The second slide is merely the first slide with gradient fills applied, as shown in Figure 5.
  • The third slide is again the same timeline but with an animation build applied.
Figure 5: A sequential timeline.

Follow these steps to create your own timeline on a slide:

  1. Draw a small rectangle and then resize it so that it that covers the top part of your slide to create a time bar (see Figure 6).
  2. Draw several small rectangles in a row below the top strip that span the slide from edge to edge, as shown in Figure 6, to create a time divider.

Timelines need a way to represent time. This can be done by creating the time bar and time divider on the top portion of the slide.

Figure 6: Draw several small rectangles and create a time bar.
  1. Put numbers in the rectangles to represent a period of time. Add fills as required to the rectangles.
  2. Position all the rectangles in a row and select them.
  3. The Ribbon should now show the Drawing Tools Format tab — on this tab, choose Group > Group to group all the rectangles.

Now you have to draw shapes that represent the actual tasks within the timeline.

  1. On the Insert or Home tab on the Ribbon, choose Shapes to bring up the Shapes gallery. Within this gallery, you find the Pentagon shape within the Block Arrows section — select this and draw one of them on the slide.
  2. Resize the pentagon as required and drag the yellow diamond handle on the pentagon slightly to taper the edge of the arrow end.
  3. Copy the pentagon multiple times by pressing the Ctrl key as you drag the selected shape.
  4. Position and resize all pentagons as required, as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7: Position all the pentagons.
  1. To add text within a pentagon, right-click one and choose Edit Text. Then just type the text.

After you add the text, some of the pentagons might require resizing. Scale them width-wise (never height-wise).

  1. Because all pentagons have been placed in clusters, you might want to identify each cluster of tasks. Draw a long, thin rectangle below a cluster of tasks and add text as required, as shown in Figure 8.
Figure 8: Every task is a cluster of shapes.
  1. At this point, you might want to arrange all your shapes to achieve the relative position under the time bar. Your timeline will now looks similar to what you see in Figure 5.

If you follow the entire step-by-step procedure, you create a product development timeline. The best part is that you aren't restricted to creating such timelines for product development — feel free to adapt the process for your situation. Examples of use include historical timelines, progressive project status, event planning, training, and any other concept that evolves within a timeline frame.

 Tip   Follow these guidelines to make your timelines travel that extra mile:

  • Tasks can often be repetitive and overlapping with other tasks. Your timeline design has to accommodate such requirements.
  • Because the timeline visual often takes an entire slide, use a clean background. Abstract backgrounds also work very well. For the same reason, use a blank or title-only slide layout for this slide.
  • Leave out the details. Just mention the tasks along with a representative period to show their duration.
  • If you need to add more detail, create an individual slide for each task and link it from the main timeline slide.

Add Star Wars-Style Credits

In PowerPoint, you can create a Star Wars-style credit screen, with your text moving up against a starry background and then tapering and fading into oblivion.

Follow these steps to create your own Star Wars-style credits:

  1. Choose Office > New to bring up the New Presentation dialog box.
  2. Click the Blank Presentation button to create a blank, new presentation, and then click the Create button.
  3. Click the Home tab on the Ribbon and click the arrow below the New Slide button to summon the Layout gallery. Choose the Blank Layout option to insert a new slide with no text placeholders.
  4. Click the Insert tab on the Ribbon, click the Text Box button, and then click anywhere on the slide to place a text box.
  5. Type a single or two-line credit text in the text box.

For example, I typed this:

Concept And Creation Geetesh Bajaj

  1. Make sure the text box is selected, and format the text as desired.

If you want to closely mimic the Star Wars credit style, center justify the text by clicking the Center button in the Paragraph group on the Home tab. You can also change the font to Arial, change the color of your text to yellow, make the text bold, and increase the size of the font. (For all the details about formatting text, see Chapter 8.)

  1. To start adding the animation, select, drag, and move the text box to the bottom center of the slide.
  2. Click the Animations tab on the Ribbon, and click the Custom Animation button to activate the Custom Animation pane.
  3. In the task pane, click the Add Effect button and choose Motion Paths to open a flyout menu. From this flyout menu, choose the Up option.

If the Up option isn't available, choose the More Motion Paths option to open the Add Motion Path dialog box. Now choose the Up option within the Lines & Curves section and click OK.

  1. Change your settings for the motion path in the Custom Animation pane to match the following, as shown in Figure 9:
    • Start: After Previous
    • Path: Unlocked
    • Speed: Slow
Figure 9: Match these custom animation settings.
  1. With your text box and the motion path still selected on the slide, you see green-arrow (play) and red-arrow (play until) indicators on either side of the motion path, as shown in Figure 10.
Figure 10: Editing the motion path.
  1. Click the red arrow to select the path.

 Tip   If you see two white handles on either side of the motion path, you know that the path is selected.

  1. Drag and pull the white handle on the peak of the path (above the red arrow) to the top of the slide to extend the motion path to the entire height of the slide.

 Tip   If you hold the Shift key while pulling the white handle, you ensure that your path is extended in a straight line.

  1. Drag the bottom of the path by pulling the bottom white handle somewhere close to the bottom of your slide.

You might want to preview the animation to fine-tune it by clicking the Play button on the Custom Animation pane.

  1. With the text box still selected, add another animation by clicking the Custom Animation button on the Animation tab of the Ribbon to activate the Custom Animation pane (if it is not already visible).
  2. In the task pane, click the Add Effect button and choose Emphasis to open a flyout menu. From this flyout menu, choose the Grow/Shrink option.

If the Grow/Shrink option isn't available, choose the More Effects option to open the Add Emphasis Effect dialog box. Now choose the Grow/Shrink option within the Basic section and click OK.

  1. Change the animation settings.

Match your settings for the Grow/Shrink options with the following in the Custom Animation pane:

  • Start: With Previous
  • Size: Smaller (50%)
  • Speed: Slow

Preview and fine-tune as required.

At this point, this is what you’ve done:

  • The first motion path animation moved the text from the bottom of the slide to the top.
  • The second emphasis animation reduced the size of the text as it moved from bottom to top.

Now, you ensure that the text fades into oblivion as it exits from the slide. This means you add a third animation to the same text box.

  1. With the text box still selected, click the Custom Animation button on the Animation tab of the Ribbon to activate the Custom Animation pane (if it is not already visible).
  2. In the task pane, click the Add Effect button and choose Exit to open a flyout menu. From this flyout menu, choose the Fade option.

If the Fade option isn't available, choose the More Effects option to open the Add Exit Effect dialog box. Now choose the Fade option within the Subtle category and click OK.

  1. Fine-tune the Fade settings.

Match your settings for the Fade options with these in the Custom Animation pane:

  • Start: With Previous
  • Speed: Slow

Remember

Because all three animations happen simultaneously, you choose the Slow speed option for all three. If you want to choose a different speed (such as Very Slow), you change the speed of all three animation types — the Motion Path, the Emphasis, and the Exit.

  1. Drag the text box off the bottom of the slide.

Select the text box and keep pressing the down-arrow key on your keyboard until the text box is just outside the slide area.

Preview and fine-tune again. You might want to extend the motion path upward (by dragging and pulling the top handle) to compensate for the added downward distance of the text box.

  1. If you want more credits, duplicate the text box by copying and pasting — change the text credits as required and place the text box immediately over the earlier text box.

Repeat to create as many text boxes as required. Because all the text boxes overlap each other, it might be a little difficult to edit the text within them later. Use the Tab key to select each of these text boxes one at a time so that you don’t make inadvertent changes to the wrong text box.

 Tip   You can also use the Selection and Visibility task pane to select the text boxes.

  1. Preview your slide by clicking the Play button on the Custom Animation pane.
  2. Save your presentation.

You might want to check the sample presentation on the CD to check the settings I’ve used or to compare the presentations. You just duplicated an animated text box within the same slide.

 Tip   You can carry this concept forward and duplicate text boxes across slides and even across presentations, thus making short work of an otherwise tedious job.

Experiment with adding a Star Wars-style soundtrack to the credits slide — you can search the Internet for a Star Wars theme sound in WAV or MP3 format. Whatever you do, make sure you respect copyrights.

Make a Countdown Timer

Creating a countdown timer in PowerPoint is so much fun — and countdown slides can be used to add impact to an announcement in an upcoming slide or just to give you another way to start a presentation.

Follow these steps to create your own countdown timer:

  1. Choose the Home tab on the Ribbon and click the arrow below the New Slide to summon the Layout gallery. Choose the Blank Layout option to insert a new slide with no text placeholders.
  2. Select the Insert tab on the Ribbon, click Text Box option, and click anywhere on the slide to place a text box.
  3. Type the 1 or 01 or 001 (depending on how many digits you want your counter to display), as shown in Figure 11.
Figure 11: Your first countdown digit!
  1. With the text box still selected, access the Home tab of the Ribbon and click the Center button in the Paragraph group to center align the text.
  2. Change the font size to something large, like 200 points, and resize the text box so that all digits are placed and visible on the same line.
  3. Change the font style as required and position the text box right in the center of the slide.
  4. Click the Animations tab on the Ribbon and select a simple transition.

For this example, I chose the Box Out transition effect. You can also choose the No Transition option if you prefer. I've also set the Transition Speed to Fast and opted to automatically advance the slide after ten seconds. You might want to choose a shorter or longer time delay for the transition.

  1. Click the View tab on the Ribbon, and then click the Slide Sorter option. In the resultant Slide Sorter view, click the formatted timer slide to select the slide.
  2. Click the Copy button on the Home tab of the Ribbon (or press Ctrl+C), and then click Paste (or press Ctrl+V) to paste an identical slide.

Keep pasting that slide until you end up with the number of slides you want your countdown to contain. I used ten slides in this example. At this point, your Slide Sorter View might look like the left side of Figure 12.

Figure 12: All your countdown slides (left); the slides in sequence (right).
  1. Within each of the slides, change the countdown number so that all numbers appear in reverse order; the first slide contains 10 (or whatever the highest number is), and the last slide contains the 1.

Because my example presentation contains ten slides, it looks like the right side of Figure 12 after the number values have been edited.

  1. Click the Slide Show button (found on the View tab of the Ribbon) to run the presentation and see the countdown.

 Tip   If you just finished creating your own countdown timer, you might want to experiment with slide backgrounds, transitions, animations, font color, and style to create a unique look. You might even want to experiment with calculator style digits (search online for a calculator font) or include seconds within the slides (for example 01:00).

Also consider adding some text, such as minutes/seconds remaining, to each countdown slide.

Find Outside Sources for Elements that You Add to PowerPoint Presentations

Here’s my favorite PowerPoint tip — and this doesn’t even include a tutorial! Think of PowerPoint as the glue that binds all elements of a presentation together — these elements often include pictures, sounds, movies, charts, diagrams, and more.

Many times, you’ll find that you can create these elements by using PowerPoint’s editing options. But if you're serious about creating cutting-edge PowerPoint presentations, you’ll soon realize that you want that out-of-the-ordinary look that sets your style apart from what everyone else is doing.

To attain this objective, you’ll want to create your own presentation paraphernalia box that contains much more than just PowerPoint. The CD included with this book can give you a start — it includes hundreds of free elements you can use in your own presentations.

The Internet is a great place to look for custom elements to include in your presentations. Try using your favorite search engine to search for royalty-free archives of photos, clip art, music, sound effects, backgrounds, templates, and videos. Also, remember that royalty-free doesn’t necessarily mean free!

Create and Edit Art Using an Image Editor

You can create some nice gradient fills and use preset textures for backgrounds within PowerPoint. You can use shapes to create all sorts of diagrams. But at some point, you’re going to get bored with those options. That’s where you need to move beyond PowerPoint and use an image editor. In fact, all images that you insert in PowerPoint should first be cleaned up and edited in an image-editing application such as Adobe Photoshop.

The possibilities are endless when you’re using a program such as Photoshop to alter a photograph or to draw your own image. Some typical tasks you can do with Photoshop include:

  • Resizing an image so that it will fit the exact dimensions you need, whether it’s 20 x 20 pixels or full-screen (usually 1024 x 768 pixels)
  • Editing a photograph to remove red eyes from subjects, to correct for poor lighting, or to crop out unnecessary parts of the picture
  • Applying a filter to an image to soften it, make it look like a watercolor painting, or turn it into a black light poster
  • Creating your own texture fills
  • Saving an image that uses a large, uncompressed format in a smaller, compressed format (for example, saving a huge .tif file as a much littler .jpg)

Photoshop is an expensive program, but Adobe also creates the less-expensive Photoshop Elements, which contains a surprisingly large number of Photoshop’s capabilities. Other alternatives include Microsoft’s Digital Image Pro and Corel’s Paint Shop Pro.

Edit Sound Clips with a Sound Editor

You can add sound clips to a PowerPoint presentation, but you can’t edit the sound clips with it. What program you choose for sound editing depends upon how you intend to use the sound clips:

  • If you need musical background scores for presentations, you can get one of the sound libraries created for use with PowerPoint. These include CrystalGraphics’ PowerPlugs: Music and Indigo Rose’s Liquid Cabaret collection. Opuzz.com also provides coordinated music clips that work very well within PowerPoint.
  • If you would rather create all the music on your own, look at something like Sony’s ACID program. This lets you create music scores using sound loops and is surprisingly easy to use. You could end up creating your first background score within an hour.
  • If all you need to do is polish your narrations and remove some hiss or noise artifacts, look at Bias SoundSoap — this is an intuitive application that intelligently cleans up your narrations. A more capable Pro version is also available.
  • If you need more advanced sound editing, use high-end professional programs like Adobe Audition or Sony Sound Forge. Comments or suggestions for this article? Please send us your feedback!

Photo of Geetesh Bajaj Geetesh Bajaj is based in Hyderabad, India, and he got started with his first PowerPoint presentation more than a decade ago. He has been working with PowerPoint ever since. Geetesh believes that any presentation is a sum of its elements. Everything in a presentation can be broken down to this element level, and PowerPoint’s real power lies in its ability to act as glue for all such elements. Geetesh contributes regularly to journals and Web sites, and has authored two other PowerPoint books. He’s also a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional) and a regular on Microsoft’s PowerPoint newsgroups. Geetesh’s own Web site at Indezine.com has thousands of pages on PowerPoint usage. It also has a blog, an e-zine, product reviews, free templates and interviews.

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