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PowerPoint for Microsoft 365 cheat sheet

Need to create and share a presentation? If so, you probably turn to the most popular presentation application in the world, Microsoft PowerPoint for Windows.

Microsoft sells Office under two models: Individuals and businesses can pay for the software license up front and own it forever (what the company calls the “perpetual” version of the suite), or they can purchase a Microsoft 365 or Office 365 subscription, which means they have access to the software for only as long as they keep paying the subscription fee.

When you purchase a perpetual version of the suite — say, Office 2016 or Office 2019 — its applications will never get new features, whereas apps in the “365” subscriptions are continually updated with new features. For more details, see “Microsoft Office 2019 vs. Office 365: How to pick the best one for you” Confusing matters even more, Microsoft has recently renamed most, but not all, of its Office 365 subscriptions under the “Microsoft 365” moniker, which generally means the plan includes everything from the old Office 365 plans plus some additional features and apps.

This cheat sheet gets you up to speed on the features that have been introduced in the Windows desktop client for PowerPoint in Office 365 and Microsoft 365 since 2015. We’ll periodically update this story as new features roll out. (If you’re using the perpetual-license PowerPoint 2016 or 2019, see our separate PowerPoint 2016 and 2019 cheat sheet.)

Share this story: IT folks, we hope you’ll pass this guide on to your users to help them learn to get the most from PowerPoint for Microsoft 365/Office 365 in Windows.

Use the Ribbon

The Ribbon interface that you came to know and love (or perhaps hate) in earlier versions of PowerPoint hasn’t changed much in Microsoft 365/Office 365. Because the Ribbon has been included in Office suite applications since Office 2007, we assume you’re familiar with how it works. If you need a refresher, see our PowerPoint 2010 cheat sheet.

In September 2018, Microsoft overhauled the way the Ribbon looks. It has a flattened look that’s cleaner and less cluttered than in previous versions of PowerPoint, and its high-contrast colors make the icons and text easier to see. The red bar at the top has also been reduced, with the tab names now appearing on a gray background. But it still works in the same way, and you’ll find most of the commands in the same locations as in earlier versions.

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The Ribbon in PowerPoint for Microsoft 365/Office 365 has been cleaned up, with text and icons that are easier to see. (Click image to enlarge it.)

One minor change to the Ribbon layout is that there’s now a Help tab to the right of the View tab. To find out which commands live on which tabs on the Ribbon, download our PowerPoint for Microsoft 365 Ribbon quick reference. Also note that you can use the search bar on the Ribbon to find commands.

As in previous versions of PowerPoint, if you want the Ribbon commands to go away, press Ctrl-F1. (Note that the tabs above the Ribbon — File, Home, Insert, and so on — stay visible.) To make them appear again, press Ctrl-F1.

You’ve got other options for displaying the Ribbon as well. To get to them, click the Ribbon Display Options icon at the top right of the screen, just to the left of the icons for minimizing and maximizing PowerPoint. A drop-down menu appears with these three options:

  • Auto-hide Ribbon: This hides the entire Ribbon, both the tabs and commands underneath them. To show the Ribbon again, click at the top of PowerPoint.
  • Show Tabs: This shows the tabs but hides the commands underneath them. It’s the same as pressing Ctrl-F1. To display the commands underneath the tabs when they’re hidden, press Ctrl-F1, click a tab, or click the Ribbon display icon and select Show Tabs and Commands.
  • Show Tabs and Commands: Selecting this shows both the tabs and the commands.

And if for some reason that nice red color on the title bar is just too much for you, you can turn it white, gray or black. To do it, select File > Options > General. In the “Personalize your copy of Microsoft Office” section, click the down arrow next to Office Theme, and select Dark Gray, Black or White from the drop-down menu. To make the title bar red again, instead choose the Colorful option from the drop-down list. Just above the Office Theme menu is an Office Background drop-down menu — here you can choose to display a pattern such as circles and stripes or a circuit board in the title bar.

When you click File on the Ribbon, you get sent to a useful section that Microsoft calls the backstage area. If you click Open or Save a Copy from the menu on the left, you can see the cloud-based services you’ve connected to your Office account, such as SharePoint and OneDrive. Each location now displays its associated email address underneath it. This is quite helpful if you use a cloud service with more than one account, such as if you have one OneDrive account for personal use and another one for business. You’ll be able to see at a glance which is which.

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The backstage area (under the File tab) shows which cloud-based services you’ve connected to your Office account and lets you connect to additional ones. (Click image to enlarge it.)

You can also easily add new cloud-based services. From the screen that shows you your online locations, click Add a Place and choose which service to add. Note, though, that you’re limited to SharePoint and OneDrive.

In the works: A simplified Ribbon

Microsoft is also working on a simplified version of the Ribbon for all Office applications. Like the existing Ribbon, it will have tabs across the top, and each tab will have commands on it. But it’s more streamlined and uses less space than the existing Ribbon.

For now, only Outlook for Windows uses the simplified Ribbon in Microsoft 365/Office 365. However, you can get a preview of what it will look like in PowerPoint by going to the online version of PowerPoint. Use the slider next to Simplified Ribbon at the top right of the screen to toggle the simplified Ribbon on and off. If you don’t see the slider at the top of the screen, go to the Ribbon’s View tab and check the box next to Simplified Ribbon. To revert to the regular Ribbon, uncheck the box.

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A cleaner, simpler Ribbon will be available in PowerPoint at some point. To try it now, head to the online version of PowerPoint, pictured here. (Click image to enlarge it.)

In the simplified Ribbon, all the commands are still there for each tab, but only the most commonly used are visible. Click the three-dot icon at the far right end of the Ribbon to show the rest of the commands in a drop-down menu.

In the Outlook desktop client, you can toggle between the streamlined and traditional Ribbon by clicking a small caret icon at the right edge of the Ribbon. We assume this will work the same way in PowerPoint, but at this point we have no details. We’ll update this section when the simplified Ribbon rolls out to PowerPoint for Windows.

Use the Search bar to accomplish tasks quickly

PowerPoint is so chock-full of powerful features that it can be tough to remember where to find them all. Microsoft 365/Office 365 has made it easier via the Search bar, which can put even buried tools or those you rarely use in easy reach. (Note that at one point, the feature was called Tell Me.)

To use it, click in the Search bar — for some subscribers, it’s located on the Ribbon to the right of all the tab headers; for others, it’s above the Ribbon in the red title area. (Keyboard fans can instead press Alt-Q to go to the Search box.) Type in a task you want to do, such as change handout orientation. You’ll get a menu showing potential matches for the task.

In this instance, the top result is a Handout Orientation listing that when clicked gives you two options — one to set the orientation to horizontal and the other to vertical. Just click the one you want to use. If you’d like more information about your task, the last two items that appear in the menu let you select from related Help topics or search for your phrase using Smart Lookup. (More on Smart Lookup below.)

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The Search bar gives advice on changing the handout orientation (or any other task you query). (Click image to enlarge it.)

Even if you consider yourself a PowerPoint pro, give Search a try. It’ll save you lots of time and is much more efficient than hunting through the Ribbon to find a command. It also remembers the features you’ve previously clicked on in the box, so when you click in it, you first see a list of previous tasks you’ve searched for. That makes sure that tasks that you frequently perform are always within easy reach, while at the same time making tasks you rarely do easily accessible.

Search is gaining more capabilities, too. Some users of enterprise and education editions of the subscription version of Office are now able to use the Search box to find people in their organization, SharePoint resources, and other personalized results from within PowerPoint. (These features are being rolled out in stages, so you might not have them yet.)

Get a jump-start on your presentations

QuickStarter is a great tool for anyone who hates being confronted with a blank slate when starting a presentation. It jump-starts your presentation by helping you with research and outline creation.

To use it, when you create a new presentation, select QuickStarter, type in the topic of your presentation, and then choose from a list of subtopics. QuickStarter suggests a set of slides you might want to use, based on Bing searches and information from Wikipedia. Choose which slide(s) to keep, and then select a look for your slides, including a theme complete with background graphics. You’ve now got a good start on your presentation.

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QuickStarter recommends slides you might want to use for your presentation, based on Bing searches and information from Wikipedia. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Try Smart Lookup for online research

If you do research to gather information for presentations, you’ll want to check out another new feature, Smart Lookup. It lets you do online research from right within PowerPoint while you’re working on a presentation, so there’s no need to fire up your browser, search the web, and then copy the information to your presentation.

To use Smart Lookup, right-click a word or group of words and select Smart Lookup from the menu that appears. PowerPoint then uses Bing to do a web search on the word or phrase and displays definitions, any related Wikipedia entries, and other results from the web under the Explore tab in the Smart Lookup pane that appears on the right. If you just want a definition of the word, click the Define tab in the pane.

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Smart Lookup lets you do web research from right within PowerPoint. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Smart Lookup has been getting smarter over time. When the feature first launched, it wasn’t very good at finding specific, timely information such as the current inflation rate in the United States. It was much better at finding more general information, such as a biography of the artificial intelligence pioneer Arthur Samuel. But Microsoft has done a lot of work on it, and it now works well when finding granular information as well.

Keep in mind that in order to use Smart Lookup in PowerPoint or any other Microsoft 365/Office 365 app, you might first need to enable Microsoft’s intelligent services feature, which collects your search terms and some content from your presentations and other documents. (If you’re concerned about privacy, you’ll need to decide whether the privacy hit is worth the convenience of doing research from right within the app.) If you haven’t enabled it, you’ll see a screen when you click Smart Lookup asking you to turn it on. Once you do so, it will be turned on across all your Microsoft 365/Office 365 applications.

Tap Designer for slide design ideas

Designer makes it easy to quickly create high-quality slides without you doing much work. When you insert an image into a slide, the Design Ideas panel opens on the right side of the screen, offering you a choice of multiple layouts for the slide. Choose the layout you want and take it from there.

Microsoft claims the feature was built with the help of graphic designers and takes into account the content of the image. A Microsoft blog post about Designer claims that “if the visual contains a natural scene, Designer can zoom, crop and frame it. But if the image contains a chart, it focuses in on the relevant region to ensure the important data is highlighted.”

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When you insert an image into a slide, the Design Ideas panel offers suggestions for the best layouts to use. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Note that like Smart Lookup, Designer requires you to enable Microsoft’s intelligent services feature. If you haven’t already enabled it to use Smart Lookup or another feature, you can enable it by going to the Design tab on the Ribbon, clicking the Design Ideas button all the way to the right, and, when asked for your permission to turn on “connected experiences,” selecting Turn On.

Add new types of charts

In PowerPoint (as well as Excel and Word) for Microsoft 365/Office 365, you get eight new types of charts you can add to documents: Treemap, Sunburst, Waterfall, Histogram, Pareto, Box & Whisker, Funnel and Map. Each provides a unique way to display data visually. See our Excel for Office 365 cheat sheet for details about the new chart types, including what each one looks like and what type of data it’s best suited for.

To insert any of the new chart types (or any other chart) in a document, select Insert > Chart from the Ribbon or click the chart icon in the area that appears when you create a new slide — it’s in the box that also lets you add text, tables, graphics, and other content. Either way, you’ll be shown the full gallery of charts you can insert. Make a selection and click OK, and it appears in your document with placeholder data; at the same time a pop-up window appears that looks like a mini Excel spreadsheet. Enter or edit the data, or else click the Edit in Excel button to open it up in Excel and edit it there.

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When you insert a chart, a window where you can edit the data pops up. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Note that the Pareto chart does not show up in the main list of chart types. To insert one, you’ll have to first select Histogram from the list of chart types, and at the top of the screen that appears, select the option to the right, Pareto.

Morph from one slide to the next

This feature lets you show motion in transitions and inside slides, but without having to use the Animations tab. To use it, duplicate an existing slide: Select the slide, then, on the Home tab, click the down arrow next to New Slide and select Duplicate Selected Slides.

Then make changes to that duplicate, such as shrinking an element or elements in it, making them bigger, moving them to new locations, and/or rotating them. Now select Morph from the Transitions tab, and PowerPoint automatically creates an animated transition between the slides. Onscreen, they look like a single slide morphing.

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Collaborate in real time

An important feature in PowerPoint Microsoft 365/Office 365 for those who work with others is real-time collaboration that lets people work on presentations together from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Microsoft calls this “co-authoring.”

Note that in order to use co-authoring, the presentation must be stored in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online, and you must be logged into your Microsoft 365/Office 365 account. Also, co-authoring works in PowerPoint only if you have AutoSave turned on. To do it, move the AutoSave slider at the top left of the screen to On.

To collaborate on a document, open it, then click the Share button in the upper-right part of the screen. The “Send link” window opens. Enter the email addresses of the people with whom you want to collaborate and type in a message if you want.

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Here’s how you invite others to collaborate in PowerPoint. (Click image to enlarge it.)

By default, the people you share the document with can edit the document, but you can give them read-only access by clicking Anyone with the link can edit just above the input box, and on the “Link settings” screen that appears, uncheck Allow editing. From that screen you can also set an expiration date for the sharing link and set a password that people to whom you’ve send the link will need to access the spreadsheet. (If you use a business, enterprise, or education edition of Office, your IT department may have set up different default sharing permissions and options.)

In the “Send link” window, you can alternatively copy a link to the file and send that yourself instead of having PowerPoint send it for you, or send the link through Outlook. A final option is to send a copy of the presentation instead of the link, either as a PowerPoint presentation or as a PDF, but that option doesn’t allow live collaboration.

When you’re done, click the Send button.

To begin collaboration: When the email recipient gets your invitation to collaborate, they click a button or link to open the document, which opens in PowerPoint Online in a web browser rather than in the PowerPoint desktop client. They can either edit or read it in PowerPoint Online, depending on the permissions you granted, or click Open in Desktop App and use it from the PowerPoint desktop client.

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Each collaborator on a shared PowerPoint file gets a different-colored icon.

Different colored icons identify the different people working on the document. Hover your mouse over each icon to see their names. You’ll be able to see the changes they make, and they see yours.

You can do more than see each other’s work. Everyone can make comments, and others can respond to them, live. To make a comment, right-click an area and select Comment from the menu that appears. The Comments pane appears. Type in your comment and click the arrow at the bottom of the comment, and everyone can see it. They can then respond, so that comments are threaded, making it easy to follow conversations.

You can open and close the Comments pane by clicking the Comments button towards the top right of the screen. From the pane, you can review people’s comments and make comments of your own.

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Comments appear in a pane to the right. (Click image to enlarge it.)

If you want a co-worker who isn’t actively collaborating on the presentation to know you need their input on one of your comments, in the comment type @ and the first few letters of the person’s name, then choose their name from the list that appears. When you click the arrow to post the comment, they’ll get an email telling them they were @mentioned and linking to the comment in the presentation.

Be aware that how well real-time collaboration works depends on the strength of your internet connection. On slow or flaky connections, you won’t immediately see edits that other people make and they won’t see yours immediately — there will be a lag. So it’s always best, when possible, to have the strongest connection possible when collaborating.

Use AutoSave as a safety net while you work

Worried about losing your work on a presentation because you forgot to constantly save it? Worry no more. AutoSave automatically saves your files for you, so you won’t have to worry about system crashes, power outages, PowerPoint crashes, and similar problems. Be aware, though, that it works only on documents that are stored in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online.

You may think you’re already protected against these problems because of the AutoRecover feature built into earlier versions of Office. But AutoSave is significantly different and better than AutoRecover. AutoRecover doesn’t save your files in real time, so it’s easy for you to lose work. Instead, every several minutes it saves an AutoRecover file that you can try to recover after a crash. But this feature doesn’t always work — for example, if you don’t properly open Office after the crash, or if the crash doesn’t meet Microsoft’s definition of a crash. And Microsoft notes, “AutoRecover is only effective for unplanned disruptions, such as a power outage or a crash. AutoRecover files are not designed to be saved when a logoff is scheduled or an orderly shutdown occurs.” And the files aren’t saved in real time, so you’ll lose several minutes of work even if all goes as planned.

AutoSave is turned on by default in PowerPoint for Microsoft 365/Office 365 for .pptx files stored in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint Online. To turn it off (or back on again), use the AutoSave button on the top left of the screen. If you want AutoSave to be off for all files by default, select File > Options > Save and uncheck the box marked “AutoSave OneDrive and SharePoint Online files by default on PowerPoint.”

Using AutoSave may require some rethinking of your workflow. Many people are used to creating new presentations based on existing ones by opening the existing file, making changes to it, and then using Save As to save the new version under a different name, leaving the original file intact. Be warned that doing this with AutoSave enabled will save your changes in the original file. Instead, Microsoft suggests opening the original file and immediately selecting File > Save a Copy (which replaces Save As when AutoSave is enabled) to create a new version.

If AutoSave does save unwanted changes to a file, you can always use the Version History feature described next to roll back to an earlier version.

Review or restore earlier versions of a presentation

Another useful feature you should know about is Version History, which lets you go back to previous versions of a file, review them, and copy and paste from an older file to your existing one. You can also restore an entire old version.

To use it, with a file open, click the file name at the top of the screen. A drop-down menu appears with the location of the file and a Version History section. Click Version History, and the Version History pane appears on the right side of the screen with a list of the previous versions of the file, including the time and date they were saved.

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Scrolling through previous versions of a presentation.

Click any older version, and that version appears in a new window. Scroll through the version and copy any content you want. You can also overwrite your existing presentation with the earlier version or save the earlier version in a separate file.

Version History works best when used in conjunction with AutoSave. You can use it without AutoSave, but it’s not as useful because you don’t get as many saved versions to go back to.

Use Zoom to present nonsequentially

Ever wish you could jump around in your presentation, showing your slides in nonsequential order? The new Zoom feature does this by creating a kind of visual shortcuts table that lets you quickly zoom from one section to another — handy in case you want to go back to a previous slide or skip over a section of your presentation.

When you’re in a presentation, select Insert > Zoom. You get a choice of three different kinds of Zoom:

  • Summary Zoom: This lets you create a visual summary of your presentation. You select the slides you want included in the summary. Each of those slides becomes the beginning of a section of the presentation. When you’re giving a presentation, you can click a thumbnail on the Summary Zoom slide to go to the beginning slide of a section.
  • Section Zoom: If you’ve already created sections in your presentation, when you choose Section Zoom you’ll see those sections. Choose which you want to put on your Section Zoom slide. Then when you’re giving a presentation, click any thumbnail to jump to that section.
  • Slide Zoom: This lets you jump from a slide to any other slide in the presentation. It’s generally best used for short presentations without many sections. After you click Slide Zoom, you select which slides you want to be able to jump to, and they’ll show up in a Slide Zoom slide. Click any slide to jump to it.
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Here’s how to insert a Summary Zoom slide, with thumbnails of your entire presentation. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Other useful PowerPoint for Microsoft 365/Office 365 features

PowerPoint for Microsoft 365/Office 365 has several more useful features. Although they’re not as significant as the other features we’ve covered here, they’re worth knowing about.

Insert 3D models: This visual trick lets you show full three-dimensional details of an object. Select Insert > 3D Models and choose the 3D model you want to insert, either from your computer or from an online Microsoft library. Once it’s inserted, you can tilt or rotate the model any way you want during your presentation.

Text highlighter: Here’s a simple way to draw people’s attention to specific pieces of text: Use the new text highlighter to choose different colors to emphasize different portions of your presentation. It’s the same highlighter that Word has had for some time. To do it, select the text you want to highlight, then choose Home > Text Highlight Color.

Easier background removal: After inserting a picture, you can remove its background as a way to focus more on the photo’s subject or a detail. In earlier versions of PowerPoint you could remove backgrounds but had to use the drawing tools to select and fine-tune the item you wanted to keep; now the process is more automated. To do it, select the picture whose background you want to remove, then select Picture Format > Remove Background.

Royalty-free images: To get access to thousands of royalty-free images, icons, and stickers, go to Insert > Pictures > Stock Images and then select from Stock Images, Cutout People, Icons, or Stickers.

Use a Bluetooth-enabled pen to control a presentation: If you’ve got a Bluetooth pen like the one that comes with a Surface device, you can use its button as a clicker to move to the next slide or a previous one. First pair the pen with your computer. Then go to Windows 10’s Settings app and select Devices > Pen & Windows Ink. Under Pen Shortcuts, check the box next to “Allow apps to override the shortcut button behavior.” A single click will now move to the next slide in a presentation, and holding down the button will move one slide backward in the presentation.

Handy keyboard shortcuts

Using keyboard shortcuts is one of the best ways to accomplish tasks quickly in any version of PowerPoint Microsoft 365/Office 365. You can even use them to navigate the Ribbon. For instance, pressing Alt-H takes you to the Home tab, and Alt-G takes you to the Design tab. (For help finding specific commands on the Ribbon, see our PowerPoint for Microsoft 365 Ribbon quick reference.)

But there are many other keyboard shortcuts to help you accomplish a vast array of tasks in PowerPoint. We’ve listed the ones we’ve found the most useful below. Want even more shortcuts? Microsoft’s Office site has comprehensive lists of shortcuts for creating and delivering PowerPoint presentations.

Useful PowerPoint keyboard shortcuts

Don’t forget to download our PowerPoint for Microsoft 365 Ribbon quick reference!

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