Powerpoint is My Multi-tool

PowerPoint is a tool I’ve used extensively – perhaps not always effectively – as a presentation program.  As I’ve tried to use graphical tools to represent information more clearly, it has become something I use more and more regularly.

The Process Map

One example was when I was working with a team that had a process map that they wanted to present on the Web.  We discussed ways of presenting it but one of the core elements was that their non-technical staff would need to maintain it.  At the same time, we weren’t going to build something really complicated to enable that editing so it had to be something that relied on a handful of simple formats.

The first idea I had was something that could be dumped into a PDF or a Flash file using iSpring’s free converter (scroll down to fill out form, don’t click on “Try for Free”), since they had an interactive aspect they’d hoped to incorporate.  In the end, we skipped it and flattened it into PDF.  But it introduced me to the “Trigger” animation.

You can build a slide – add an element, then another – in a linear fashion.  One of the things that has interested me is how to build presentations in a non-linear fashion.  For example, if you were giving a presentation during a trial and you decided to skip slides or wanted to return to a previous, non-consecutive slide, you can use jump links (see this CLE paper).  But triggers allow you to work on a slide and make a particular point active.  In the case of this process map, I added arrows so that, if the user clicked on them, a text box popped up with additional information.

First, I built the slide.  The map was going to be long, so I resized the slide from its normal landscape orientation and size to be portrait but about 30″ long.  Then I layered on all the boxes to represent the map and the supporting text:


Then I selected to animate the grey pop-up boxes.  This works the same as normal – and you can use all the standard animations.  But during this step I also set the trigger.  In this case, I wanted the double arrow on Step 1, when clicked, to activate the grey text accompanying Step 1:


On the timing tab, I indicated I wanted to start the effect on the click of Group 27, which is the object name of that double arrow.  You don’t have to do anything to the object (the double arrow) itself.  The animation function watches for you.

I’m not a big fan of Flash but I liked that these animations were exported in iSpring’s converter.  If you work in an environment where you can use Flash reliably, Powerpoint can be an easy tool to create some interactive tutorials.  Here’s what the Flash looks like (click on the double arrows to show the text, on the text to make it disappear):

The Mind Map

Mind mapping is all the rage and there are dozens of interesting tools for this.  I was trying out Mindmup, which saves directly into your Google Drive account.  It is a very nice mind mapping tool but I found that it was a bit limited in creating the relationships the way I wanted to.  The most significant issue was that I could only extend to the left or right, not up or down.  For example, I had three main areas.  I started one to the left, the second to the right, and then I had to start the third to the right as well.  In my mind, since there wasn’t a relationship between them, I would just as soon had each one facing a different direction.

This image of a MindMup chart is compressed to make the labels as unintelligible as possible. The actual app is quite easy to read and there’s lots of space.

I decided to try this in Powerpoint instead and see if I could come up with something that would work and keep my hierarchies the way I had them in my head.  The “smart” arrows helped a lot, and I was able to make an organizational tree almost as easily as I could with a mind mapping tool.


The PowerPoint chart is, as you can see, also much wider than a typical presentation slide.  It is not intended to become a piece of paper.  With that limit removed, I can create my “sheet” as big as I need and scroll or zoom to see the elements I need.  The screenshot above is from a PDF I generated from the PowerPoint file, making it easy to share with others for feedback.

One Tool or Many?

The bare truth is that I have Powerpoint because I have Microsoft Office.  It is a tool I have used for years.  The challenges for me to add any new tool are (a) cost, (b) time to learn, (c) support by our corporate IT.  If there is a way to take a tool that I already know and get it to work a bit harder, all the better.  These two projects were good reminders that sometimes the software and hardware we have is all we need to get the job done.  We just need to look at it differently.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.