Why should you care about PowerPoint?
Since its release in 1990, PowerPoint remains the most popular presentation tool among business professionals, with more than 1 billion installations worldwide and a 95% share of the presentation software market.
As a business strategy consultant, I spend a considerable amount of time crafting PowerPoint slides. It’s the foremost way to communicate months – maybe even years – of client deliverables, in a visually clear, concise and accessible way. No matter how many presentations I’ve made, making an engaging PowerPoint presentation with limited time remains a real challenge.
Spending excessive amounts of time in PowerPoint is certainly not limited to consultants. Nielson and the Empower Corporation conducted a detailed office study which found that employees who spend at least 50% of their work time in front of a computer spend an average of seven work hours per week creating PowerPoint presentations. 36% of that time is spent not creating, but formatting slides. That exposes an incredible amount of potential to increase productivity, and this is where PowerPoint add-ins come into play.
What is a PowerPoint add-in?
Despite new versions of Microsoft’s Office suite – released around every three years – PowerPoint’s evolution itself has stagnated. A lack of new features and tools mean the program isn’t developing fast enough to keep users on the cutting edge of presentation solutions. Consequently, a market has opened up for third-party developers to identify the needs of “power users” and create add-in solutions that can keep PowerPoint up to date with fast-paced, tech-driven business environments.
As great as PowerPoint is in some respects, it certainly has some pain points or pitfalls (e.g., how frustrating it can be to try and align objects across different slides). PowerPoint add-ins aim to solve these pain points by extending PowerPoint with additional functions (so-called macros) while leveraging the functionality of the host software (i.e., PowerPoint).
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 huge number of expensive productivity add-ins for PowerPoint. They often have a recurring yearly fee which in the range of $100-$250USD per year, which can be prohibitively expensive if your firm isn’t covering the cost.
- Free Add-Ins: A wide variety of free add-ins can be downloaded at no cost to the users. Although they may not be as full featured as some paid alternatives, I’ve found that combining free add-ins has allowed me to get access to most of the features I am looking for without being too hard on my wallet.
Which PowerPoint add-ins should you use?
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking into various tools that can help save me time and become more effective. After hours of research, experimentation, and deliberation, I’ve settled on the following three “essential” add-ins: Think-Cell, BrightSlide, and Templafy.
My goal with this “stack” of add-ins is to address the various shortfalls of PowerPoints' native functionality and to speed up repetitive or cumbersome actions that I often find myself doing. Although I tried to minimize the number of “add-ins” as part of my stack, each add-in included has unique features which address functionality shortfalls of other add-ins, making it impossible to narrow it down to a single “ultimate add-in” (which was admittedly my initial goal).
When researching and deciding amongst which add-ins to use, I tried to leverage free add-ins whenever possible to minimize any potential disruption to my workflow should I lose access to my firms proprietary add-ins (or licenses to additional paid add-ins). Although licenses for the paid add-ins in my productivity stack (namely, Think-Cell and Templafy) are provided to me free of charge by the consulting firm I work for, they provide me with enough value that I would consider purchasing them out of pocket should I ever need to.
In the following sections, I briefly describe the add-ins part of my "stack" as well as the key features I regularly use in my day-to-day work to speed up my workflow.
BrightSlide is the backbone of my “PowerPoint add-in productivity stack”. If I had to pick a single add-in to install, it would be this one. Not only is it an extremely well designed add-in with tons of useful tools aimed at addressing PowerPoints various shortfalls, but best of all it’s completely free. I’ve listed the key features I make use of in this add-in below. For a full description of all of the tools and features it offers, see the official BrightSlide documentation.
Key BrightSlide Features
- Alignment Tools
- Align to Reference Object: Aligns selected objects to the reference object, which can either be the first or last object selected depending on your settings (The default behavior of alignment tools in PowerPoint, which can often be confusing, instead of to the boundaries of your selection)
- Align Center and Middle: Combines Align Middle and Align Center, so that you can perform both in one click
- Distribute to Grid: Automatically arranges your objects in a grid formation (you can choose the exact distance between objects or make them fit within a defined space. This is great for arranging images or icons.)
- Distribute by Spacing: Distributes all objects from the reference object and allows you to adjust the space between objects using the arrow keys on your keyboard, the slider, or by typing in an exact value.
- Split and Align: Splits a single object, or group, into evenly sized and spaced copies of itself (This tool is great for creating irregular layouts, logo grids, shape-based tables and graphs, master layouts, and more. See it in action on BrightSlide’s Twitter feed)
- Formatting Tools
- Match Size: Makes all selected objects the same width, height, or size depending on the selected option.
- Match Tool: Allows you to copy and paste the size, position, formatting, adjustments, and animations from any object to any other object and apply it to other objects on the same slide
- Multi-Painter: Similar to the Match Tool, except it allows you to apply the copied properties across different slides
- Table Format Painter: Copies the design of the selected table and allows you to apply it to other tables in your presentation (useful for standardizing the design of all your tables)
- Selection and Object Tools
- Select Objects: Selects all objects on the slide that match a specific property of the reference object (e.g., fill color, outline color, shape type, etc.)
- Lock / Unlock: Locks or unlocks all selected objects, making it impossible to select that object until you choose to unlock them (This is a super handy use for this tool is locking a background image or graphic, allowing you to easily work with shapes on top of it)
- Show / Hide Selection: Hide or show the selected objects (This tool is a time saver for people who often find themselves needing to use the selection pane)
- Merge Text: Merges the text of all selected objects (original text formatting is retained, and other objects are deleted)
- Split Text: Splits the text inside an object by paragraph or sentence into separate objects
- Remove Text Margins: Removes text margins from all selected objects (you can even select part of a table to only affect selected cells)
- Swap Objects: Swaps the position of two objects (you can choose between 5 different reference points around the bounding box of the objects in order to perform the swap)
- File and Master Tools
- Theme Colors: Allows you to set theme colors with an improved Color Picker. Also lets you edit custom colors without needing to hack into the XML.
- Color Constrast Report: Generates an accessibility color contrast report for all the theme colors in the currently active master. The report shows which color combinations pass and fail the WCAG Level AA success criteria for color contrast
- Copy & Paste Clipboard to Selected Slides: Allows you to paste an object to every slide in a presentation
- Presentation Language: Lets you set the proofing language for every object in the presentation
- Export Tools: Offers a variety of export tools including saving selected slides as a new file, saving all slides as individual files, and exporting selected slides as images
- Contextual Tools
- Table Tools: Variety of tools which make it easier to work with tables in PowerPoint that can be accessed by right-clicking on a table
- Copy and Paste Cell Format: Allows you to copy a cell's formatting, and paste it onto one or more cells
- Sort Table: Alphabetically sort table contents
- Transpose Table: Swap columns and rows of a table
- Convert Table to Text: This is a super useful tool if you are turning a table into a more impactful visual. Instead of copying and pasting or typing out each cell individually, simply right-click on a table and select Convert Table to Text. You then have the option to convert the whole table to a single textbox or convert each cell to a separate text box.
- Straighten Line: A tool which allows you to check if your lines are perfectly straight (can be accessed by right-clicking on a line)
- Color Contrast Checker: Measures the color contrast between two colors by using a single object, or two objects. Ideally you should aim for a color contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 between text and its background color to ensure readability. You can see the result at the bottom of the contextual menu.
- Passive Features
- Copy and Paste Clipboard to Selected Slides: Allows you to copy and paste particular objects to selected slides all at once
- Resize Multiple Lines: Allows you to resize multiple lines without grouping them
Think-Cell is a PowerPoint add-on that helps you create advanced charts and slide layouts. It is the most popular PowerPoint charting add-on in the world. It’s used by over 950,000 people at over 23,000 companies, including 8 of the top 10 consulting firms.
Given that it’s quite pricey, I only recommend this add-in out of pocket if your work requires you to use PowerPoint nearly every day.
For PowerPoint power users such as myself, there are three main reasons why I believe Think-Cell is worth the price:
- It increases the speed at which I’m able to create charts and slides in PowerPoint by simplifying and improving the native PowerPoint user interface, workflows and integrations
- It allows me to create charts that are not available natively in PowerPoint. Some common charts that are missing from PowerPoint include waterfall charts, Mekko charts and Gantt charts.
- It helps me increase the effectiveness of my charts with charting decorations and other features not available natively in PowerPoint. Some examples include CAGR arrows, value difference arrows, and value lines.
Key Think-Cell Features
Think-Cell integrates seamlessly with PowerPoint. Once you install the Think-Cell plugin, a new section will appear under the “Insert” section of your PowerPoint ribbon. The toolbar looks and behaves just like other native parts of the PowerPoint ribbon. And importantly, there is no lag as you click through the dropdowns and menus.
- Charting: Column charts, bar charts, line charts, area charts, scatterplots, bubble charts, waterfall charts, Mekko charts, Gantt charts, and more.
- Layouts: Text boxes, process flows and tables that automatically re-arrange to fit their contents. Plus agendas and tables of contents.
- Excel integrations: Automatically populating and updating a chart’s data from an external Excel file.
- Extended PowerPoint functionality: Useful functionality that’s not found natively in PowerPoint, such as saving and sending individual slides.
Cost: N/A (enterprise licensing)
Templafy is a suite of add-ins which consists of three main components:
- Templafy Library: Central repository of company templates and assets with the ability to directly access and import them from within PowerPoint. I don’t use this feature since the management of the slide library is limited to administrators, and I have my own personal collection of slides and templates I like to refer to.
- SlideProof: Checks presentations against up-to 40 pre-defined rules and ensures that the content, format, and layout are on-brand with the latest company standards. With the click of a button, you’re able to scan the presentation for errors and inconsistencies and get an overview of issues in the Templafy task pane. Use the Fix button to amend the presentation fast. This is a really useful tool which really speeds up quality assurance activities when you’re finalizing your presentations.
- ProductivityPlus: Collection of over 50 custom editing tools for making PowerPoint presentations. Designed specifically for the most commonly used adjustments. Given that there is a significant amount of overlap in BrightSlide and ProductivityPlus functionality, but it does have some useful tools that aren’t available elsewhere in my “productivity stack” that I regularly make use of.
Key Templafy ProductivityPlus Features
*Only tools that don’t have duplicate functionality with BrightSlide are included below. For a full overview of the tools offered by Templafy’s ProductivityPlus add-in, see the official ProductivityPlus documentation.
- Save Tools: Allows you to selected slides as a PPTX or PDF.
- Send Tools: Enables you to send the presentation or selected slides by email in either PPTX or PDF format.
- Word Wrap: Allows you to easily enable/disable word wrap for the text content of a shape.
- Auto-Size: Gives you easy access to the auto-size features for the text content of a shape (i.e., you can easily cycle between “Do not autofit”, “Shrink text on overflow”, and “Resize shape to fit text”).
- Text Margins: Opens a dialogue box that allows you to easily customize the margins of the selected text box.
- Swap Text: Swap the text inside two objects.
- Footnotes: Tool which inserts footnotes onto your PowerPoint slide. You can either add or update the footnotes by placing the cursor where you would like to insert your footnote in the text and choosing to either ADD (a footnote reference will be added to where your cursor is and to the footnote area for direct editing) or UPDATE (your footnotes will be updated). Footnotes are sorted automatically in order of appearance (top left to bottom right). With every click on Add or Update, the footnotes are synchronized.
- Send to Unused: Allows you to send selected slides to an “Unused Slides” section which is automatically created at the end of the presentation.
- Slide Master View: Shortcut enabling you to quickly open up the Slide Master view of the selected slide.
- Colors Toolbar: The Colors feature enables you to get instant access to theme colors on the left-hand side of the screen in PowerPoint. This allows you to quickly change the colors of the font, outline, and fill of an object. (See official documentation for a demonstration of how this works)
Database of PowerPoint Add-Ins
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 “PowerPoint add-in 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
*Note that this list doesn’t include the free add-ins that I personally use which were described earlier on this page.
|PPTAlchemy Anchor||Free||Adds extra “anchor” or “reference object” functionality to the native alignment features within PowerPoint. Select the shaped 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 BrightSlide 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 BrightSlide 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 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 3million+ 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 for. 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.|
Database of Premium Add-Ins
*Note that this list doesn’t include the paid add-ins that I personally use which were described earlier on this page.
|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 Templafy if I didn’t have access to it through my company as Templafy doesn’t offer individual licensing.|
|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.|