The Rapid Elearning Blog

Top PowerPoint Tips

December 9th, 2014

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PowerPoint is probably the single best multimedia application available because of its versatility. You can create presentations, rapid elearning courses, illustrations, videos, mobile learning and even books for publishing.

PowerPoint also offers ease of entry. That means someone with no experience can open the application and get started. And the person with lots of experience is given all sorts of capability.

The main challenge with PowerPoint is that many people don’t fully understand the features and usually do very basic work with PowerPoint. And of course a lot of the negativity surrounding PowerPoint comes not from the tool, but instead from sitting through tedious PowerPoint-driven lectures and presentations.

I was asked recently about my favorite PowerPoint tips and tricks. I have a lot that I like, but here are a few of the ones I use quite a bit and find the most valuable.

PowerPoint Tip 1: Step Away from the PowerPoint Template

Templates are good, especially for new developers and those who want to save time. However, your project should guide the template and not the opposite. Unfortunately most people tend to start with the default PowerPoint templates and layouts. So everything has a distinct PowerPoint look.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips avoid template

My advice? Put the bullet points down and step away from the template. Start with a blank screen and be intentional about what you build. If you do build a template, build it specific to your project’s needs.

PowerPoint Tip 2: Control Layers with the Selection Pane

The selection pane displays the objects on the slide. Here is what you can do with the selection pane:

  • Name objects
  • Change the stacking order
  • Show and hide objects

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips use selection pane

PowerPoint Tip 3: Combine Shapes to Create Custom Shapes

Starting with PowerPoint 2010 you can combine shapes to create custom shapes. Most of the time I use this feature to create custom callouts. I also use it to punch out parts of a shape I don’t need. Combine that with the edit points feature and you can create any shape you want. You can also use the fragment feature to convert text and wingding type into vector images which we looked at earlier. This is perfect for creating your own icons.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips combine shapes

PowerPoint Tip 4: Layering Objects to Create Custom Graphics

We can stack objects in PowerPoint and control them with the selection pane. We can also make objects transparent. That means we can stack transparent objects to create custom images. Group the objects, right click, and save as an image file. I usually save as .png to retain transparency.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips create custom graphics

PowerPoint Tip 5: Customizing Clip Art & Vector Graphics

I have a ton of posts on this, which you can find below. Essentially most clip art in PowerPoint is .wmf or .emf. That means they are comprised of grouped vector shapes which can be ungrouped and modified and then regrouped.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips combine clip art

Unfortunately, Microsoft is dumping the and clip art site. So I’m not sure how much longer you’ll have to work with these types of files without buying your own. But in the meantime, take advantage of the free resources and create your own graphics.

PowerPoint Tip 7: Apply Custom Formatting with the Format Painter

The format painter is an underutilized feature in PowerPoint. Essentially any object’s formatting can be applied to another. I use it create quick styles for the objects in my courses. Then I can apply that to the other objects on the slide.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips use format painter

This comes in handy when you get one of those junky PowerPoint files from a subject matter expert where there’s no rhyme or reason to the visual design. Create a quick style guide and then use the format painter to apply it.

PowerPoint Tip 8: Apply Animations to Multiple Objects Using the Animation Painter

The animation painter is very similar to the format painter. The only difference is that instead of applying an object’s format you apply the object’s animations. This comes in really handy if you have an object with multiple animations and need to duplicate those animations to other objects. In the past, you had the tedious process of rebuilding the animations onto each object. Today, that can be done in seconds using the animation painter.

Here’s a quick video that shows how it works.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips use animation painter

Click here to view the YouTube video.

PowerPoint Tip 9: Save PowerPoint Presentations as Video

This is one of my favorite features because anything you build in PowerPoint with animations, narration, and multiple slides can be saved as a single video file.

Here’s a PowerPoint presentation that was saved as an .mp4 video and then inserted into the Storyline player. Try to create something similar with a video editing application. Trust me, it’s not that easy (especially without more advanced skills). But it’s really easy to do in PowerPoint.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips save as video

Click here to play video.

In PowerPoint 2010 files are saved as .wmv and need to be converted to .mp4. I like to use Handbrake because they have pre-determined settings. In PowerPoint 2013 you can save as .mp4 so that saves a few steps.

The videos you create can be combined with your other elearning development. Here’s a good example where the sidebar video was created in PowerPoint and then inserted into a rapid elearning course.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips example of video

Click here to view the PowerPoint video demo.

PowerPoint Tip 10: Remove Image Backgrounds

One of the most common reasons elearning developers use image editors like and Photoshop Elements is to remove backgrounds from stock images. And they work fine for that. But you can do the same thing in PowerPoint starting with PowerPoint 2010.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips remove backgrounds

It’s real easy to do. Double-click on your image and select remove background. Then determine what you want to keep and what you want to remove. Easy as that.

Bonus tip: Use PowerPoint to Create Interactive E-Learning Courses

PowerPoint is a tool most people have and as you can see, is a very capable application. Combine that with Articulate Studio and you have a very easy way to create interactive elearning.

What you build in PowerPoint is converted to Flash or HTML5 to meet your elearning needs. While applications like Storyline add more interactive capabilities, PowerPoint is still an easy entry point for the person just getting started with elearning design.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - top PowerPoint tips elearning examples

Here are some simple examples of PowerPoint-based interactions:

Other PowerPoint Tips & Tricks

There are literally hundreds of PowerPoint tips and tutorials in the blog. Here are some links from previous posts:

So those are some of my favorite PowerPoint tips. If you could add one tip, what would it be?


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

13 responses to “Top PowerPoint Tips”

Okay there are tips in this post I totally didn’t know about. Guess I have some homework!

The one tip I’d add is around using placeholders (text, pictures, media) to create custom templates. Here’s a simple tutorial for working with text and picture placeholders:

That’s a good one, David, especially for those who do want to create custom templates.

December 9th, 2014

You cheated us, Tom! There is no Tip #6. : -(

But I like to use PowerPoint to make simple flowcharts. It’s not a sophisticated tool for that, but drawing the steps in a process or sequence of ideas is a good way to make sure you understand the content you’re supposed to present.

@Martha: I did that in a previous post, too and thought I’d keep it a running meme. 🙂 Or maybe, I just messed up.

Your video tip is very interesting but I’m not very clear on it. Do you have another post where this is explored in more detail? The example video you show here was created in powerpoint, not in Storyline? It looks really great! I’ve been wondering what tool I should use to create something similar. More details about the animations or an example file to see how the objects and slides look as a powerpoint before you turn it into a video would be awesome. Thanks!
If I have both Storyline (v1) and Powerpoint, which would be easier for building this sort of video?

@Fiona: essentially whatever you build in PowerPoint can be saved as a video. If you have PowerPoint 2010 or 2013 you have access to the Duarte demo. In 2010, go to new>sample template and you’ll find it. In 2013, got to new> then search for Duarte and it shows up. Open their file and save it as a video. Then you can see what it does. It takes a little while since it’s a big file.

Then look inside the PowerPoint file to see how they used animations and effects.

Great tips! Thanks, Tom!

Thanks, Joe.

Informative article.

Thanks in particular for the videos in tip #9: complex and simpler-looking ways to be a lot more engaging. I’m inspired! Thanks also for the tip on Animation Painter, which I’d somehow never noticed before. What a boon for consistency and time-saving!

Leggi la traduzione (autorizzata) in italiano di questo post qui:

Props to Mr Kuhlmann for steering clear of this epidemic of absurdity currently afflicting US bloggers and NOT titling his piece “Eleven Top PowerPoint Tips” (nor the previous one “25 Tips & Tricks to Becoming an E-Learning Pro”, the following one “One Microsoft is Dumping 85,000 Clip Art Images. What 12 Things Are You Going to Do?”, and so on.

@Ben: LOL. Unfortunately it’s the way it is. Headlines are meant to draw interest to the content and numbered lists are a proven formula. It’s not new since news magazines and newspapers have been doing it for years.

I think in years past we only saw one newspaper so we weren’t bombarded with it. Today we’re online and every other article uses the same basic formula. So now it’s more amplified.

To me, what’s ridiculous is when the tips offer no real value which is a problem with a lot of content.