Happy Accidents with Triggers

You never know what you might discover when you thought you were looking for something else.

One of our more loyal Presentation Summit attendees, Mary Hampton, had a recent dilemma and she came to us in search of a solution. On a map of the United States, she prepared information boxes for states that were relevant to a particular topic. She wanted to be able to control when those info boxes appeared, instead of being committed to them appearing according to a conventional animation sequence. In other words, she might want to show Delaware right away, Alabama 10 minutes later, and then Georgia near the end. Or perhaps she will need to show Georgia first, Delaware shortly afterward, and not show Alabama at all.

Experienced PowerPoint users know which tool addresses this type of functionality: these are a job for triggers. You use a trigger when you want an animation to appear, not when you click the Next button on your remote (or the spacebar on your keyboard), but instead when you click a particular object on the slide. In other words, you designate the object’s animation to be triggered by the clicking of another object.

This is not that hard to do, but this particular project would prove too much for basic triggering and that’s why Mary’s story is worth telling.

Figure One below is a deceptively simple illustration of Mary’s challenge. The three info boxes on the right are to appear when Mary clicks the appropriate circle of the state name.

Making these info boxes appear on specific clicks is not that hard. It's making them go away afterward that might cause you to tear your hair out.
Figure One: Making these info boxes appear on specific clicks is not that hard. It’s making them go away afterward that might cause you to tear your hair out.

And it bears repeating, even if you have little experience with triggering, the basics of this are not that hard: Select the Delaware box, add a Fade to it (or any animation, but Fade is our go-to choice), and then using the Trigger drop-down on the Animation ribbon, find the circle around the DE. Because this circle is initially given an unfriendly name (like Oval 34), it really pays to use the Selection & Visibility Pane to give it a better name (like DE).

But let’s add the first wrinkle: what happens when you want to turn your attention from Delaware to Georgia? You would click on the Georgia oval and the Georgia info box would appear, yes? Yes. But what about the Delaware box — don’t you want it to go away? Yes you do, and indeed you could include an exit fade of the Delaware info box with the Georgia trigger. That way, clicking the Georgia oval would make Delaware fade away and make Georgia fade in. Nice.

Nice, but completely implausible, and here is where the simplicity of this straw man example betrays us. The info boxes will not be nicely lined up down the slide as shown here, they will all be positioned in the same place, one on top of the other. And there won’t just be three of them, there will be 29 of them. Count the ovals in Figure One — that’s how many info boxes there will be!

This would be complicated enough even if Mary knew the precise order in which she wanted her info boxes to appear. But because she doesn’t, she can’t just add an exit fade to Delaware and stuff it in with the Georgia trigger. She would have to add a Delaware exit to every single trigger. Let’s clarify the issue: Mary wants to be able to click any state, make that state’s info box appear and at the same time make whatever info box was there previously disappear. The only way to ensure this functionality is to include 28 exit fades for Delaware. The only place where Mary wouldn’t have to place a Delaware exit fade is with the Delaware trigger. Do that times 29 and you’re there, piece of cake…NOT.

We have better things to do with our time, such as write articles about this. After five minutes of conversation, it became clear to Mary that she should not pursue the ideal scenario of being able to click a state’s oval and have everything work out perfectly. But the compromise isn’t really that bad: I told Mary to think of this as a series of light switches in which she was only allowed to have one on at a time. She could turn on the Delaware light, but if she then wanted to turn on the Georgia light, she would have to first turn off Delaware. Two clicks instead of one, but that is a small price to pay for saving her sanity.

When you think about these animations as toggles, everything becomes easier, and Figure Two below shows how you would do it.

Figure Two: Each trigger has an entrance and an exit. Click it once and the object fades in; click it again and it fades away.

Each trigger has two actions, an entrance Fade and an exit Fade, and they are both set to start “On Click.” That means that your first click on Delaware “turns on” the Delaware info box and the second click turns it off. Two things to note:

  • The order that the triggers appear here (Delaware first, then Alabama, and then Georgia) has no meaning except the order in which they were created. You can make them appear in any order you want. That’s the essential value of a trigger.
  • You will need to take care to toggle each info box off before moving on to the next, otherwise you could create a mess (remember, these info boxes will all be positioned one on top of the other). You can recover from that — you can toggle a box back off after you have toggled another one on — but it could become challenging. So best to get into the routine: turn it on, turn it off, then turn another one on.

But wait, there’s more. I was still thinking about trigger paradise — clicking just once, not twice — and in my failed attempt to find said paradise, I made a discovery that became a happy accident. One of the choices under an animation’s Effect Options is to dictate what happens afterward. As you can see from this ageless dialog box, the setting is called After Animation, and one of the choices is to hide the object after the next mouse click.

Could this semi-obscure drop-down be our ticket to paradise?

If Delaware was set to go away on my next mouse click, then I wouldn’t have to concern myself with what I was clicking on next, Georgia, Alabama, Wyoming, or Arizona. It would go away on that click because I told it to. Could this be the secret maneuver that would bring us to paradise? How exciting! (I know, I’m pathetic.)

Under normal circumstances, this hide-on-next-click setting would work exactly as expected: any click with your mouse or press of the spacebar would make the animated object disappear. But because this animation is inside of a trigger, the object will only go away on the next click if that click is on the same trigger that made it appear in the first place. In other words, Delaware’s info box will only go away if you click on the Delaware trigger. Darn.

But this was actually time well spent failing to find paradise. In fact, thinking of this technique reduces Mary’s work by half. (Well, it would have, had I not already had her create all of those exit fades…such is life.) With the Hide On Next Mouse Click setting, she doesn’t need to create exit fades, because the exit is built in to the entrance. So now the animation sequence is much simpler:

Figure Four: Creating this toggle with the Hide On Next Mouse Click setting makes for a very simple animation scheme.

This is one of countless examples of why you always want to try stuff. You never know what you might discover when you thought you were looking for something else.


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