14 min read

A Comprehensive Guide to PowerPoint Add-ins

As a business strategy consultant, I spend a considerable amount of time crafting PowerPoint slides. After an extensive amount of research, experimentation, and deliberation, I've settled on the optimal stack of add-ins to improve my overall PowerPoint productivity.

Why should you care about PowerPoint?

Since its 1990 debut, PowerPoint has firmly established itself as the go-to presentation tool for business professionals worldwide, boasting over 1 billion installations and a 95% market share.

As a business strategy consultant, I rely heavily on PowerPoint. It's the go-to medium to convey complex client deliverables succinctly and visually. No matter the number of presentations under my belt, producing an engaging slide deck within tight deadlines is always a challenge.

It's not just consultants who sink hours into PowerPoint. A study by Nielson and Empower Corporation revealed that computer-centric employees spend about seven hours weekly on PowerPoint presentations, with over a third of this time on slide formatting. This highlights a vast opportunity for productivity gains, and that's where PowerPoint add-ins come into play.

What is a PowerPoint add-in?

Despite Microsoft's Office suite undergoing an upgrade every three years or so, PowerPoint's evolution appears to have hit a plateau. The infrequent introduction of new tools and features is insufficient to meet the demands of its evolving user base. This has paved the way for third-party developers to cater to these unmet needs by creating add-ins that add functionality to PowerPoint.

PowerPoint, for all its merits, has drawbacks. Ever tried aligning objects across slides? It can be maddening. Add-ins alleviate these issues, enhancing PowerPoint with added functions, all while building on its foundational capabilities.

Types of PowerPoint add-ins

  • Proprietary Add-Ins: Many consulting firms have proprietary PowerPoint add-ins (e.g., Deloitte’s PowerPoint Tools, Accenture QPT Tools, Bain Toolbox for PowerPoint, McKinsey's Marvin Tools for PowerPoint, EY SlideFox, PWC Smart Toolbar, Strategy& Toolbar, etc.). These are generally only accessible by employees of these firms, and therefore won’t be covered in this guide.
  • Premium Add-Ins: There is a wide variety of premium add-ins, ranging from pricey options to more affordable ones. Many of these add-ins are created by ex-consultants looking to replicate the functionality of their firm's proprietary add-ins once they no longer work there. The issue with a lot of these add-ins is that they can be quite pricey, with some costing over $250USD per year. Fortunately, there are a few gems that offer all the functionality you need for a reasonable one-time fee.
  • Free Add-Ins: While the allure of free add-ins is undeniable, they often come with their set of limitations. Sometimes, they lack comprehensive features, have less frequent updates, or may not offer dedicated support. If a developer decides to abandon a free add-in, which happens more often than you'd expect given the limited incentive to keep supporting it, it could potentially ruin the workflow you've gotten used to - a pitfall I've regrettably experienced firsthand. Although I don't personally use free add-ins, I've included a database of the best ones that I've tried at the end of this article for your reference as they are still an excellent option for people who don't spend their days in PowerPoint.

Which PowerPoint add-ins should you use?

I've dedicated considerable effort to identify tools that could enhance my efficiency. After extensive research and testing, I’ve landed on two “essential” add-ins that I personally use in my day-to-day work: PowerTools and Think-Cell.

These add-ins collectively fill the gaps in PowerPoint's native functions, speeding up routine or tedious tasks. Even though I aimed for a minimalistic add-in suite, each one brings something unique to the table, so choosing just one ultimate add-in proved elusive.

Although both of my top add-in recommendations, PowerTools and Think-Cell, fall into the premium category, cost was an important factor in my choices. PowerTools offers a one-time payment for lifetime access, a bargain considering the value it adds to my workflow. As for Think-Cell, my employer currently covers its substantial license fee. Yet, due to the significant amount of time I spend in PowerPoint and the efficiency gains I personally experience with Think-Cell, I would be more than willing to invest in it myself if ever required.

In the next sections, I'll briefly introduce the add-ins in my toolkit, focusing on the features I routinely use to improve my workflow.

PowerTools: The Swiss Army Knife of PowerPoint

Cost: $49.99USD (Lifetime access for a one-time payment)

Website: https://pptpowertools.com/

PowerTools is the cornerstone of my add-in lineup. If I could choose only one, it'd be this. With its expansive, thoughtful toolkit, it not only enhances PowerPoint's capabilities but does so without the hefty recurring subscription fees that plague many other popular add-ins.

Why PowerTools Shines

  • Extensive Toolkit: Of all the add-ins I've tried, PowerTools has the most comprehensive set of functionality and tools for my particular needs.
  • One-time Purchase: In the sea of pricey subscription-based tools, PowerTools' one-time fee offers unmatched value. It trumps similar add-ins, like PPTProductivity or MLC, which charge a hefty annual fee. Pay once, and PowerTools is yours to keep.
  • Designed for Professionals: Many add-ins seem tailored for educators or students, brimming with flamboyant animations and transitions. PowerTools, however, resonates with the needs of management consultants and corporate professionals. It cuts the fluff, zeroing in on essential, impactful tools.
  • Cross-Platform Compatibility: PowerTools operates seamlessly on both Windows and Mac, making it an excellent choice for those who, like me, switch between platforms.
  • Reliable and Bug-free: While some add-ins can bog down PowerPoint, PowerTools runs smoothly, free from noticeable glitches or performance lags.
  • Proactive Updates and Support: PowerTools' team regularly rolls out updates and is exceptionally responsive to user feedback. Once, a feature I suggested was included within a month – a testament to their commitment.

Key Features

  1. Fix/Insert Bullets: One of the challenges with PowerPoint is maintaining consistent bullet formatting, especially when copying from various sources. PowerTools' ability to format up to four levels of bullets ensures consistency in presentations. Whether you're starting fresh or reformatting an existing text box, it adjusts based on a predetermined bullet format.
  2. Copy and Paste Position/Dimensions: Design consistency across slides is crucial. PowerTools makes it easy by allowing you to copy the position and dimensions of a specific element and apply it elsewhere, ensuring uniformity and eliminating tedious manual adjustments.
  3. Alignment and Arrangement Tools: Whether you're trying to arrange items in a grid, straighten lines, or remove gaps between shapes, PowerTools offers a suite of functionalities to make this process efficient. The Position/Size Wizard stands out, making it possible to copy the position and size of an object across different slides—perfect for titles, stamps, and other repetitive elements.
  4. Table Management: PowerTools shines especially when it comes to handling tables. Beyond basic functionalities, it offers advanced tools such as the ability to quickly format tables to a preset style, convert tables to shapes (and vice versa), split tables, and even sum rows or columns. The 'Row and Column Gaps' tool is particularly handy for financial presentations, making data presentation more digestible.
  5. Export Options: Whether you're emailing a selection of slides as a PDF, saving a portion of your presentation, or exporting slide notes to Word, PowerTools covers all these needs. This ensures that your content reaches its intended audience in the desired format without fuss.
  6. Inserting Tools: PowerTools offers a myriad of insertion options, from custom footers, copyright symbols, Harvey Balls, to even QR codes. One feature I find remarkable is the 'Insert Table of Contents', saving time for those extensive presentations that need a summary slide. The ability to replace pictures without distorting them is also a valuable tool, ensuring the design integrity of slides.
  7. Review and Cleanup: Keeping presentations polished and free from distractions is essential. With PowerTools, you can quickly reset slide layouts, remove shadows, animations, hyperlinks, comments, and more. If you're sharing your presentation and want to make it "READ ONLY", the 'Convert slides to pictures' feature is especially handy. And if you're handing off a draft presentation but want to protect sensitive information, the 'Anonymize' function replaces all text with "Lorem Ipsum", making it safer to share.

PowerTools boasts a comprehensive suite of features designed to streamline and enhance the presentation-making process for business professionals. Whether you're in management consulting, investment banking, or various other sectors that rely on compelling presentations, this toolkit can be a valuable resource. Many other premium add-ins charge overpriced yearly subscription fees. In contrast, PowerTools stands out with its reasonable one-time fee, often presenting a more favorable value proposition for those seeking a robust toolset. The list above provides an overview of its capabilities, but more details can be found in its official documentation.

Additionally, it's worth noting that there are several free add-ins available that replicate some of PowerTools' functionality. I've detailed these options at the end of this presentation for those interested in exploring alternative solutions.

Think-Cell: Charting Made Simple

Cost: $320USD/Year

Website: https://www.think-cell.com/en/

Think-Cell is a highly regarded PowerPoint add-on specializing in advanced charting and slide layouts. With a user base of over 950,000 people at over 23,000 companies, including 8 of the top 10 consulting firms, it's the go-to charting add-on globally.

While its price tag may seem steep, I'd recommend this add-on to those who use PowerPoint almost daily. PowerTools, while excellent, falls short in enhancing PowerPoint's chart experience, and that's where Think-Cell comes in.

For frequent PowerPoint users like myself, there are three main justifications for Think-Cell's cost:

  1. It streamlines the PowerPoint user interface, workflows, and integrations, allowing me to produce charts and slides faster.
  2. It enables me to construct charts not natively available in PowerPoint, such as waterfall, Mekko, and Gantt charts.
  3. It boosts my chart effectiveness with decorations and features absent in PowerPoint, like CAGR arrows, value difference arrows, and value lines.

Key Think-Cell Features

Think-Cell integrates effortlessly with PowerPoint, adding a new section under the "Insert" tab of your ribbon. The toolbar is easy to use and performs on par with other native PowerPoint components, without any lag.

  • Charting: From column, bar, line, area, scatterplots, bubble charts to waterfall, Mekko, Gantt charts, and more.
  • Layouts: Auto-adjusting text boxes, process flows, tables, agendas, and table of contents.
  • Excel integrations: Automatically populate and update chart data from an external Excel file.
  • Extended PowerPoint functionality: Not found natively in PowerPoint, like saving and sending individual slides.

A Note on Think-Cell's Value Proposition: While Think-Cell does come with a significant price tag, it's crucial to evaluate its cost in the context of your professional needs. If you're in roles like management consulting or investment banking where presentations are the lifeblood of client communication, the efficiency gains from Think-Cell can be invaluable. Its features are designed to save hours of manual effort, translating into significant time and cost savings in the long run. Thus, for those who find themselves constantly toggling between Excel and PowerPoint, regularly presenting data-driven analysis, and needing advanced charting capabilities, the investment in Think-Cell can very well justify its costs. But for more casual users, the investment might be harder to rationalize. Always assess the frequency and depth of your PowerPoint usage before diving in.

PowerPoint Add-In Database

I compiled a list of add-ins that I tested as part of my research and experimentation with various PowerPoint add-ins, along with comments as to why it they didn’t make it into my productivity stack. Feel free to consult the list if there are particular features you are looking for, or if you would like to find free alternatives to the paid add-ins that I recommended earlier.

Database of Free Add-Ins

Name Cost Description Comments
PPTAlchemy Anchor Free Adds extra “anchor” or “reference object” functionality to the native alignment features within PowerPoint. Select the shape to be anchored followed by other shapes, hold down SHIFT or CONTROL, and use the standard alignment tools. As a bonus holding down CTRL and SHIFT aligns to the anchor AND resizes all other shapes to the exact same size. This lightweight add-in used to be part of my productivity stack until I discovered PowerTools which offers the same functionality in addition to many other useful tools.
THOR Free Add-in which allows you to copy and paste the size and position of an object across several slides. Once again, this add-in used to be part of my productivity stack until I discovered PowerTools which also has a similar functionality with regards to copying the size and position of an object and pasting it across slides through its “Enhanced Format Painter” functionality.
Text to Outline Free Enables you to convert text to an outline (similar to how you can do this in Adobe Illustrator). This gives you greater control over your text format and can also be used to guarantee the portability of your presentation when it uses non-system fonts (i.e., custom fonts that the end user might not have installed) by allowing you to preserve the text font without the need to embed the font within the presentation. I primarily use fonts available on most operating systems, so I don't have much use for this functionality.
Noun Project Free Gives you unlimited royalty-free access to a library of 100 frequently used icons directly from within PowerPoint. Users have the option to purchase a premium upgrade for access to the entire catalogue of over 3 million+ icons.
Instrumenta Free Free and open-source consulting PowerPoint toolbar made by an ex-strategy consultant. It was created with the intention to replace proprietary PowerPoint add-ins that many strategy consultancy firms have which are equipped with tools and features that help to quickly fine tune a PowerPoint presentation. Instrumenta was originally included in my PowerPoint add-in stack, but after further deliberation, I’ve decided to stop using it. Although it’s a great open-source add-in and free alternative with plenty functionality, I haven’t found any unique functions it offers that aren’t offered by other add-ins in my stack that I prefer using due to a better overall user experience.
Power User Free Productivity solution for PowerPoint, Excel and Word with tons of useful features. Visit the website for details on the many features it offers. They offer a free license for academic use or to non-profits. One notable feature that PowerUser offers is its “Library” with hundreds of slide templates, icons, and images for you to access right from within PowerPoint. I haven’t included it as part of my stack because many of the features overlap with other add-ins which I prefer to use.
PowerPoint Labs Free PowerPoint Labs is a free and open-source PowerPoint productivity tool project based in the National University of Singapore with various features ranging from formatting to animations. Although this is a great add-in with a large set of features, it really shines in its ability to augment the native animation features in PowerPoint. Given that I don’t often use this functionality, and in the spirit of parsimony, I’ve decided not to include this add-in as part of my PowerPoint productivity stack. One key feature which I do find great is the added ability to double click on an object to open up the context menu. For a rundown of all the other features it offers, see the PowerPoint Labs official documentation.
BrightSlide Free BrightSlide is a free tool that makes PowerPoint easier to use. It was made by a company called BrightCarbon to help their designers work faster. Now, they have shared it with everyone for free. It comes with lots of helpful features that solve common PowerPoint problems. If you're not willing to pay for PowerPoint add-ins, BrightSlide would be my top pick among all the free add-ins I've tested. It boasts a robust feature set, is well-designed, and appears to be backed by a solid team. However, it does not offer the same breadth of functionality as some of the more premium options. I have tested this add-in extensively, as it used to be part of my productivity stack before I switched to PowerTools. There were a few aspects that bothered me. First, it wasn't designed specifically for corporate users, so it includes numerous features that add unnecessary bloat related to animations and more artistic uses of PowerPoint. Second, I experienced some stability issues with this add-in, such as tools not working as expected and occasional unexpected PowerPoint crashes. Despite these drawbacks, when considering free add-ins, BrightSlide stands as the best option available.

Database of Premium Add-Ins

Name Cost Description Comments
SlideWise $59.00CAD (one-time fee) Proofing tool for PowerPoint presentations. Similar to SlideProof. Allows you to see a clear view of your presentation content, spot problems, and fix them with just a few clicks. Interesting alternative to SlideProof. Given that I already have access to the SlideProof through Templafy, it didn’t make it into my productivity stack. If I didn’t have access to Templafy licensing, it would be an interesting alternative.
ShapeStyles $99.95USD (one-time fee) Similar to “Word Styles” but for PowerPoint. Enables you to memorize the formatting you’ve applied to a PowerPoint shape and save it in named styles that you can later apply to other shapes. A potential use case for this add-in is formatting footnotes. Say you create and format a footnote and set all its attributes (i.e., position, size, font, color, fill, etc.), you could save the attributes of this footnote and easily reapply it across the presentation or in other presentations.
Tools Too $19.95USD (one-time fee) ToolsToo Pro for PowerPoint adds more than 115 powerful yet easy-to-use productivity tools to the Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® ribbon. Looks like a great add-in but I haven’t seen any tools or functions that I haven’t been able to otherwise fill with free tools
Shape Chef $39.99USD (one-time fee) Integrates a library pane into the PowerPoint window, which allows you to download a premade graphic collections and organize your assets (including quick search, drag and drop, and custom content) Promising option for PowerPoint asset management, clean and simple with a reasonable one-time fixed fee.
FastLane $25USD (one-time fee) PowerPoint productivity tool aimed at helping speed up slide creation and formatting. Designed for and used by many consulting firms and business schools to help users conform with company standards. Looks like a great add-in but I haven’t seen any tools or functions that I haven’t been able to otherwise fill with free tools. Key shapes and elements and design shortcuts are particularly interesting features of this add-in.
Efficient Elements $165USD/year Comprehensive PowerPoint productivity add-in with charting functionality as well as a large suite of productivity tools. The main advantage of Efficient Elements over Think-Cell is that it generates charts in the native PowerPoint format which offers easier collaboration with users who don’t have the add-in installed. After experimenting with both add-ins, I decided that I personally prefer the overall user experience and ease of chart creation offered by Think-Cell. I will admit that I didn’t spend enough time fully explore the other tools this add-in offers, and it is an option I'll be keeping in mind should Think-Cell ever cease to be updated. In addition to charts, other potentially useful features include slide proofing capabilities, alignment tools, PPT asset management capabilities, align in table, color bar, etc.
MLC $100USD/year PowerPoint productivity add-in with a lot of the core tools that I look for in a well-designed add-in. Created by Slide Design Consultants. Excellent option for anyone looking for a comprehensive and well-designed add-in at a reasonable price. Interesting features include the Consistency Manager as well as the overall extremely well designed ribbon layout. Looks like a solid add-in overall. Also has a lot of templates and assets built in. Reason I am not including it in my PowerPoint add-in stack is because it doesn’t have any features that I wasn’t able to find in a free add-in and it is quite pricey at a recurring fee of 80 euros per year.
Grunt $327USD/year High quality alternative to Think-Cell with additional useful features. Other benefits to great charts are the grid experience and the slide library, which are both fantastic. Really well made add-in. Main downsides are that it’s very expensive and that it doesn’t allow for collaboration with people who don’t have the add-in.
PPTProductivity $150USD/year Comprehensive PowerPoint productivity add-in created by ex-consultants to replace the proprietary add-ins they had access to when working for one of the big firms. Too expensive but would purchase either this or MLC as an alternative to PowerTools if the latter didn't exist. This is because although they are similar in functionality, lifetime access to PowerTools is available for a one-time fee which is less than half of the yearly fee for access to the PPTProductivity or MLC add-ins.
TeamSlide $528USD/year Central library for PowerPoint slides, images, and videos. Too expensive, licensing primarily suited for enterprises. Steep price for what it offers.
SlideHub $200USD/month PowerPoint asset platform for consultants. Allows you to manage slides, images, and icons directly from PowerPoint. Although it’s very well designed, it’s extremely expensive for single users (and is way too expensive for what it offers). Licensing is primarily suited for enterprises.
Templafy Enterprise Licensing Templafy is a suite of PowerPoint add-ins encompassing three main components. The Templafy Library acts as a central repository for templates. SlideProof evaluates presentations against up to 40 pre-defined rules, quickly scanning for errors and inconsistencies in content, format, and layout. ProductivityPlus, packed with over 50 custom tools, simplifies and accelerates slide formatting. Templafy, predominantly aimed at enterprises, carries a hefty price tag making it less suitable for individual users or small businesses. Its library, managed by administrators, isn't ideal for personal slide collections, and its productivity tools, while useful, don't match the functionality breadth of other listed add-ins. However, its key differentiator, SlideProof, could justify the investment for larger companies, as it significantly streamlines the quality assurance process, rapidly addressing presentation inconsistencies with a single click.