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


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…


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