PowerPoint: A Codeless One-Slide Timer (Part 1 of 2)

Yesterday, a co-worker asked a few of us in PowerPoint user assistance how to create a timer to use during a presentation break. The only stipulation was that the timer had to use PowerPoint's native capabilities: she wanted something she could give to other people without having to include instructions you'd need if the timer was an ActiveX control or relied on VBA code.

One of the other team members referred her to the Clocks and Timers section of the PowerPoint FAQ. Sure enough, there was an example of a timer using slide transitions, courtesy of Geetesh Bajaj.

And it got me thinking: Geetesh uses multiple slides to create a timer, but couldn't you create a timer using shape animation and a single slide? Creating a single-slide timer was primarily an aesthetic preference. The timer functions the same either way. I just preferred to have it on a single slide, so that when I'm in Normal or Slide Sorter view, the timer doesn't appear as a long series of slides. Having everything on a single slide also makes moving the timer, or pasting it into another presentation, easier.

(Creating it was also a nice distraction from all the SharePoint studying I've been doing. But that's neither here nor there.)

Anyway, here's how you can create a single-slide, codeless timer:

As an example, let's say you wanted to create a one-minute timer, with the visual display updated every ten seconds. First, add a new slide to the presentation. Then, create a shape that represents your timer, like so:


Next, copy and paste the shape back onto the same slide. Change the text so it displays ten seconds less. Repeat this process until you have shapes that count down to zero:

Now, let's make sure the z-order of the shapes is correct. The z-order basically refers to the order in which shapes are layered on the slide. We want the shapes stacked in order of increasing time, with the one-minute shape on the bottom. Think of it this way:


(Tip: Don’t actually stack the shapes on top of each other yet. That'll make the shapes to hard to work with.)

Here's how we can explicitly set the z-order:

Right-click the shape with the most time displaying (in our case, that's the one-minute shape), point to Order, and click Bring to Front. This moves that shape to the top of the z-order stack. Repeat this process with the shape displaying the next most time, and so on.

So now we have our shapes in the proper z-order. Next, we need to animate them so that PowerPoint displays them in the proper sequence, and at the proper intervals. Then we need to add a slide transition for when the timer hits zero. All of which we’ll do in the next entry.