My PowerPoint Wish List

As you have probably heard, Version 15 of Office has been announced, signaling imminent discussion about development of the new version of PowerPoint. And to be sure, new features, interface changes, and performance enhancements have all been decided upon by now.

In other words, this is the absolute worst time to ask for new features.

In other words, only a fool would publish his wish list now.

So right on cue…here we go…

1. Total Overhaul of the Handout Master

One of the leading causes of Death by PowerPoint is users loading up their slides with too much text. One of the primary reasons for that is because they intend to use those slides for projection as well as printout. And the reason for that is because they have no good alternative. PowerPoint users need a way to produce dedicated handouts, separate from their visuals, and miniature replicas of the slides do not qualify. Let me reiterate: Printing slides as handouts is a bad idea!

The Handout engine is so deficient, my workaround for clients is to poach the Notes page. You can use the Notes master to add visual branding, headers, footers, logos, photos, optional slide thumbnails, and a multitude of text. It’s really quite well-suited for printing handouts…too bad you have to give up your speaker notes to do it.

PowerPoint needs something like the Notes page, dedicated to the design and creation of leave-behind materials and handouts. It should be called the Handout master, and the pathetic thing that currently bears that name should be rolled into the Print engine where it belongs.

It’s almost scary to think how much better our community’s slides would be if people had a viable alternative to creating one set of slides for both visual projection and printouts.

2. Styles Brought to Animation

How is it that Microsoft Word has styles for text and Excel has styles for cell content but PowerPoint has no global styles for arguably the most important output that it produces — the motion of elements across the slide? I appreciate that the Format Painter tool has migrated to the Animation engine, but picking up the attributes of one element and copying them to another is not good enough. We need to be able to define a group of animation attributes, save them, recall them, and apply them.

Imagine how much more productive we would be if we could create styles called, say, Two-Second Fade After Previous, and Wipe Right On Click, or Grow 200% and Move 200 Pixels Left (which we would call Pan and Zoom, which would otherwise be on my wish list). And imagine how powerful it would be if you needed to adjust animation settings across several dozen elements and all you had to do was modify the style that controls them.

My graphic drawing program has been doing that since 1995; it’s time that PowerPoint did it, too.

While the developers are working on that, I sure would appreciate being able to Tab through the settings in the Animation task pane. Presently, it is a mouse-centric activity. Together, these two shortcomings create needless tedium and excessive mouse-clicking, resulting in measurable loss of productivity and increased risk of repetitive-stress injury.

Oh, and while they are under the hood, when I ask for an animation to be one second in duration, and I then decide it should be a fade instead of a wipe, I would really appreciate the software not changing the duration to its arbitrary default of a half-second without consulting me.

3. Table Animation

Before we leave the subject of animation, how come I can animate charts and graphs but not tables? I think it’s terrific that I do not need to break apart a chart in order to animate its series values and categories. That’s way cool! How come something so much simpler — text that is placed in rows and columns — does not have the same privilege? Why must I convert the table to a metafile and then methodically ungroup just to sequence its entrance?

This contributes directly to Death by PowerPoint– tabular data is too complicated to show all at once and audiences check out when we presenters do it. But the solution is so punitive, most people surrender to it. My clients laugh at me when I show them the almost-juvenile workaround of creating solid objects in front of the rows and columns and applying exits to them. I don’t blame them.

4. More Precise Motion Paths

Okay, one more on Animation. We really, really, really need to be able to designate motion paths by screen coordinates instead of by a blunt mouse push of a low-resolution arrow. Really.

5. Rethink Object Alignment

At the Presentation Summit, we regularly preach the importance of precision alignment of objects for corporate slides. And then we need to award an advanced degree to those who learn how to do it. I acknowledge that the recent addition of on-screen guides is helpful, but they cannot compensate for brain-dead alignment.

Here is an example. Let’s say that you have three elements that need to be lined up:

A headline here

A rule here

A text box here

You need to left-align the three of them so they start where the headline is positioned, but if you select these three elements and use the Align Left command, they will all line up with the rule. Why? Because that is the left-most element and you asked for a left alignment. That’s brain dead! To accommodate this, you must first move the rule to its right so that the headline is the left-most element and then try again. That’s brain dead!

And don’t even get me started on how the software decides how to align three centered objects. Which one is more in the center than the others??

Microsoft cures PowerPoint of all of this brain-deadness by allowing the user to determine the anchor during the selection process. Here’s a simple rule: the object that you select last is the one to which the others are aligned. If you are marquee-selecting, the anchor is the one at the top of the stacking order. There…problem solved.

6. Evolve Bookmarks

I love the Bookmark feature introduced in PowerPoint 2010 — it opens up entirely new creative pathways for those who import audio and video clips. Now it’s time for them to mature in two important ways: we need to be able to rename them and we need to be able to adjust their position.

7. Redesign How One Slide Deck Plays From Within Another

I would love to shout to the whole world about the value and the power of calling one slide show from within another one. I’m not just talking about creating a hyperlink, which is a perfectly fine feature but requires that I get to the mouse and click on an object. I am talking about how I can be 20 feet away from the computer, advance once with my wireless remote, and suddenly be showing slides from a different deck. When the secondary slides finish, I return right to where I was in the primary deck.

Did you know that you can do that within PowerPoint? Probably not, because it requires an undocumented and antiquated Windows function that probably only the baby boomers among our readers remember as Object Linking & Embedding. Using OLE, you can embed an external slide deck onto a slide and designate that it be shown as part of the animation sequence of that slide. This capability has been literally transformative to the way I produce my presentation skills workshops. I’ll happily share with you upon request all of this geeky-tweeky stuff and why I love placing one slide deck inside of another. As soon as I stop shaking in my boots in mortal fear that Microsoft will remove OLE functionality from the program.

I’m sure there is a better and more accessible way to offer this capability than from 22-year-old technology that Microsoft conceded was a failed initiative over a decade ago.

8. Allow Marquee Zooming with the Mouse

Please!!

9. Scrub the Notes page

I don’t share slides very often in a conventional presentation setting (see my rant earlier about creating handouts), but I often do in my PowerPoint workshops, when I want students to be able to open, dissect, and reverse-engineer a technique that I have shown them. But they don’t need to see all of my speaker notes just like they don’t need to read my diary. I want a native, no-plug-in-required, method of eliminating all of my notes. What…you can already do that? With the Document Inspector from File | Check for Issues?

Oh. Well, one out of nine is a start…

 

13 Comments

  1. Jamie Garroch on Feb 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Great list, Rick. You mention tabbing in the animation pane. I’d love to be able to use Shift+Click to select a range of objects in the Selection Pane. Selecting hundreds of objects (in a World map for example) with the limited Ctrl+Click is T-E-D-I-O-U-S to say the least. Dragging to change the order would be great (changing the layer) and object name search and sort functions would also be useful. Others points…

    (a) Animation: For a long time, I’ve harped on about adding the mouse-over event to the list of triggers for animations. With an increasing number of clients wanting to move from ‘closed’ Flash to ‘open source’ PowerPoint presentations, we need this to replicate interactive behaviour.

    (b)Video: Eliminate the discrepancy between slide show timings and the timings experienced when converted to WMV.

    (c) Groups: Add ability to add/drag and object into/out of an existing group without ungrouping and loss of names/animation

    (d) Images: add ability to use the clipboard in the Change Picture feature

    (e) Objects: add ability to lock the position of objects (so that they cannot be selected/moved accidentally)

    (f) Objects: add ability to hide objects (in the Select pane) so that they are not initially seen in slide show (without having to use animation)

    (g) Pictures: add ability to set alpha transparency of an image

    (h) Shape Adjustment : add a numerical reference that appears when dragging the adjustment handles of shapes such as rounded rectangle so that it’s easier to get the same curve for different sizes of the same shape

  2. Todd Dennison on Feb 7, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Nicely done! As I read through it I kept saying, yes, yes…

  3. Geetesh Bajaj on Feb 8, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks Rick — that’s a great list — if any on you have anything else to add to this list, that will be great to hear! Here are some of my wishes for the list (I did not add anything Rick already mentioned):

    1. Transparency for pictures — we can add transparency to a picture fill, but not to a picture yet.

    2. Locking slide objects — Lock and unlock options so objects cannot be moved.

    3. Better support for looping audio in Create a Video.

    4. HTML 5 Export

    Will certainly have many more wishes to add — these are something that I could think of at this moment!

  4. Jennifer Parkinson on Feb 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Great post, Rick! Thanks for getting this discussion rolling. Would love to see more interplay with the iPad and similar devices. It would be nice to open my 2007 (or higher) PowerPoint presentations on my iPad and be able to edit text or delete slides on the fly. It would be nice not to always rely on my laptop when I’m traveling for presentations.

    • Rick Altman on Feb 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      Agreed, Jennifer! For that, we would need more than just an iPad version of PowerPoint — we would also need a viable way to advance slides remotely. Still waiting on that one…

  5. Francine on Feb 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Would also appreciate being able to change the name of a slide in the custom show slide list. If i don’ t use the title box, it simply numbers it, not very helpful. If i have the same title for 3 slides in a row, not helpful either as I can’t differentiate content.
    Thanks for the list, I agree totally,
    Francine

  6. Rick Altman on Feb 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Good one, Francine! I share your frustration and have resorted to including hidden title placeholders off the slide just to be able to identify it.

  7. Lee Featherby on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:51 am

    This is a great post Rick. One of my issues is the ability to be able to designate a common vanishing point on the presentation for 3D objects. At the moment, creating a slide with multiple 3D elelments is just a nightmare. Also, how about 3D animations? Why cant we animate a 3D cube to roll toward the screen, getting larger as it approaches?

    With GenY making a bigger share of the audience we need to up the ante to engage them visually, not just produce a series of slides.

  8. Arnette Young on Feb 29, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Also, the audio “fade” does not work across multiple slides; thus, unless you time your transitions “just right,” there’s no smooth transition for your sound.

  9. Edward Hearn on Jun 6, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Greetings.
    I’m a bit late in getting to this.
    It is not that PowerPoint or any other presentation software needs an upgrade or refinement, but what needs the upgrade is that the presenter needs to understand what is meant by “abstraction.” No doubt you can be driven to abstraction, yet if you do not wish to think about what you wish to say all the refinements, the aids, gimmicks et cetera are a waste of time.
    The best visual aid I ever seen was a styro-foam cup, some cold water, some ice-cubes, a piece of “O” ring which togethr explained perfectly to even those who are illiterate why a shuttle craft exploded.
    “Keep It Simple Sophomore” is not taken to heart because we are taught to extol an abecedarian state and not be educated, i.e. properly read.

  10. […] irony is that a better solution exists within the software, and I have written about it on several occasions, advocating that users use the Notes page for handouts. But users shouldn’t have to sacrifice […]

  11. John Bates on Jun 29, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Warm Greetings Rick,
    I would be very interested in the OLE mentioned in No 7. Paragraph above.
    7. Redesign How One Slide Deck Plays From Within Another

    My pet hate with Power Point is not being able to use Portrait and Landscape slides in the same Power Point presentation. As an MS PP Beta Tester for Version 2010, I requested this but sadly the inclusion wasn’t incorporated into the finished product. Best regards. John

    • Rick Altman on Jun 29, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      Hi John — Okay, you can mix portrait and landscape slides as follows. If Deck A is landscape and Deck B is portrait:

      1. In Deck A, go to Insert | Object, click Create from File, and navigate your way to Deck B.

      2. Check Paste Link and choose whether to show a thumbnail of the slide or have the slide represented as an icon.

      3. When the object appears on your slide, select it, and apply an animation to it as follows: OLE Action Verb | Show.

      Now that object will become part of the animation sequence of the slide and will show when it is its turn. And it will appear as portrait slides.

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