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Ten PowerPoint 2004 Tips to Beat Tight Deadlines

by Franklin Tessler, author of Office 2004 for Mac: The Missing Manual
06/10/2005

Whether you're pitching an idea to the boss or teaching geography to a class of fifth graders, you can't beat an electronic slideshow. PowerPoint 2004 lets you turn text, graphics, sounds, and movies into dazzling presentations that get your message across in high style. But what if you're on a short deadline? Relax, and I'll show you ten ways to use PowerPoint to put together slideshows that'll convince your audience that you spent days sweating over your mouse and keyboard.

1. Save and Use Design Templates

If you've already taken the time to craft a custom master slide that you like (showing your company's logo on an eye-catching background, for example), use it for your next presentation. In addition to saving time, you'll give your slideshows a consistent look people will notice.

The easiest way to reuse a PowerPoint presentation is to simply open and edit it, replacing old content with new. However, it's often preferable to start with an empty file that duplicates an existing presentation's color schemes and master slides. To save a presentation as a template, delete all of the slides, choose File -> Save As, and select Design Template from the Format pop-up menu. Give the template a descriptive name ("Annual Report," say) and save it in the Microsoft Office 2004/Templates/My Templates folder. When you're ready to use the template, open the Project Gallery and look for it under the My Templates group.

2. Don't Reinvent the Wheel

Instead of creating every frame from scratch, recycle slides from old presentations--the animated chart you prepared for last month's sales event will be just as impressive at your next meeting, as long as you make sure the information is up to date. PowerPoint gives you two ways to import slides into a presentation:

A) Insert - > "Slides from file" lets you choose a PowerPoint file to import. PowerPoint imports the entire presentation by default, but if you click the "Select slides to insert" button, a window appears that lets you select the slides you want to transfer. (Another button lets you retain the design of the imported slides;

Related Reading

Office 2004 for Macintosh: The Missing Manual
By Mark Holt Walker, Franklin Tessler, Paul Berkowitz

B) Although the above technique works well if you only have a few batches of slides to import, I prefer the following method. Open both presentations in Slide Sorter view (View.Slide Sorter). Select the slides that you want to transfer (Shift-click to select a range of slides; Command-click to choose non-adjacent slides) and drag them into the presentation to which you're copying. A thin vertical line shows where the slides will go when you release the mouse button. If you have a large monitor, you can keep several presentations open at once and copy slides as needed.

3. Make Changes in the Slide Sorter

PowerPoint's Slide Sorter view also lets you make changes to any subset of slides in a jiffy. To change the transition for a group of slides, for example, select them in the Slide Sorter, choose Slide Show.Slide Transition, and apply the transition you want. You can also use this technique to change the background of one or more slides without having to edit each slide individually.

4. Use Master Slides

While you may be tempted to give every slide a unique layout, doing so takes time that you can't spare if it's 10 a.m. and you have to do a slide presentation at noon. Thankfully, master slides make it easy to tweak your presentation's design without having to edit every slide every time you make a change. Any modifications you make to the master slide are automatically reflected in the entire presentation.

Master slides also let you make global changes to slide animations. For example, say you want all your text to dissolve into view, one bullet at a time. Open the slide master (View -> Master -> Slide Master), click the placeholder for bulleted text, and set up the animation in the Custom Animation dialog (Slide Show -> Custom Animation). Close the master and voila--dissolving bullets. If a few minutes later you decide that you'd rather see the text fly in instead, go back to the master and make the change.

5. Work in Outline View

PowerPoint's slide view approximates what the audience sees, but it's not a particularly efficient way to enter large amounts of text. If your presentation consists mostly of words, enter them in normal view instead--you'll work faster, and you'll still be able to keep an eye on the layouts in the slide pane on the right. To save even more time, learn keyboard shortcuts. (To change a title in the outline to a bullet point, for example, place the insertion point anywhere on the line and type Shift-Option-right arrow.)

Although PowerPoint's outliner is sufficient for most presentations, you may prefer to write your outline in Microsoft Word. To import a Word outline into PowerPoint, select Insert -> "Slides from Outline;" optionally, you can send an outline from Word to PowerPoint (File -> Send to -> Microsoft PowerPoint).

6. Don't Play the Slideshow

When you're working on a presentation, it's almost impossible not to sneak peeks at your budding masterpiece by clicking the Slide Show view button at the bottom left of PowerPoint's main window. Resist the urge. Instead, concentrate on your slides' content, and save slideshows for the end. (Slides that make use of intricate animation sequences are an important exception. I prefer to test and debug complex animations on the fly, because I find it easier to remember how I want to choreograph the animations when I'm working on the slide in the first place.)

7. Have All Your Images Ready to Go

Most of my lectures include plenty of medical images. Over the years, I've learned that I can work much faster if I choose them in advance, rather than sifting though my hard drive as I'm putting together a presentation. Begin by making copies of all of the pictures and drawings that you think you'll need and put them in a folder on your desktop. In the Finder, open the folder in icon view (View -> as Icons), and set the icon size to 128 by 128 pixels (View -> Show View Options) to make them easier to see.

You can drag images directly into the presentation by keeping the open folder visible as you're working on your slideshow. (Mac OS 10.4 Tiger's search function also lets you look for images based on various criteria.) If possible, crop, edit, and resize images before you import them. If you have Adobe Photoshop, you can use it to do all of the editing and then drag the images into PowerPoint directly from Photoshop's File Browser. Dedicated image cataloging programs also serve this purpose well.

8. Keep Toolbars Handy

Learn which PowerPoint tools you use most often and keep them at your fingertips. If you frequently have to center elements on your slides, for example, click and hold on the icon at the top of the drawing toolbar and mouse down to Align or Distribute in the pop-up menu. Highlight the bar above the Align or Distribute menu and release the mouse button (see Figure 1). You'll be left with a floating menu that lets you center or align objects with just a few mouse clicks.

PowerPoint Shot

9. Copy and Paste

To place a group of objects on a series of existing slides, select the objects, copy them, and paste them on all of the slides. PowerPoint automatically puts each copy in the same position on every slide. The Duplicate command (Edit -> Duplicate) makes it easy to make multiple copies of any object on a single slide. If you manually move the first copy immediately after you create it, PowerPoint places each subsequent duplicate in the same position relative to its original, so you end up with a series of evenly spaced objects.

10. Use Presenter Tools

Assuming that you actually have enough time left to practice before showtime, use PowerPoint 2004's Presenter Tools feature (Slide Show -> View Presenter Tools) instead of a full-screen presentation. That way, you'll be able to see how each slide looks in the context of the entire presentation, as well as keep an eye on timing and animation.

No matter what type of work you do or how carefully you plan ahead, chances are you'll eventually have to put together a PowerPoint presentation with not much time to spare. Although my tips won't guarantee a stress-free experience, you'll at least get the job done and look like a pro.

Franklin Tessler has been a writer for Macworld magazine since 1986.


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