5 PowerPoint tricks

Some cool stuff you can do with PowerPoint

I use PowerPoint so often, I forget about all the little tricks I’ve learnt along the way. There is a lot out there on how to make great slides and what to avoid, so I won’t go into much detail about that; my tips below are small things that you can use to help this.

  1. Set the slide background to a picture

makes moving things around on the slide a lot easier

Right click on the slide and choose Format Background. Select Picture or texture fill and choose the image from your documents. This is useful for things like screenshots, or if you’re just simplifying the amount of objects you have on a slide.

format bckgrd               format bckgrd choose picture

  1. Highlighting part of the screen with semi transparent box

Looks so much better than a just a circle round it

twitter highlighted

I use this technique in my Twitter workshop slides, when I’m showing everyone what Twitter looks like before they’re let loose on it. I highlight and explain some parts of the home screen, so I use this technique to break up the screen a bit.

Add an image as your slide background, as #1. This is important! Then add a box over the slide, make it grey and semi-transparent (use right-click, Format Background).add box semi transparent

Insert a box over the area of the slide you would like to highlight, and right click to format background and select Slide background fill.

slide background fill

  1. Gridlines

Help you space your objects

A small thing, but I find using gridlines really helpful when I’m putting my slides together. I use it to evenly space objects, or get a rough idea for things like the rule of thirds.

To turn them on, click View in the ribbon and tick Gridlines.

  1. Using artistic effects on pictures

Make things a little bit different

Twitter pencil

Some of them are naff, let’s be honest. But I use artistic effects to change up my images a little bit. For example, I use the Twitter bird logo a couple of times in my Twitter workshop slides. To change it up a bit, but still retain continuity (repetition is a key feature of graphic design, it implies relationship) I used an artistic effect built into  PowerPoint to make it look like a pencil drawing.

I’ve found artistic effects work best with images with strong defined lines, or recognisable shapes (eg a colourful hot air balloon works better than pale spindly flowers)

Add your image and select Picture Tools > Format from the ribbon. Click on Artistic effects and choose the one you want. You can also play around with shadows, soft outlines etc. I like adding shadows to give my slides a bit of physical depth.

  1. Make your own theme

slide layouts

Your slides won’t look like anyone else’s

I can’t remember the last time I used an in-built PowerPoint theme, I almost always build my design from scratch. It might take longer, but I can build it around the content of my presentation, rather than the other way around.

The simplest way I’ve found is adding shapes and text boxes to the slide and duplicating that colour scheme, font and layout throughout the slide deck.

I learn a lot of PowerPoint tricks from the eLearning Heroes community, and from looking at designs and trying to replicate them. I’m not particularly creative, but I enjoy the challenge of replicating good design that I’ve seen.

How can you make your information more visual?

Related to my last post, I wanted to share some thoughts after mulling over my recent eLearning Design course. I was given lots of ideas from the course for how to make my eLearning more engaging, and so many of the points related to presentation and teaching slides. I don’t know if there are librarians reading this who also design eLearning, but I know the majority will be using slides to support their presentations and workshops, so I’ll talk about both.

One of the key messages I took was make your information as visual as possible. E-learning is a visual medium – it doesn’t get more visual than sitting in front of a screen. And humans take in visual information more quickly than text. Since slides should support your presentation, not duplicate it word-for-word on a slide, getting information across in a visual way is a useful technique. You could use include charts and graphs, flow-diagrams, images, etc. It’s quite fun to do, to take a block of bullet points and turn them into something visual.

It’s something I’ve tried to incorporate in recent induction slides. I’ve been looking for opportunities to try out things I learned on the course.

I wanted to use the slides as handouts (my previously fairly abstract slides haven’t made good handouts, but people still requested them) so I wanted to make sure the information was there but not in tiny, too-small-to-see font. So I tried wherever possible to represent the information in a visual way. I had to put together my presentation quite quickly, so I saved time by reusing a colleague’s slides from another induction so I knew all the content was there, and spent my time thinking “how can I make this more visual”?

My favourite example from my induction slides, is from this:

  • Bibliographic databases
    • national subscriptions e.g. Medline, PsycInfo, BNI
    • local subscriptions e.g. PsycArticles, Internurse
  • Journals
  • CPD resources e.g. Royal Marsden Nursing Manual
  • Systematic Reviews e.g. Cochrane Library
  • Point of Care tools e.g. Dynamed
  • Google Scholar
  • And more….

To this:

Laptop imageI downloaded the laptop and the icons from the E-learning Heroes community. There are lots of resources there for eLearning but also for PowerPoint. It’s great to not only get ideas from other people, but to be able to download and use these resources really saves time and helps when you’re not particularly creative (like me). Without working on eLearning I would never have thought to do something like this for a PowerPoint. I know I still have more to learn, but I’m excited to be challenging myself.

I don’t know if it actually made a difference, but I was certainly happier presenting from something like this than a bunch of text and bullet points.

Three technical tips for PowerPoint that will make your life easier

I realise a lot of people will already know about these, but I wasn’t one of them! With the exception of #3, I only learnt about these tools in the last year. And I love them so much I wanted to share them.

  1. Group/Ungroup clip art

This is a great tip for editing and fiddling with Clip Art images. Say you find an image, but you only want to use part of it and it’s difficult to crop, or you only want to recolour a specific part of it. By ungrouping the image, it separates it out into the various component shapes.

For example, I wanted a block colour image of the United Kingdom. There was a clip art image of the UK and Ireland, but it had a shadow effect on it. By ‘ungrouping’ the image, I was able to delete all the black parts, leaving just the green.

123Group the shapes again, so they become a single image.

Likewise, you can group images or shapes on your slide, to make them into one single object.

  1. Drawing tools > Format > Align

I use the Align menu so much now I’ve found out about it. It’s got lots of options to line up objects, by aligning them to the left, right etc, and also distributing objects in a line and evenly spaced.

I want this image in the dead centre of the slide. Rather than dragging it around and guessing, I can use the align menu. Align centre and align middle to get the image in the centre of the slide.


In this next example, I’ve got the first and last images where I want them, but I want them all to sit neatly in a row.

I want to distribute horizontally

6And then align middle

7Tah dah!


  1. Save as PDF

When I was working in a university library, I used to save my presentations as PDFs when sending them to students. It’s just a bit cleaner and to me feels more professional than sending the original PPT slide file.

Ned Potter recommended this in a blog post for when you’re using non-standard fonts, and I suppose you could present from your PDF anyway! Ctrl+L goes full screen (or View > Full Screen Mode), and you can use keyboard arrows to move presentation. I hadn’t considered presenting from a PDF, but I think I might start doing this more. I can’t stand when you see a speaker load up their PowerPoint and you see the behind-the-scenes. I don’t know why I hate it, just do! It’s a pet peeve. Sometimes it has spoiled a ‘big reveal’ slide. And I’ve done it plenty of times myself, and I always hate when I do.

It only works for presentations without animations and transitions, but personally I don’t use these much anyway. I’m intrigued if anyone does this, and why? Let me know in the comments.

The library for teacher & researcher development – with an international spin

Flickr: Globe, stevecadman

Flickr: Globe, stevecadman

I was really pleased to be asked by two of our academics in the Education department to present workshops for visiting academics from Kazakhstan, who are here for a bespoke continuing professional development programme.

The sessions I delivered were on Using the Library for Research and E-books at the University, with a talk from me to set the scene and a hands-on activity so they could have a go themselves. The workshops were very interesting to deliver – I particularly enjoyed planning Using the Library for Research – and it was fascinating to hear about libraries at their universities in Kazakhstan: one university library was entirely closed access, in a similar set-up to the British Library, making browsing impossible.

Planning and delivering these workshops was more challenging than my usual information skills sessions, for a number of reasons.

1. English is often their third, if not fourth, language (Kazakh, Russian, Turkish is common pattern). This meant I couldn’t cover as much as I usually would, as I had to consciously slow down my speech even more than usual. We were also advised to use hand-gestures more consciously to emphasise points e.g. distinctions, or linear processes.

Some of my content was complicated material, especially the e-books session, which I was trying to get across in their third language. Striking a balance of making it simple enough, but not patronising, was quite difficult.

2. A lot of preparation went into the e-books session. It’s a subject I only knew a little about, but I got help from Electronic Acquisitions Co-ordinator with the content. I am so glad I was able to exploit her knowledge, and the presentation was much richer as a result of her input.

Additionally, I had to plan so each person had an individual e-book and example search term to use in the hands-on, because the single/multi-user licenses on many of our e-books restrict the number of simultaneous users. I learnt this the hard way in past information skills classes, where students were let loose on e-resources but all want to find the same e-book. When a book only allows three concurrent users, 80% of the class would be disappointed.

3. In the session on the Library for research, it was really hard to emphasise that it wasn’t a Library induction; it was about the Library as a department within the University. Many of those in the sessions had attended a pre-sessional programme with the University to improve their English, so I think they expected my session to cover the same ground as their pre-sessional Library induction.

4. They took place early in Autumn term, my most busy time. Preferably, I would’ve spent longer planning and preparing, but it unfortunately was a little more rushed than I would have liked. However, the sessions themselves went well, and I at no point did I feel underprepared.

I have since been asked to deliver another session for a similar group from Kazakhstan visiting next month. This time, however, it will be with a translator – that should be an interesting experience! This will be on e-books again, and I will adapt my previous work but leaving extra time for the live translation.

To be asked to give these sessions was really gratifying. The Education department here are good at embedding information skills sessions into their courses, and I feel the Library being represented on this CPD programme is evidence to the Library as embedded within the department more widely.

Was it something I said?… Protecting your voice

Flickr: Austen Hufford

Flickr: Austen Hufford

Working in libraries often involves a lot of public speaking: inductions, tours, info skills classes, front-line desk… the list goes on. A lot of talking can take its toll on your voice. I know from experience my voice will start cracking after back-to-back tours!

In May I attended a cpd session on using (and protecting) your voice. The tips were really useful, and I have started to employ them again this week knowing my voice will come under strain this term, with so many inductions, tours, and info skills sessions.

Some of the tips and techniques I found most useful are included in this post. I hope they are useful to others who are using their voice a lot.

Warm up

  • Take deep breathes throughout the day. I’ve also heard elsewhere that swallowing before you start talking will relax your throat.
  • A fun exercise in the session was imagine a feather in your hand, hold it above your head, take a deep breathe and try to keep the feather afloat for as long as possible.

I found some useful warming up exercises here.

Protecting your voice

  • Don’t clear your throat

Instead, take a sip of water. Don’t have a glass or bottle of water with you? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!

Clearing your throat makes your vocal folds slap together, which is not good. I take a bottle of water with me to sessions and presentations, and sip every time I feel I need to clear my throat. I also try to drink a lot of water throughout the day.

  • Wear a scarf when it’s cold to keep your vocal chords warm
  • If your running a tour, it’s tempting to speak in a loud whisper. This is really bad for your vocal chords. Instead, just speak normally, but perhaps at a lower volume.

(Personally, if I was working nearby, I’d find a whisper more annoying than normal speech anyway!)

  • Project your voice, to avoid shouting. Practice speaking, gradually getting louder, but without shouting.

If you’re in a large room, the temptation is to shout to make sure those at the back can hear. Projecting is much better for your voice. If possible, use a microphone for large lectures, for example.

I’d love to hear your techniques for keeping your voice in tip top shape.

Flickr: Austen Hufford

Flickr: Austen Hufford