Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

As with many Microsoft 365 programs, PowerPoint can take some getting used to. Here are seven things I’ve learned over the years which, had I known about them earlier, would have saved me a lot of time and helped me hit the ground running with slick, professional slides.

In this article, I’ll talk about the features available to Microsoft 365 subscribers in the PowerPoint desktop app. Some of these tools are accessible in the web-based version of the program, but—as with all Microsoft 365 programs—the app offers the best flexibility.

The Slide Master Saves Time and Aids Consistency

One of my main PowerPoint bugbears is seeing slides with different layouts and color schemes, so when I’m creating a slideshow, I like to make sure my viewers don’t have the same experience. The best way to ensure your slides are consistent is by using the Slide Master—and doing so will also save you lots of time.

You can use the Slide Master on a blank PowerPoint presentation or a Microsoft template. However, if you have already amended some slides in the Normal view (such as font colors), some changes you make in the Slide Master will not apply to these slides.

In the View tab on the ribbon, click “Slide Master.”

A PowerPoint presentation with the View tab and the Slide Master button highlighted.

You will then see a new Slide Master tab on the ribbon, and your thumbnail pane on the left of your screen will change to a new view.

The Slide Master view in PowerPoint. The Slide Master tab is highlighted to show that the Slide Master view is activated.

The top slide thumbnail is the master slide, and all related layouts are displayed underneath. Any formatting changes you make to the top slide—such as font colors, borders, or images—will be duplicated in the remaining slides. In this example, I’ve added a green border to the slide’s text area and changed the title font to blue. I have also moved the slide title area to the right and added a small image to the left, and you can see all these changes applied to the other slide thumbnails below.

PowerPoint's Slide Master view with some of the formatting and layout changes made to the top slide reflected in the remaining slide thumbnails underneath.

You can also make changes to specific slide types. For example, if I wanted the title layout slide to have a yellow background, I would move down to the second thumbnail in the screenshot above and change that slide layout only.

When you have made all the necessary changes, click “Close Master View” in the Slide Master tab, or “Normal” in the View tab.

Then, in the Normal view, to add a new slide, click the “New Slide” drop-down option in the Home tab and choose from the newly designed layouts.

The New Slide drop-down icon in PowerPoint, with the different choices based on Slide Master designs displayed beneath.

You Can Remove Image Backgrounds

If you have a busy slide with lots of objects, your image backgrounds can take up some valuable space. Instead, you can edit the images to keep the foreground only—as a result, your slide will appear less cluttered to your audience, and you’re keeping only the focal point of your photos.

First, upload your image to PowerPoint. To do this, in the Insert tab on the ribbon, click “Pictures,” and then choose the appropriate location.

A PowerPoint slide with the Insert tab highlighted, and then the Pictures and Insert Picture From options selected.

Now, with your image selected, head to the Picture Format tab, and click “Remove Background.”

A PowerPoint slide containing an image of a dog. The Picture Format and Remove Background options are higlighted.

PowerPoint will then attempt to identify which parts of your picture are the foreground and which parts are the background, keeping the former and removing the latter. The part it intends to remove will be highlighted in purple.

A PowerPoint slide containing an image of a dog. Part of the image background has turned to a translucent purple color, indicating which part of the background is to be removed.

If you’re happy with which parts of your picture are to be removed, click “Keep Changes” in the Background Removal tab. However, sometimes, PowerPoint’s background recognition might not work perfectly well, as in my screenshot above. In this case, I would click “Mark Areas To Remove,” and use the freehand pen to tell PowerPoint where the rest of the background is. Each time I click and then unclick, the image will update accordingly.

If you make any mistakes when drawing out your area, simply press Ctrl+Z (undo) to bring back the part you just removed. Luckily, you don’t have to be perfectly accurate with where you draw your areas to remove—this process is satisfyingly intuitive.

A PowerPoint slide with the Mark Areas To Move button selected and the area on the image marked out to be removed.

When you’re done, click “Keep Changes.”

A PowerPoint slide containing an image of a dog and the background of the image completely in translucent purple, indicating it will be removed. The Keep Changes icon is highlighted.

You will then see the new image with only the foreground retained. Simply select, copy (Ctrl+C), and paste (Ctrl+V) the image if you want to use it somewhere else in your presentation.

A PowerPoint slide with an image of a dog. The image has no background.

Cropping Images Is Surprisingly Easy

Is your image too big? Or do you just want to make the background smaller? PowerPoint lets you do this in just a few clicks.

Select your uploaded image and, in the Picture Format tab, click the “Crop” drop-down arrow. You will then see five options.

A PowerPoint slide with an image selected and the Crop drop-down option is selected to reveal the cropping options.

  1. Crop—Clicking this option will place black handles around the edge of your picture, which you can then drag to cut out the necessary parts of your photo (see the screenshot below).
  2. Crop To Shape—If you click this button, you’ll see a choice of shapes that you can select to change your image shape without distorting its ratio. Some shapes will let you adjust their dimensions, but others (such as the oval) will be a set cropping shape.
  3. Aspect Ratio—If you need your image to be a certain aspect ratio (the image’s height versus its width), click “Aspect Ratio,” and choose one of the set parameters.
  4. Fill—This lets you resize the image so that the entire picture area is filled. This is only applicable if you have already changed the image cropping.
  5. Fit—Finally, this option lets you resize the image so that it displays in full within the picture area. Again, this will only work if you have already cropped the picture.

A PowerPoint slide with an image being cropped, shown through the Crop icon having been selected and the black handles around the edge of the image.

Whichever cropping option you choose, simply click anywhere away from the image once you’re happy, and your amendments will apply to your pic. Press Ctrl+Z to undo this, or click the Crop icon again to revert the image to its original shape or amend the dimensions.

PowerPoint Has a Presenter View

If you’re presenting your PowerPoint on a projector or screen, when you press F5, you will automatically see the Presenter View on your primary screen and the slideshow on the other. In this screenshot, the Presenter View is on the left (my laptop screen), and the slideshow is on the right (my second screen).

A dual-screenshot of PowerPoint, with the Presenter View on the left screen, and the slideshow on the right screen.

The Presenter View is great for showing you what the next slide or animation will be, but the best use of this tool is the notes section. When preparing your presentation (before you press F5), click “Notes” under a given slide, and type some comments into the area that appears.

A PowerPoint slide with the Notes button selected and the area for typing notes highlighted.

Then, when you press F5, you’ll see these notes in the Presenter View.

The Designer Feature Instantly Professionalizes Your Slides

While you can use Excel’s many templates to help you choose your slide layouts, I prefer to use the Designer tool, mainly because it designs your slide based on what you type.

Open a blank PowerPoint presentation and head to your title slide. Then, in the Home tab on the ribbon, click “Designer.” You’ll then see some nice designs appear in a sidebar on the right, which you might choose to click through to find a suitable layout.

A blank PowerPoint slide with the Designer button selected and the Designer sidebar open on the right containing design suggestions.

But wait! Don’t jump straight into a design. First, try typing a title into your first slide—in our example, we’ll type Technology—and see how the design suggestions change to suit your theme.

A PowerPoint slide with the title Technology, and the Designer button clicked to reveal the technology-related designs.

Add a sub-heading to your title slide, and see the design suggestions update again. Once you see an appropriate design, simply click your choice. When you create new slides, the rest of the presentation will be designed to match your title slide.

The Selection Pane Makes Animating Much Easier

If you have lots of objects—such as images and text boxes—on one slide, it can sometimes be confusing which object is which when adding and organizing your animations. In my screenshot below, you can see that the images are labeled with random numbers, so identifying the individual pictures and their animations can be difficult.

PowerPoint's Animation Pane with 6 pictures listed.

Instead, I find that naming the objects individually makes this process a lot clearer. In the Home tab on the ribbon, click the “Select” drop-down arrow, and choose “Selection Pane.” You’ll then see the Selection Pane appear on the right, listing all the objects on that particular slide.

A PowerPoint slide with the Select drop-down option highlighted and the Selection Pane option selected. The Selection Pane is displayed on the right of the screen.

From here, you can rename the objects by double-clicking the placeholder names and typing your preferred object name.

PowerPoint's Selection Pane containing items whose labels have been changed to reflect what the item represents.

Now, when you reopen the Animation Pane via the Animation tab on the ribbon, you’ll find it much easier to organize your animations.

PowerPoint's Animation Pane containing a list of items with names allocated through the Selection Pane.

Useful Keyboard Shortcuts

Do you have only a few hours to create your PowerPoint presentation? There are many keyboard shortcuts you can use in PowerPoint, but speed up the process by learning and using these handy ones:




Add a new slide



Format the font



Copy the selected object’s formatting



Paste the copied formatting to the selected object



Duplicate the selected slide



Jump to the next slide

Page Down

Page Down

Go back to the previous slide

Page Up

Page Up

Preview your slideshow



Whether you’re a PowerPoint newbie or a power user, hopefully, some of these tips will make your life a little easier. As well as these hints, there are some other traps you might fall into when creating your presentation, so make sure you avoid making these common PowerPoint mistakes.

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By John P.

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