PowerPoint and Excel: Perfect Partners for Dynamic Tables and Dashboards

Editor’s note: The following post was written by PowerPoint MVP Glenna Shaw

PowerPoint and Excel: Perfect Partners for Dynamic Tables and Dashboards

PowerPoint 2010 and PowerPoint 2013 introduced improvements to a lot of features, but sadly PowerPoint Tables was not one of them (and I can say the same for Word Tables). In both apps, pretty much the only thing you can do with tables is add rows and columns, type in the information and, either apply a pre-existing style or laboriously create your own style which you can’t even save as a template.

So what‘s the alternative? In PowerPoint there is a little talked about feature under the Insert, Tables section of the toolbar called Insert Spreadsheet.


Unlike PowerPoint and Word, Excel Tables has a slew of very cool features. With Excel Tables you can:


  • Sort
  • Filter
  • Remove Duplicates
  • Connect to external data
  • Create a real Total Row (unlike PowerPoint’s Total Row, which only formats the last row)
  • Create a variety of indicators (known as Conditional Formatting)
  • Add Sparklines (tiny one row charts)
  • Create a Custom Style and save it as a template
  • and more

Editing Excel Spreadsheets in PowerPoint

Before I start this article I want to point out that there are two methods for editing spreadsheets in PowerPoint. To have a choice of method, right click on the spreadsheet on your slide, click Worksheet Object, and choose Edit or Open. The default method (Edit) opens an “in place” Excel window on the slide and replaces the PowerPoint toolbar with the Excel toolbar. You click outside the “in place” Excel window to return to PowerPoint. The second method (Open) opens the Excel spreadsheet in a separate Excel window. You close the Excel window to return to PowerPoint. Both methods have their merits depending on what you’re doing with the spreadsheet.

Embedded Excel Tables

For example, you have a PowerPoint Table for your sales team. You’ve sorted the table to reflect highest to lowest sales by team member for the last month. You’ve also added stars to reflect the performance of your sales team. But what happens when next month rolls around? In PowerPoint your only option is to add a column and retype the entire table and move around or redo your star shapes. If you’d used an Excel table instead, all you’d have to do is add the column of data and sort on the new column. Plus you could use the Conditional Formatting features for your performance indicators as well as other features. The only caveat is you must format your table in Excel, although I don’t consider this a downside since Excel’s table formatting features are better than PowerPoint’s.

PowerPoint Table


Excel Table


Note: As my fellow PowerPoint MVP, Nolan Haims, has reported, the Sparklines (shown in the last column) are very pixilated in PowerPoint. We’re hoping Microsoft is sufficiently motivated to fix that.

Linked Excel Tables

Linking tables is a little trickier. When you copy/Paste link a table into PowerPoint, it doesn’t recognize the table name. Instead, it will map the link only to the selected cells. This is fine if your table never adds columns or rows, but if your table grows or shrinks, the table on your PowerPoint will not grow/shrink with it. You can get around this by using a Named Range, which PowerPoint does recognize. The difference is subtle, but important. Basically it means you need to select your range of data, name it and copy/paste link it into PowerPoint BEFORE you format it as a table in Excel. After you’ve done this, you can format the data as a Table in Excel and using the Name Manager in Excel, tell it your Name Range = Table Name.

Excel Name Manager


If you just try and copy/paste link a Table into PowerPoint, the link will say something like A2:H6 instead of Sales (or whatever name you choose) and the table will not dynamically update. I have no idea why PowerPoint will recognize a Named Range and not a Table, but I’m hoping Microsoft fixes that snafu in the next iteration.

PowerPoint Links


My fellow MVP, Steve Rindsberg, has been telling me for ages that PowerPoint recognizes a Named Range, but it wasn’t until I read this article, that I was able to figure it out how to make both Named Ranges and Tables work together. They don’t quite cover the whole story because, for the link to work, you must copy/paste link it as a Named Range before you turn it into a Table. But it did help me realize a Named Range could refer to a Table.

If you already have your cells formatted as a Table, simply convert it to a Named Range, copy/paste link it to PowerPoint, and format it as a Table again. Then use Name Manager to refer your Named Range to the table.

I realize this is confusing, so to recap:

  • A Named Range is a designated group of cells that PowerPoint recognizes and will add/remove rows/columns automatically
  • A Table is a designated group of cells that supports Excel Table features but PowerPoint doesn’t recognize and won’t add/remove rows/columns automatically
  • A Named Range can refer to a Table by name, in effect making the Table a Named Range
  • You must copy/paste link as a Named Range first or PowerPoint won’t pick up the Name as the link

If that’s still not clear, don’t fret. My example file has step by step directions. Download the PPTExcelTables.zip file and unzip all three files to the same folder on your hard drive.

Embedded and/or Linked Excel Dashboards

In a previous article on the MVP Award blog, I covered how to create dashboards primarily using PowerPoint’s interactivity features. And while this is very cool, Excel has some smoking hot interactivity features of its own if you’re only talking dashboards. Through Pivot Tables, Pivot Charts and Slicers you can create some pretty amazing interactive visuals. On the downside, a dashboard in Excel doesn’t resize to full screen automatically and just doesn’t look as nice when presented on the big screen. So can you have the best of both worlds? Can you have a functioning Excel dashboard in a PowerPoint slideshow? The answer is yes, but it’s tricky. The tricky part isn’t getting the dashboard onto a slide, that’s fairly straight forward. The tricky part is actually using the dashboard during a running presentation.

To create an embedded Excel dashboard in a PowerPoint slide, use the Insert Spreadsheet feature and create a dashboard in the Excel window. You may find it easier to insert the spreadsheet, click outside the spreadsheet and then right click on the spreadsheet and choose Worksheet Object, Open. This will open a full Excel window instead of the “in place” Excel window. I find this easier to use, especially when working on dashboards which use multiple worksheets.

If you need to learn how to create dashboards in Excel, check out Chandoo.org, it is one of my favorite Excel resources. The key thing to remember is to uncheck Gridlines in the Excel worksheet. If you want, you can also format the cells in your spreadsheet to have the same background as your slide. Since I use a white background on my slides, and the spreadsheet defaults to a white background, I can skip this step. Note: save yourself time and effort by using the same theme for your presentation and your spreadsheet.

If you want a linked dashboard, simply create a dashboard in an Excel file, select the desired range of cells, make it a Named Range and copy/paste link to your PowerPoint slide. If your dashboard changes size, make sure to allow for the largest size when selecting the range of cells. Keep in mind this is for display on the big screen, so design your dashboard accordingly. Simple dashboards on multiple slides will work better than one complex dashboard on a single slide.

Simple Excel Dashboard


Finally, set up the Excel dashboard to open in an Excel window when you run the presentation. To do this, click on the spreadsheet object and either use animations to set the OLE verb to Open with previous (this will pop up the Excel dashboard automatically) or use Insert, Actions, Object Action, Open (Excel dashboard will pop up when you click on it). Again, I’ve included step by step instructions in the example file. Download the PPTExcelTables.zip file and unzip all three files to the same folder on your hard drive.

Now comes the trick, and I have to thank my fellow MVP, Chantal Bossé, for figuring this out. Set up the projector as a second monitor and set up your slideshow to run on the second monitor. There’s an article here that tells you how. You can choose to use Presenter View or not, the important thing is that the slideshow runs on the second monitor and the Excel window pops up on the primary monitor. You’ll want to do a test run to make sure the Excel window pops up on the primary monitor and isn’t seen by the audience.

Excel Window on top of Presenter View


During your slideshow, click on the Slicer buttons in the Excel window to change the Team or Rep (in this example) and the slide will update on the slideshow in real time. Since your audience never sees the Excel window, it appears as if the dashboard updates seamlessly. A word of caution, do not close the Excel window. I had some odd results happen in Presenter View when I closed the Excel window and it isn’t necessary to close it. It will automatically close as soon as you move to a different slide.

Now that you know how, I hope you enjoy showing off your new skills by combining PowerPoint and Excel for some truly amazing effects. The example file is available for download from here. Download the PPTExcelTables.zip file and unzip all three files to the same folder for it to work correctly.


About the author

Glenna Shaw is a Most Valued Professional (MVP) for PowerPoint and the owner of the PPT Magic and the Visualology.Net sites. She is a Project Management Professional (PMP) and holds certificates in Knowledge Management, Accessible Information Technology, Graphic Design and Professional Technical Writing.  Follow her on Twitter.

About MVP Monday

The MVP Monday Series is created by Melissa Travers. In this series we work to provide readers with a guest post from an MVP every Monday. Melissa is a Community Program Manager, formerly known as MVP Lead, for Messaging and Collaboration (Exchange, Lync, Office 365 and SharePoint) and Microsoft Dynamics in the US. She began her career at Microsoft as an Exchange Support Engineer and has been working with the technical community in some capacity for almost a decade. In her spare time she enjoys going to the gym, shopping for handbags, watching period and fantasy dramas, and spending time with her children and miniature Dachshund. Melissa lives in North Carolina and works out of the Microsoft Charlotte office.