Not all of the goodness PowerPoint offers comes in the original box. You can choose from a plethora of free and low-cost add-ins and tools that make PowerPoint even more useful. These software tools can help you, for example, make presentations that combine your PowerPoint slides with videos, still images and audio in a paneled interface. Some can format your presentation and find images for you, and others help you browse presentations in nonlinear ways.
In short, these add-ins and templates make designing a PowerPoint presentation easier on you, and they can help you make a more dynamic presentation for your audience. To get you started, I've rounded up some of the best PowerPoint add-ins and templates available. Some are from Microsoft and others from third-party providers.
Essential PowerPoint Tools
Make Nonlinear Presentations with PptPlex
PptPlex is an add-in from Microsoft that lets you make and interact with your presentations in a nonlinear way. PptPlex lets you group slides into sections and then zoom in and out of the slides and scroll around from section to section in any direction. The add-in works with PowerPoint 2007 and 2010, and you can download PptPlex here. You can read more about using PptPlex in our article, How to Create PowerPoint Presentations with Pizzazz.
Visual Bee for PowerPoint
Visual Bee is a PowerPoint design tool, and it can do the work of designing your PowerPoint presentation for you. Visual Bee installs in PowerPoint as a tab and works from within the software. If, for example, you have a set of slides that contain only text, click Enhance Presentation and Visual Bee provides you with a set of custom-designed templates from which to choose.
Figure 1: Visual Bee can illustrate and format a PowerPoint presentation automatically for you, saving hours of work.
Once you select the style of the presentation you want, Visual Bee applies it to your slides and finds images to illustrate each slide. You can choose an alternate image if desired, and you can configure animations and transitions for the slides, too.
If you want to create a great-looking presentation that looks like you spent hours designing it, but really took only a few clicks, then Visual Bee is a must-have tool. The free version limits you to 10 slides, and it adds the Visual Bee logo to each slide; it's useful for trying out the product. In practice, though, you should upgrade to the Standard Version ($39.90 a year) to lose both the Visual Bee logo and the slide limitation.
Office Timeline 2010
Office Timeline is the go-to tool when you want to illustrate projects and events that occur over time. A free download, Office Timeline 2010 operates within both PowerPoint and Microsoft Word (versions 2007 and 2010 of each program).
Figure 2: Office Timeline 2010 is a handy tool for creating timelines in PowerPoint.
Office Timeline installs into PowerPoint as a tab on the ribbon, and it runs using a Wizard interface. To create a new slide with a timeline, click New and then follow the Wizard to select the type of timeline. Next enter the milestones for the timeline and set the intervals. The newly created basic timeline will be added to the presentation as a new slide, and you can then change its formatting using the options in the Office Timeline task pane.
If you need to display time-related data to people who are not familiar with complex tools such as Gantt charts, then Office Timeline can help. The results are easy to read and understand, and they match the look and feel of the new PowerPoint themes so they blend into your presentations very nicely.