The Most Valuable PowerPoint Feature that You’re Not Using

The best-kept secret of modern versions of PowerPoint? That’s a no-brainer, as I experience it almost every time I interact with users. When I am brought into an organization to consult on presentation skills, most in the room don’t know about it. When I give webinars, I can practically hear their oohs and aahs when I show it. And at the Presentation Summit, where 200 of the most earnest and passionate presentation professionals gather each year, I routinely get many dozens of users in a room producing a collective gasp.

I refer to the Selection and Visibility Pane, introduced in Version 2007 and largely overlooked by most users of 2007, 2010, and probably by the few who have tested the waters with 2013. I attribute this to two things: 1) This function doesn’t actually create anything; and 2) With lower-resolution displays, the icon shrinks to the size of a pinhead and most don’t even see it.

Let’s reverse this discouraging trend right now, shall we? The S&V task pane addresses several of the most frustrating aspects of the software over the last decade. It deserves your undying love and devotion. Here are three big reasons why.

1. Select Objects on a Crowded Slide

The simplest virtue of S&V is the ease it affords you in selecting objects that are hard to reach with a mouse or even invisible to you. When objects overlap one another, reaching the ones on the bottom of the pile has traditionally required contortions, such as temporarily cutting or moving the ones on top or pressing Tab until you think the selection handles maybe kinda sorta are around the desired object.

Those headaches are all in your rearview mirror now, as the figure above shows. With S&V, you can select objects by clicking on their names in the task pane, bringing much-needed sanity to what should be a menial task. Once selected, you can do anything to an object that you otherwise would have. As I said earlier, this pane doesn’t really do anything except make it easier for you to do what you want.

Rename objects

The screen image above might look unusual to you because you had never laid eyes on S&V before, but there is another cause for a raised eyebrow: Circle in the front? Circle in the back? Where did those names come from? Most of you know what kind of names PowerPoint assigns to objects because you have been scratching your heads over them for the better part of a decade. Rectangle 23…TextBox 9…AutoShape 34.

Historically, PowerPoint has been maddeningly obtuse in its naming scheme and you’ve never been able to do anything about it except curse. But with S&V, you can assign names to your objects that actually make sense. You’d probably do better than Circle in the middle, and that’s the point: you get to decide what to call your objects.

Renaming objects becomes more than just a cute screenshot opportunity when you have complex animation to create. PowerPoint’s obtuse object names are duplicated in the Animation task pane and with ambitious animation needs, you could find yourself drowning in a sea of obtusity. With Rectangle 23, 24, and 25, which one enters first, which one moves to the center of the slide, and which one fades away? Arrghh!

Thanks to S&V, you can do much better. You can name objects according to their appearance or purpose and have a much easier time creating animations for them.

Case in Point: Solavie, the skin care product that offers formulations for six different Earthly environments. To highlight these formulations, the six icons in the lower-right corner move and morph into the six photos across the top, after which each string of text cascades in. So lots of identical shapes doing similar things, one after the other – imagine pulling that off with typical PowerPoint names. But the image above shows how powerful object renaming can be. Each object is named according to its environment type, making the animation process orders of magnitude easier.

Hide and Unhide

Sometimes it is not enough to be able to name objects. Sometimes you just have to get them the heck out of the way. When you are working on the final parts of a 45-second animation, it becomes incredibly tedious to have to start from the beginning each time you want to test it. You need to be able to start from the middle or near the end.

Prior to S&V, if you needed to temporarily remove an object, you had to cut objects to the Clipboard and work quickly before you accidentally send something else there. Or work up some bizarre strategy of duplicating a slide, doing your business there, then moving those objects back to the original slide.

Now we have an elegant and simple solution: make an object invisible. The screen image above shows the beauty and the genius of hiding objects, as the tail end of the Solavie animation gets the attention that it deserves. As you can see, when you hide an object, it leaves the animation stream, making late-stage testing a piece of cake. Here, just the final two environment types are still visible. The earlier four are still there, just temporarily hidden.

Access

Selection & Visibility lives on the Home ribbon in the Editing group. PowerPoint ribbons have a bad habit of changing right when you might want something on them, and that contributes to the anonymity of a small icon that is there one minute and gone the next. Indeed, there is no way to predict when you might want to use S&V. Creating, inserting, designing, animating – using S&V cuts across all contexts of PowerPoint operation. So it’s helpful to know about its keyboard shortcut of Alt+F10. There’s no mnemonic that you can apply to that shortcut – it’s as easy to forget as the function it belongs to.

So you just have to commit it to memory. When you’re in the throes of creation, just press Alt+F10. Pretty good chance that little task pane will come in handy.

37 Comments

  1. Rebecca on Feb 13, 2013 at 12:51 am

    I’ve known about and used this wonderful function for quite some time, but it is very easy to overlook. Excellent article on the value of this function that can save anyone working on a presentation many headaches and a lot of time and effort. Thanks for the reminder Rick, and keep spreading the love!

  2. Akash on Feb 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Rick, you’ve just enlightened another PowerPoint user with an “I didn’t know” expression to this feature!
    I’ve always had tough times playing over with the slide elements, especially when they have been sneaking behind each other. No more, I guess. Thanks a lot for this wonderfully explained article.

    – Akash
    authorSTREAM Team

  3. John on Feb 21, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    This was the one shining thing that made my PC experience somewhat tolerable. I used this feature endlessly creating complex animations for presentations when I was struggling to get even the simplest tasks done while stuck using a PC, using years-old software. After almost two years in exile my company finally agreed to put me on a Mac and I was excited to jump into my first PPT project back on a Mac. However I was extremely dismayed to see that for some reason Microsoft saw fit to omit this feature from the Mac version of PPT. Once again Microsoft’s backward logic and reverse thinking haunts me.

    • Kevin on Mar 5, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      I experienced the same frustration when trying to develop PPT on the Mac version. This is one of the best features for presentation development and failing to include it in the Mac version removed one of the last reasons to not migrate to Keynote.

    • AudreyB on May 21, 2015 at 2:59 am

      While you’re complaining about Microsoft not including this feature for the Mac version….why doesn’t Apple provide a version of Keynote for the PC?

  4. Rick Martin on Mar 5, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Oh! So that’s what that does!

    Thanks, Rick, for another insight. It’s amazing that after using the 2010 version for a year and thinking I have it down thah there is always something more. The renaming objects feature is so helpful with animations. In previous versions it was such a challenge to know what you were about to animate.

    Thanks again!

  5. Lucille on Mar 5, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Beautiful, loved it, I am another one who didn’t know.

  6. Margaret on Mar 6, 2013 at 6:12 am

    New to me too. I don’t consider myself an expert but I do use PPT nearly every day. I think its fair to say that one of the things that has put me off doing more animation has been the sheer tediousness of the whole process. This article has encouraged me to go and have a play around.
    Thanks!

    • Rick Altman on Mar 6, 2013 at 7:05 am

      Margaret, I want to quote you next month when I review PowerPoint 2013, because I too grow weary of Animation’s “sheer tediousness,” and while this tool certainly helps, Microsoft has a long way to go to make its tools more user friendly. Thanks for sharing. You should come to the Summit this year — I can tell you’d have a field day…

  7. Bill Blinn on Mar 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    VERY COOL. I didn’t know that was there and in a little over a week I have a couple of presentations. Both have complicated overlapping things that have been difficult to select and I’ve been using the old SOP: Destroy the careful alignment to find that thing at the bottom and apply an effect to it and then try to put it back where it was. Thanks!

  8. Bonnie Andrys on Mar 8, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Rick, I always enjoy your newsletters…usually full of all kinds of tidbits either useful, interesting, unusual, or importnat. Your revelation regarding S&V was all of those! Thank you. It was a gift!

  9. A. Steven on Mar 21, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Rick – Just signed up for your newsletter and I love it!!

    Thanks

  10. Trace on Jun 4, 2013 at 1:08 am

    Thank you Rick nice tip. I am trying to create a logo and icons for my new web site. I have been using Power Point to try to do this, and the result is just so so, but keep in mind I am a beginner. My question is, is Power Point the right place to be making logo’s and icons for my new web site or can you recommend some good software. Thank you, Trace

  11. Vaibhav R on Jul 3, 2013 at 7:59 am

    It is very obvious many newbies will not be using these advance features. Although if you are working on a slide (having many layers), using S&V you can get huge advantage in terms of saving time & better presentation. I really enjoyed reading this post. Need more tutorials for 3D animation. Thanks.

  12. Dave Verduyn on Oct 16, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Wow, very cool!! I wish I knew this years ago. I have been developing complicated slides for years and never knew this feature. I’ll bet it would have saved me literally a hundred hours. Thanks a bunch!!

  13. Dave Verduyn on Oct 16, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    I do alot of animations. (Quality animations, not cheezy ones) and you mentioned morphing the 6 little buttons into the 6 pictures in your article. I’d like to know how you did the “morphing part”. I consider myself pretty competent in PPT.

  14. Janet Bornemann on Mar 16, 2014 at 9:59 am

    This looks like a very useful feature, but I work on a mac, and it doesn’t look like this feature is available for the mac. Is that right? If so, this is so frustrating! What is wrong with the people who develop PowerPoint? Why don’t the two versions (mac and pc) have the same capabilities?

  15. Rick Altman on Mar 16, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    True enough, Janet…sigh. I wish I had an answer for you as to why this great tool is a Windows-only proposition. That just ain’t right…

  16. Kim Theesen on May 6, 2014 at 9:35 am

    As I was fumbling with trying to figure out which shape was “Rectangle 4” and which one was “Picture 6,” I remembered you talking about it. So I searched for “PowerPoint Naming Objects” in Google and this editorial was at the top of the search. Next, I thought “this should go on my QAT!” But… I’ll be damned if I can find it in the the list of All Commands… sigh. OK. Breathe deep. Time to memorize Alt + F10. Thanks again for making my life with PowerPoint easier… again.

  17. Ghostdance on Oct 17, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    You just handed me the solution to a problem I have LITERALLY screamed over on multiple occasions and as recently as 20 minutes ago

    I KNEW that there HAD to be a way to clear upper level animations and work on the base slide WITHOUT losing the uppers in place – but I have never found it on MS help or on the MS Office site

    so I plugged a search question into google as “POWERPOINT 2013 SINGLE SLIDE LAYERS MULTIPLE ANIMATIONS” and your fantastic post showed up

    thank you very very very much

  18. Maarten on Nov 17, 2014 at 7:28 am

    I just could not believe there wasn’t an alternative way to select the dozens of items I have sometimes stacked on top of eachother, so I searched and Google came up with your post. Thanks Rick, thanks for making me see I have lost hours of productive time by not knowing this, AND THANKS for preventing me wasting many more :)!

  19. Di on Dec 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    OMG – this tip has saved me hours of fiddling with amending my animations – I didn’t know about the feature before finding this. Thank you very much :0)

  20. LKB on Apr 24, 2015 at 11:56 am

    This is also useful if you’re using VBA to automate PowerPoint. I got tired of opening the Slide Master every time to change the date and title on the Slide Master, and decided to write a macro to automate this. The only way to get it to work was to use the Selection Pane to find out the names of the text boxes so they could be addressed by the VBA code.

  21. Geof S on May 21, 2015 at 10:47 am

    I have been screaming at the computer for 2 years (since I started using Power Point aggressively), saying “Why can’t I rename these stupid @#&%! objects! The people in my office just giggled and told me to just make my presentations less spectacular, like they do. But, wanting it to be perfect, I muddled through the obtuse naming for 2 years.
    Until now.

  22. PwQ on May 28, 2015 at 2:56 am

    Officially changed my life for the better. We produce a lot of PowerPoints and in order for them to look like “more than just a PowerPoint” you need to stack graphics – THANK YOU.

    Just a note – could you make it clearer how to access this panel? You don’t actually mention how to find it until right at the end… although I appreciate this is now a fairly old post.

    I’m now emailing everyone I know to tell them how to do this.

  23. Charles SM on Nov 27, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Once the selection pane is up how can I sort all text boxes to deselect without having to search the hundred or so objects on the slide so I can hide them for a print out. It’s just as easy to click on each text box in the slide as it is to click on each text box in the select pane. With a sort in the selection pane if sorted they’re all in one place.

    • Rick Altman on Nov 30, 2015 at 9:20 am

      I appreciate your thoughts, Charles. Here is why I disagree: If objects are overlapping, it is much easier to pick one out in the Selection Pane than on the slide. If you have a dozen animated objects — each of them assigned some weird PowerPoint name, such as Rectangle 35 or Autoshape 12 — it is a gift from the universe to be able to rename these objects so you can tell them apart in the Animation task pane. I do agree that the tool can/should evolve and allow you to sort and more easily multi select.

  24. Sally on Mar 25, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Thank you! Even after I googled to get information that is not offered in the help menu, I couldn’t find out HOW to see the selection pane. You have improved my life today.

    • Rick Altman on Mar 25, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      I appreciate the sentiment…but has anyone ever told you that you are too easy to please? 🙂

  25. Dave Ly on May 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Wow!! I was looking for an equivalent of the “layers” function from Photoshop! Glad to have found this tip and thanks for sharing it!

  26. Preeti on Sep 30, 2016 at 3:53 am

    Awesome!!! thumbs up for this bit.

  27. Tamara on Feb 14, 2017 at 5:51 am

    How can you select multiple items at once within the selection pane? I want to delete a whole bunch of white lines (on a white background).

    • Rick Altman on Feb 14, 2017 at 8:13 am

      Tamara, you can do that with the Ctrl key: select one object in the pane, press and hold Ctrl, and then click others. While holding Ctrl, all those clicked on will remain selected.

  28. Mike B. on Feb 23, 2017 at 7:31 am

    Thanks Rick. This tip has spanned years. I am assuming I can use the renamed object name in my VBA code. About to check this out.

    • Rick Altman on Feb 23, 2017 at 7:39 am

      That is a really good question, Mike. It might have a code name that is permanent and unchangable. Please let us know what you find.

  29. Rachel S. on May 27, 2017 at 9:40 am

    At least on the current Mac version (several years later to be sure) this feature is available now. Just as you said, Selection Pane found at the bottom of the Arrange dropdown, but I had never noticed it. Like some other commenters I found this by googling for layers in Powerpoint, thank you for making this information available.

  30. Jarred on Jun 15, 2017 at 6:02 am

    Mind = Blown

    Oh. My. God. This solves SO MANY problems!!!

    THANK YOU!

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