Power Up PowerPoint with Add-ins and Templates

Thursday Oct 4th 2012 by Helen Bradley
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These free or low-cost add-ins and templates give PowerPoint extra features and functionality.

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.

Visual Bee PowerPoint add-in

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).

Office Timeline 2010 PowerPoint add-in

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.

Producer for PowerPoint

Producer for PowerPoint from Microsoft has been around for a number of years. It's a stand-alone tool that gives you extra presentation options for your PowerPoint slide shows. You can download Producer for PowerPoint for free. You will need to complete your PowerPoint presentation before importing it into Producer for PowerPoint, because the tool has no features for working with a PowerPoint slide show as such.

Producer for PowerPoint

Figure 3: Producer for PowerPoint from Microsoft lets you create media-rich presentations incorporating your PowerPoint slides.

To use it, run Producer for PowerPoint and import the slides from your completed PowerPoint presentation. You can then also import other files such as videos, still images and audio and arrange them into a multi-panel presentation. Using Producer for PowerPoint you can, for example, play the slide show in one panel and alongside it play a video of you or someone else speaking about the slides.

Producer for PowerPoint is particularly useful for presentations you want played when you aren't there. The viewer can see not only the slides but also your face as you speak -- much as they would if you were making the presentation face-to-face.

Closed-caption Videos in PowerPoint

STAMP for closed-captioning

Figure 4: Use STAMP to add closed-captioning to videos and audio tracks in your PowerPoint presentation.

You can make your PowerPoint presentations more accessible by using STAMP (Subtitling Text Add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint) to add subtitles or closed captions to the videos and audio streams in your PowerPoint presentations. You can download STAMP for free and, once installed, the add-in appears on the Video and Audio tabs in PowerPoint when you have a media file selected. You can either create the captions using STAMP from within PowerPoint 2010, or you can use it to import an existing caption file.

PowerPoint Templates

There are plenty of places that you can find and download PowerPoint templates on the web. The Microsoft Office website is a good source of PowerPoint templates. Visit the site and click PowerPoint to view the range of templates including some with bold designs and other textured ones. Click on any template to view it in more detail.

Microsoft templates for PowerPoint

Figure 5: Microsoft Office website offers a good range of free PowerPoint templates.

A 5-star rating system gives you a good sense of what other people think about the quality of a particular template. When you find one you like, click Download to send it direct into PowerPoint.

Another site I like is PowerPointStyles. Here you can search for presentation templates by color, style and theme. When you find a presentation you like, click on it to download it. It will download as a PPT file that you can then open in PowerPoint. You may need to enable editing for the template. When you do, save it to disk so you can access it any time in the future.

If you're making PowerPoint presentations on a regular basis, then these tools will be a valuable addition to your PowerPoint toolkit.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her website, HelenBradley.com.

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