You Can PPT Too! (Part One): How to use Alignment in Powerpoint for Professional Looking Slides

PowerPoint has many interesting and time-saving features. I like to call them Quality of Life (QoL) features. For the most part, these QoL features make working with Powerpoint easier. 

Unfortunately, some of these can be confusing for newcomers. At least, that was how I felt when I starting learning how to do better PPT presentations beyond the default templates. Why not do a mini-series to share some useful PPT tricks I have learned, I thought. And so I bring to you the first part of my "You Can PPT Too!" series. 

Let's start with something simple. Simple and yet, I would often see neglected in presentations. 

How many times have you sat through a presentation, only to have your attention drift away from the presenter because of untidy alignment, like the one on the left below? A little exaggeration on the alignment but it conveys my point. Not only do such minor details distract your audience, but they also convey sloppiness and are generally bad for professional presentations. Let's work out how to tidy up the arrangement, like that on the right. 

Image of 9 rectangular blocks in a Powerpoint slide, left side showing haphazard arrangement while right side showing properly aligned layout
Which one looks better?

Your first impulse may be to manually adjust the objects one by one, using the grid-arrow prompts - it works, but it is also an exercise in patience itself - and sometimes, the result still seems a little off. 

Let's try another method instead, using the "Align" feature in PowerPoint which can be found when you select multiple objects, under Drawing Tools > Format > Arrange. 

Image showing where to locate Align feature in Powerpoint, under Drawing Tools > Format > Arrange
Alignment Feature in Powerpoint

If like me, you tried to select all the objects and start aligning, you may be puzzled by the results, wondering if you encountered some Powerpoint bug, like these below: 

Image showing the improper alignment results using "Align Left" and "Align Top"
This is probably not what you want...

As far as Powerpoint is concerned, it is doing what you told it to - align all the objects to either the topmost or left-most object. That is why the shapes overlapped each other when aligning to the top/left. Obviously this is not the result you want. 

Instead, the proper way to align multiple objects should be to: 

  • Align Top (or Bottom) for the First and Last row 
  • Align Left (or Right) for the First and Last column
  • Distribute Horizontally for each row
  • Distribute Vertically for each column 

The result will be the nicely arranged rows and columns that you wanted. You can also do in reverse - column first, then row. Works with any number of columns and rows. 

Tip: If you find the objects are aligning to the edge of the slide, check that "Align" > "Align Selected Objects" is selected, instead of "Align to Slide". 

If you have objects of different lengths and heights or even different shapes, try experimenting with "Align Middle" (for rows) and "Align Center" (for columns) and see which gives more aesthetically pleasing results to your overall slide presentation.


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