Top PowerPoint Tips – What I’ve learned thus far on the Mac PowerPoint Team

To my Windows-users readers, I’m trying super-hard (yes, “super-“ in honor of being back at MSFT) to include Windows PowerPoint-applicable features, but at the same time catering to Mac PowerPoint 2011 features.

In addition, I’ve thrown in some public speaking tips from doing TechEd conferences.

Now that I’ve been on the Mac PowerPoint team for 6 months, I wanted to take some time between work and grad school to blog about some very useful tips and features I didn’t know existed in PowerPoint until I joined the team.

Tips contained in this post:

  • The 5 rules presentation - aka, “wow, you can do that in PPT?! animations”
  • How to Convert SmartArt to Shapes to get the level of customization you need
  • Presenter View – never have to remember which slide comes next in your presentation
  • Slide Carousel –never again exit Slide Show to jump to the slide you want
  • Shift+F5 - The One Start Slide Show Keyboard Shortcut to Rule them all (unless you don’t know about Ctrl+Shift+C – if not, search for this tip in this post right now and come back. Seriously, go now.)
  • ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘W’ key presses in Slide Show
  • Templates vs Themes – when to use which (and a brief intro to Slide Masters)
  • How to create keyboard shortcuts for Mac PPT menu commands

In the future, I’ll break these posts into smaller, more consumable posts. But to shake off all the dust on my MSDN Blog, I wanted to start with a big post that I’m back. 

“The 5 Rules” presentation (Mac)

If you haven’t seen the “5 rules” presentation yet on Mac PowerPoint, stop reading this blog post and check it out right now. (yes, I said that earlier about copy-formatting, but I didn’t steer you wrong, did I :)  If you are a public speaker looking for something besides the standard bullet-point animation “fade-in,” this presentation will give you lots of ideas.

I discovered this “5-rules” presentation while preparing for my interview with the Mac PowerPoint team. I had no idea this was possible in PowerPoint. All those years doing talks with “pretty background picture with large text” or “have bullet points fade in line by line” I could have done something with real animations. It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to join this team. (That, and the chance to take on Edward Tuff :)

You’ll find the “5 rules” on the PowerPoint Presentation Gallery window that appears when you launch Mac PowerPoint under Templates – Guided Methods – Five Rules.

Five Rules Presentation under Templates - Guided Methods

Convert Smart Art to Shapes (Windows and Mac)

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve started using a SmartArt object, only to delete it and recreate it using individual shapes because I wanted more customizations or to use the SmartArt object as a starting point for something more elaborate.

For example, in the SmartArt object below, I want to keep the balance scale, but remove the gray “header” boxes (which I can’t do because it is part of the SmartArt).

SmartArt showing Good/Bad Doctor Who Regenerations

Instead of recreating this by hand, you can use SmartArt – Reset – Convert – Convert to Shapes.

SmartArt - Convert - Convert to Text

Now I get the individuals shapes and can now delete the “Regeneration” title boxes. And in Matt’s defense, he’s had a tough couple of acts to follow.

SmartArt object now as individual shapes

Presenter View (Windows and Mac)

Oh Presenter View, why am I just finding out about you now?

Okay, to my Windows people, yes, I know Windows PPT has presenter view, but…. for Windows PPT 2010 (during my day public speaking), it only worked for me when it was connected to an external monitor. Why is this a big deal?

Presenter Tools - Presenter View


Public speaking, especially giving technical demos, isn’t about getting the talk right. IMHO, it is about how to recover when things fail, because they will fail. It’s Murphy’s Law at its truest form. Software knows when you’re in front of your first 200+ audience at your first international conference (Ctrl+c stopped working in Visual Studio – seriously, in my 10,000+ hours of testing VS, that was the first and only time Ctrl+c stopped working.) Software knows when it is 7:15am you’re about to present to an audience of 2500+ and you get the Windows Temporary Roaming profile 3 reboots in a row (I got my real profile back on the 4th reboot right as I started to ask if anyone happened to have VS 2010 Beta 1 installed on their personal laptops.) My risk mitigation technique for public speaking is to practice again and again and again and again to figure out all the subtle little things that will go wrong (e.g. your finger slips and hit the wrong key or you move the mouse just far enough to open Outlook instead of IE while connected to a projector). I will only practice in the exact conditions my laptop will be in when I’m on stage. Software knows when you’re trying something new and Murphy’s Law will get you for it.


And that’s why I loved the Mac PowerPoint Presenter View’s approach. It is allowing me to practice in the exact condition I’m going to be in while presenting on stage.

The Rehearse feature is useful when you need to know how much time you are spending on each slide. If you choose to save the time, you can see where you are spending your time (versus where you think you are spending your time. Always an eye-opener.)

Rehearse feature showing times on slides

Since I will only present in the exact environment that I practice in (I even use the same Fossil-style watch in the same location next to my laptop as my official timer – ask me sometime about my other speaker rituals, like listening to Silversun Pickup’s Lazy Eye), because Presenter View doesn’t have the “Current Slide” timer, it makes me nervous to practice with Rehearse mode in fear I’ll develop some habit to rely upon the Current Slide timer. But your mileage will vary, so you should definitely give it a try.

And lastly, if you don’t want Presenter View (maybe you’re at a Trade Show booth wanting to show 2 screens), just select Mirror Show on the Slide Show Ribbon tab.

Mirror Show on Slide Show Ribbon Tab

Slide Carousel (Mac)

Another great feature of Presenter View (besides Presenter View itself just being in existence) is the Slide Carousel.

How many times have we as a society sat through a PowerPoint presentation where we’ve watched the speaker exit out of slide show just to jump to another slide. And as they exit out of slide show, we all dart our eyes to the far bottom corner to see the slide number count to tell how much longer the talk will run. Then the speaker begins the “hunt and peck” game trying to find that slide.

Although this might help the “hunt and peck” game, the biggest win (IMO) for the Slide Carousel is that it keeps the audience from seeing “behind the scenes,” especially when an hour has gone by and the speaker is only on slide 10 of 100.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Slide Carousel at the bottom of Presenter View

In Presenter View, just mouse down to the bottom to bring up the Carousel. Then select the appropriate slide, without missing a beat with your audience.

Shift+F5 (Windows and Mac)

Just commit to memory Shift+F5 (start from current slide). You’ll never have to worry about having to find which slide you were on ever again if you ever have to restart slide show. This is especially useful if you’re doing a lot of demos outside of PowerPoint.

Shift+F5. Always Shift+F5.

And on the Mac, Cmd+Return will also start from current slide, if that’s easier to memorize than Shift+F5.

Press 'A' to hide pointer. Press 'B' or 'W' to toggle black/white (Windows and Mac)

I learned about ‘B’ and ‘W’ from a professor in grad school who uses it as a technique for capturing the class’s attention when he wants to ask a question or do a quiz on short-term memory (it was a psych course.)

I really like ‘A.’ When I’m in the audience, there’s something about seeing the pointer that is distracting. A pointer screams “PAY ATTENTION TO ME AND NOT THE SPEAKER!” The pointer goes away within 10 seconds, but being able to immediately get rid of it provides just a little extra attention to detail that can give a speaker an edge (even if a subconscious edge).

Templates vs Themes (Windows and Mac)

tl;dr: Themes are for changing the style of existing content. Templates can contain content, themes, transitions, animations, slide layouts, etc. and are used for creating from scratch.

If I could go back in time and tell myself two things about PPT, it would be 1. the 5-rules animation abilities and 2. to stop being lazy and create my own personal template. (Aside: isn’t it amazing how often in software we feel that to be more productive, we have to do the physical actions faster, instead of giving a new way of working a try?)

If you’ve done a lot of talks like me, you probably have your one main PowerPoint deck that you copy/paste from to create a new presentation. I did this my entire life. But now that I’ve learned how to use themes and templates, I could have saved myself a lot of time.

First, some definitions and relationships: Themes and Templates.

Themes contain

  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Effects
  • Backgrounds
  • Slide Layouts
    • Where placeholder content is place
    • the number of slide layouts in the Slide Master (e.g. the slide layout options you see under Add Slide)

I think of a theme as “anything that affects content, but doesn’t change content.”

ProTip: And BTW, if you don’t know the shortcut “Ctrl+Shift+C/Ctrl+Shift+V” (or Cmd+Shift+C/Cmd+Shift+V on Mac) to apply formatting, learn it now! It will change your life. (note for Mac PPT you need to copy/paste formatting at the shape level (i.e. select the shape, not the individual text within the shape), but in Mac Word and Mac Outlook it works like on Windows.)

Now Templates contain

  • Content (e.g. you’ve entered your name as the author on the title slide)
  • 1 or more Themes
  • Transitions
  • Animations

What do I mean by “1 or more Themes?” The best way I can explain it is by showing it. In the example below, I started with a New Presentation using the Office Default template (the defaults). Then I applied a theme to slides 2 and 3, another theme to slides 4 and 5, and lastly a final theme to slide 1.

(Note: it looks like if you want to apply an additional theme, you have to do it to 2 or more slides, you can’t apply it to just one; otherwise, applying a theme to just one slide selected will apply the theme to all slides that share that theme. In my example below, since there was only one slide remaining when I applied the 3rd theme to slide #1, only that one slide was changed. If I had applied the theme to just slide #1 selected, all the slides would have the theme from slide #1. Honestly, it’s pretty straight forward once you give it a try.)

Presentation with 3 themes

Saving this PowerPoint design as a template File – Save, Format: PowerPoint Template .potx means all 3 themes are saved in the template.

Save As Format: PowerPoint Template

And just to prove all 3 themes are saved, you can go to File – New from Template, and under My Templates, you’ll see the new template (see below).

My Templates showing my custom template

Now when I create this presentation, I get

a presentation created from my template

And now you know what I mean by “1 or more themes” are saved in a template.

BTW, every time you create a new PPT presentation, you are already using a template. It is called the default “Office Theme” template. Therefore, every PPT file includes 1 template and at least 1 theme. From a developer’s point of view (since everyone still reading my blog is a developer), all of the template and theme info comes from the file and not some default theme saved within the PPT application itself.

When to use a template vs theme?

To summarize the above, a .potx (template) is used to create from new, whereas a theme is used to “apply” a style to existing content.

Now back to my Doctor Who and Delorean time-traveling obsessions… here’s what I wished I could go back in time and tell myself 3 years ago:

  1. Use a Theme instead of copy/pasting my favorite presentation file
  2. Create a template for those wanting to create their own CodePlex talks

#1 - Use a Theme instead of reusing my favorite presentation file

Open your main PowerPoint presentation (the one you derive all your talks from) and create a theme out of it(found at Themes – Save Theme).

How to save a theme

The next time you need to create a new presentation, simply do File – New, and then apply your new theme from the Theme ribbon.

To save even more time in the future, just select it to be the new Default theme, as shown below.

Save Theme - Set Current Theme as Default

If you are like me and you use a certain style for your slides, like the “big picture / little text” approach, you can modify the Slide Master (which was the first thing I learned about joining the team.)

The Slide Master is found on the App Menu under View – Master – Slide Master

View - Master - Slide Master

Now you’ll enter a mode where any of your changes are occurring to the Slide Master. Don’t worry about Slide Masters too much right now, I’ll cover this in a future post.

Slide Master view mode

For this example, just delete the slide layouts you never use. For demo purposes, I’ll leave just 3 slide layouts.

Deleting those slide layouts from the Slide Master - Add Slide

Now go to Themes – Save Themes, and give the theme a meaningful name.

Themes - Save Themes

Close the Slide Master to go back into the “real” design mode.

Slide Master Ribbon Menu

Now under Add Slide, you’ll see just those two slides.

Add Slide Menu

You might be wondering, “can I accidentally overwrite my default themes?” As long as you stay within “My Themes” folder (in other words, don’t overwrite the default themes installed on disk when you install Mac PPT), you should feel pretty good trying things out.

And just in case you need to revert your actions, you can select Themes – Save Theme – Reset Default to White Theme as shown.

How to get back to Reset Default to White Theme

#2 - Create a template for people wanting to create their own CodePlex talks

Back in the day, I had a “CodePlex in a Box” presentation for anyone wanting to do their own CodePlex talk (e.g. some people wanted to talk about the site whereas others wanted to talk about their projects hosted on the site). For these presentations, I wanted speakers to derive their talks from my base presentation, where they could pick and choose what info they wanted to include. The idea was to avoid everyone having to start from scratch.

Instead of having my own personal talk and sharing out that file with a ton of speaker notes, I should have used a template. Recall a template is where you want to create from new.

The template could have contained all the “must-have” slides with the content on how to talk about the site, some “hidden slides,” any animations or transitions I wanted to suggest using, and then all the benefits of using a theme. (I was going to say “a (green) theme” but the site has moved on ;-)

And lastly, since it is a template, the speakers are forced to give the new presentation its own filename, instead of replacing my generic file name.

Dynamic Reordering

I work with a lot of objects in my slides. And when they overlap, I usually just use “bring to front” or “bring to back.” I don’t have the patience to hit “bring forward” or “bring backward” until I get the effect I want.

Another “ooh, that’s cool.” moment was finding this feature.

Go to Home Ribbon tab – Arrange – Reorder objects, and now you can manipulate the objects in their z-order.

Dynamic Reordering

How to create keyboard shortcuts for Mac PPT menu commands

What sort of blog post would this be from me if I didn’t mention how to modify keyboard shortcuts?!

Let’s say you wanted to bind the Custom Animation window to a keyboard shortcut. Since it appears under View – Toolbox – Custom Animation, you can assign a keyboard shortcut to it.

Custom Animation Toolbox to be bounded to keyboard shortcut

Go to the Keyboard panel in System Preferences. Select Application Shortcuts, and at the bottom of the list view, click the + button.

In the dialog box, under Application: choose Other… and select Microsoft Office 2011 – Microsoft

Next, type in the menu title: Custom Animation

And lastly, give it a keyboard shortcut. I’ll have to find a new one now that my favorite Visual Studio demo keybinding Ctrl+Alt+Shift+T is no longer applicable.

Binding a keyboard shortcut on a Mac

Now in Keyboard settings, you’ll see the new Keyboard Shortcut applied.

Application Shortcuts under Keyboard Shortcuts on Mac

And now checking out the View menu on the App Menu bar we see the keyboard shortcut is now good to go.

Keyboard shortcut in Menu

Thanks for reading this far!

Wow, thanks for hanging in there and reading this far! You must really like Mac PowerPoint and that’s super-cool (only for this blog post am I applying the MSFT “super-“ prefix.)

I have a few other features to blog about, but I’ve been told many times my blog posts are not posts, but rather dissertations. Funny now that I’m in grad school, I’ll probably write a blog post for a Masters thesis.

I started drafting this blog post in Mac Word, and the doc length is now 17 pages. I think I should stop now.

I hope I’ve stuck the right balance between Mac PPT, some Windows PPT features, and some general tips and tricks for public speaking. Let me know in the comments what’s working, what isn’t working, what you want me to blog more about.