If you spend all day in PowerPoint, these 8 PowerPoint hacks will completely change the way you work.
More than any other profession of which I am aware, Management Consultants are obsessed with PowerPoint efficiency. Often under tight deadlines, consultants at places like Bain, McKinsey, and BCG have to find creative ways to churn out slides in a matter of minutes, using whatever PowerPoint wizardry they can conjure. Most often that means using a simple keyboard shortcut, repeated hundreds of times throughout the day. But other times it’s more about “the art of the possible”, and knowing the features available to you as slide creator.
In this post I’ll be covering the 8 absolutely best PowerPoint shortcuts I’ve learned throughout my career as a consultant turned MBA turned corporate strategist turned PowerPoint instructor. I’ll start with some basic ones, then build on each to show you how the usefulness of each compounds as you combine them together.
Important note: if you haven’t already make sure you download our Top 50 PowerPoint Shortcuts cheat sheet. It’s a list of our 50 best keyboard shortcuts for PowerPoint ranked and organized for maximum clarity.
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PowerPoint Hack #1 – Quick Copy
The very first hack on our list is a keyboard shortcut that allows you to quickly copy objects on a slide. It’s really simple. All you need to do is just hold the control key and click on the object you want to copy, then just drag it away.
This might not seem like a big deal; I’m sure you already know how to copy objects (in fact there are multiple ways). But remember that although this is a very small action, it’s something you’ll do over and over, so learning how to do it quickly can really pay dividends.
If you’re really serious about improving your slide building speed your underlying goal should be to use whatever you already have on the slide, rather than going up to the ribbon each time to add new objects like boxes or text. Over time this is really going to save you a lot of time.
PowerPoint Hack #2 – Move Objects in a Straight Line
This one is similar to the copy shortcut except this time you’ll just hold shift and drag the object away, and instead of copying the object it will move the object in a straight line.
But the real power with this shortcut comes when you combine it with the first one. Essentially this lets you copy something like a box and put it directly below the original.
This probably seems pretty boring still. But stick with me, it’s about to get more interesting…
PowerPoint Hack #3 – Repeat Commands
Now that you can copy objects in a straight line really quickly you’re ready for hack number three, which is to use the F4 key to repeat commands. For example, if I decide I want to change one of my boxes to green I can do that by selecting the box, then moving my cursor up to the ribbon and selecting a green shape fill. But then when I want to change the next object to green, I can just select it and then hit the F4 key.
This is helpful enough but check out what happens when we combine all three of the shortcuts we’ve learned to actually start building a slide. Let’s say I’m trying to build a slide with four subtitle boxes on the left. Once I have my first box in place I can just hold Control and Shift then click and drag it down to make my second box. But then after copying the box I can hit F4, and PowerPoint is going to copy the boxes down and also space them all evenly apart.
So already in just a few seconds I’ve got a main chunk of my slide completed and it’s already formatted and spaced exactly how I want. Okay but hang on, it’s about to get even better…
PowerPoint Hack #4 – Ribbon Shortcuts
The next hack is to use ribbon shortcuts, which can help you format shapes and objects really quickly. The ribbon is the bar of commands at the top of PowerPoint where you’ve got most everything you need. For example in the home tab you can change the size of your font, or in the insert tab you can add new objects like a box or a table.
This is probably all stuff you already know. But what’s genius about the way Microsoft has set this all up, is you can actually access all of these commands with your keyboard without having to memorize anything – which can really save you a lot of time.
All you have to do is hit the Alt key followed by the letter for the tab you’re trying to open, then the letter for the command you’re trying to use. For example, here is the process I would follow to change the font color: Alt –> H –> FC.
Now before you fall asleep because this is the world’s most boring hack, let me show you how much time it can save you. Let’s say I want to take one of the boxes on my slide and turn it into a regular text box with bullet points.
First I’ll copy the original box over while holding Control and Shift, then I’ll just use the commands in my ribbon to change the box (I’ll need to change other things too like the font color, shape fill, and shape outline). But instead of using my mouse to come up to the ribbon every time, I’m just going to use my ribbon shortcuts.
This might look like I’m going lightening fast but what I’m doing is actually really simple. I’m just following the shortcuts it shows me when I hit the Alt key. And let me reassure you, getting to this level is not hard at all.
So now I can combine all of the shortcuts together to put together the meat of my slide really quickly:
But hang on, it’s about to get even better…
PowerPoint Hack #5 – Copy and Paste Formatting
This next hack is probably my absolute favorite of the bunch because it’s gotten me out of a lot of sticky situations. The hack is copy and paste formatting, and just like it sounds this lets you copy the formatting of one object onto another object.
Let’s say I decided I wanted it change one of these boxes into a set of bullet points, like what you see in the two columns on the right. First I’ll just select the bullet points, hit Control + Shift + C and then select the box and hit Control + Shift + V.
And check that out – the box is no longer a box, it’s a set of bullet points. I can’t tell you how helpful this really is, especially when you start doing multiple objects at once.
Another situation where this is really helpful is when you’re trying to adjust the formatting to look the exact same on every object, but for some reason the formatting of the objects look a little different from each other. Maybe the margins are off, or the line spacing is different, or the font size is off by half a point.
Rather than trying to find and fix what’s different, you can just copy the formatting from one object, and paste it onto the other. Then magically the formatting for all the objects is the exact same. Seriously, this will really save you in a pinch
PowerPoint Hack #6 – Align and Distribute
With the slide in place lets say we wanted to make it 5 rows instead of the current four. Easy enough right? We just select the entire bottom row and drag it down using hacks #1 and #2 from earlier.
Well, obviously that creates a problem because not only is there not enough room down at the bottom of the slide, but now the spacing between the boxes is all off. To fix this we’ll need to use the distribute command, which is going to allow us to take the boxes and distribute them evenly. To do that select all the boxes you want to distribute, then go up to the home tab, then Arrange, down to Align, and select Distribute Vertically.
See how the spacing between each of these is perfect now? Now we can do the same for the second two rows but this time using the ribbon shortcuts. I’ll hit Alt, H, G, A… then select V to distribute these vertically. Then I’ll do the same thing for the last column only this time I’ll do it at normal speed.
Taking it a step further, let’s pretend that one of the boxes was slightly sticking out. To align them all in a straight line I could just follow the same path with my ribbon shortcuts, but then instead of using the distribute command, I could select L for Align Left. Now all the boxes are perfectly aligned and distributed.
So now we have five rows like we want instead of four, and they’re all evenly distributed and aligned and I can sleep peacefully at night knowing everything is placed where it should be.
PowerPoint Hack #7 – Group and Ungroup Objects
Now I’m going to show you how to speed up that process just a little bit. Then we have one more mega hack at the end and we’ll be done.
It was kind of a pain to have to distribute each of these columns individually. I’d rather just distribute all the rows at once and save myself some time. The way to do this is by using the group command. Basically what that does is it allows you to treat a bunch of objects as one single object. What that’s going to let me do is select an entire row, group it together – which you can do by hitting control G – then distribute the whole thing at once.
There’s a whole lot more you can do with the group command that I can’t cover here but it really is a neat shortcut that will significantly help your slide building (to learn all the ins and outs check out our Advanced PowerPoint course).
PowerPoint Hack #8 – Quick Access Toolbar (QAT)
That brings me to the final hack – the quick access toolbar or the QAT. Remember back when we were using ribbon shortcuts to align and distribute objects (you know like 1 minute ago)?
Commands like that are great but sometimes can be a hassle because sometimes you have to hit 4-5 keys to get to the command you want. This is where the QAT comes in handy. It basically allows you take whatever command you want and create a really simple shortcut for it.
Let’s take the distribute command for example. If I go there with my mouse I can right click on the command and then add it to the quick access toolbar which is the row of commands at the very top of the screen that’s always showing no matter what ribbon tab you’re on.
So when I need to distribute vertically I can just click on the icon I need in the QAT. But then not only that, I can access it just like I do my ribbon shortcuts by hitting the Alt key, and then whatever number shows up. In this case rather than having to hit Alt H G A V, I can just hit Alt 5 to distribute my objects.
Once you’ve customized your QAT how you want you can cut your slide building time in half. The trick is to add commands that you use often, but are also a little tricky to get to with the mouse. Which is why a lot of people like to add the Align and Distribute commands.
With over 1,000 keyboard shortcuts available, PowerPoint is a very “hackable” piece of software. If you find yourself building presentations day in and day out, learning even just a few of these hacks can really save you time. Start with the 8 I’ve described today and you’ll see a significant boost in your productivity. Then be sure to download the Top 50 PowerPoint Shortcuts cheat sheet for some more easy-to-memorize hacks.
You can watch a video version of this article on YouTube.