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PowerPoint Hacks for Investment Banking and Consulting

Investment bankers and consultants spend countless hours in PowerPoint and efficiency means the difference between leaving early and pulling all-nighters

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Because pretty much everyone has used PowerPoint before, many people consider themselves fairly competent when it comes to throwing some slides together and calling it a day.

But if you’re one of the over 500 million professionals that use PowerPoint every day for your job, having superior PowerPoint productivity and efficiency tips up your sleeve will boost your employability and professionalism and will help you stand out among your peers.

So, what are some of the tips and tricks that Investment Bankers and Consultants — two of the groups who have practically turned PowerPoint into a competitive sport — have learned to make getting their jobs done that much more efficient? We’ve broken it down into five major areas you’ll need to master to level-up and become the PowerPoint authority in your office.

5 Keys You’ll Need to Master to Become a PowerPoint Guru:

  1. Stop wasting time with formatting by optimizing your QAT
  2. Hit your top speed with shortcuts
  3. Make every slide polished and professional by mastering alignments
  4. Show up all your coworkers by demystifying tables
  5. Learn how to seamlessly integrate data into your slides from outside sources

When you’ve finished this article, you’ll be able to:

  1. Update and edit slides that take your colleagues hours to make in half the time or less
  2. Use keyboard shortcuts for everything—even commands that don’t have shortcuts
  3. Know that every slide that leaves your desk is perfectly, professionally aligned and formatted

Key #1: Formatting like a power user

If you are using PowerPoint for pitching clients and creating client deliverables, 40% or more of your time in PowerPoint will be spent formatting things in your slide. That’s because everything in PowerPoint requires multiple levels of formatting, all of which regularly change as your project progresses and you switch between clients.

Take a simple rectangle for example, it has 6 basic levels of formatting you are responsible for: 1. Shape fill color; 2. Shape outline color; 3. Shape outline weight; 4. Font style; 5. Font size; 6. Font color

On top of that, a rectangle can also be formatted with gradients, transparencies, dashed outlines, shape effects, and more.

How do you set yourself up as the PowerPoint authority in your office? The answer lies in the Quick Access Toolbar.

But at a minimum, if your pitch book contains 100 rectangles, that means you are responsible for making up to 600 formatting adjustments. Then you throw in lines, text boxes, charts, tables and pictures, and you can see why updating a pitch book or client deliverable, can take you all night long to finish.

That’s why knowing how to format like a "power user" will make you the PowerPoint authority in your office, or at the very least on your project team.

So, how do you set yourself up as the PowerPoint authority in your office? The trick is to set up the Quick Access Toolbar with all of your formatting options.

What is the Quick Access Toolbar?

The Quick Access Toolbar (or QAT) is a customizable band of commands that sits either above or below your PowerPoint ribbon.

A quick operating system note, the QAT is only available for PC based versions of Microsoft Office. If you’re a Mac user, you’re out of luck.

There is no way to hide the QAT, so yours is in one of these two places.

By customizing the QAT with your most frequently-used formatting commands, you can then use your mouse or Alt shortcuts (more about that later) to format things like a pro.

The beauty of the QAT is it only takes a couple of minutes to set up, and then you can use it forever for all of your presentations.

If your Quick Access Toolbar looks like the default QAT below, get excited. You are about to learn how to save yourself a ton of time in PowerPoint!

Adding commands to your Quick Access Toolbar

To add a command to your Quick Access Toolbar, simply:

  1. Right-click the command in your PowerPoint Ribbon
  2. Select Add to Quick Access Toolbar

You’ll then see the command added to the end of the QAT.

The formatting commands I recommend adding in PowerPoint are: 1. Font Color; 2. Shape fill; 3. Shape outline weight.

Note: To add the shape fill and shape outline weight commands, you’ll first need to insert a shape and select it to open up up the Shape Format tab, as pictured below:

Adding commands to your QAT is the first step. The next step for taking your formatting skills to the next level is to strategically arrange the commands on your QAT.

Strategically arranging QAT commands

To arrange commands on your QAT, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Customize Quick Access Toolbar command
  2. Select More options 

As a result, the PowerPoint Options dialog box opens up, drilled into the Quick Access Toolbar options.

This is where you can see what is already on your QAT and all the commands you can add to your QAT.

While right-clicking the commands in your Ribbon is typically easier, you can also use this dialog box to add and remove commands from your QAT. This is especially helpful for commands that are hard to find or don’t exist in your Ribbon.

To rearrange commands on your QAT:

  1. Select a Command in your QAT window
  2. Use the Move Up / Move Down arrows to rearrange your commands
  3. Click OK when you're finished

In the picture below you can see I’ve arranged the formatting commands into the first three positions of my Quick Access Toolbar.

Using the Quick Access Toolbar

With your QAT all setup, you can now use those commands by either:

  1. Clicking the commands with your mouse
  2. Using your QAT Guide Shortcuts (see Key #2)

Key #2: Being really, REALLY fast (Shortcuts)

 If you’ve ever built a financial model in Excel, you know that the fastest way to be productive is to use shortcuts.This not only speeds up everything you do, but it also keeps you dialed into the task at hand instead of getting distracted, hunting around for things in the Ribbon. When working 60 to 80 hours a week at the office, this can make or break your evening plans.

The same is true when working in PowerPoint. Learning your PowerPoint shortcuts is the fastest way to double productivity when building pitchbooks, reports, or just about anything in the program. That’s because instead of clicking to search through your file tabs and menus like a college student, you can instead hit a few keys and move on to your next task.

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Most people know only a handful of PowerPoint shortcuts, such as Ctrl + S to Save, Ctrl + Z to Undo, Ctrl + Y to Redo and Ctrl + P to Print.

But these types of shortcuts are extremely limited and barely scratch the surface of the different types of shortcuts you can use to fast-track your workflow in PowerPoint.

Here are 3 different types of shortcuts you can use to fast-track anything in PowerPoint, including commands that don’t have a shortcut.

Shortcut Type 1: Menu Guide Shortcuts

Anything in your PowerPoint right-click menus can be shortcutted using a combination of your mouse and keyboard. For example, if you right-click a slide in the thumbnail view, you will see a list of commands, as pictured below.

If you simply hit the underlined letter after right-clicking, you will trigger that command.

Here are a few of the many useful commands you can shortcut using your right-click menu like this:

  1. New Slide (Right-Click, N). Adds a new blank slide to your presentation using the same exact layout of the slide you are currently on.
  2. Duplicate Slide (Right-Click, A). Creates an identical copy of the slide you right-click so that you don’t have to start from scratch for your next slide.
  3. Delete Slide (Right-Click, D). Deletes the slide you are on. This can be faster than clicking a slide and then hitting the Delete key.
  4. Add Section (Right-Click, A). Adds a new section to your presentation, helping you better organize and rearrange the slides in your deck.
  5. Change Layout (Right-Click, L). Allows you to quickly change your layout and have all of your content flow into the proper placeholders.
  6. Reset Slide (Right-Click, R). Reverts all of your placeholder positioning and formatting to that of your Slide Master. So if you accidentally nudge your placeholders out of position or use the wrong formatting, you can easily go back to the template settings.

Shortcut Type 2: Ribbon Guide Shortcuts

Ribbon Guide shortcuts are an alphabetical numbering system that you can use to visually get at any command that exists in the PowerPoint Ribbon.

To activate the numbers system, simply hit the Alt key on your keyboard, as pictured below.

With your Ribbon guides active, you can then navigate through the Ribbon.

For example, if you hit the H key, you will move to the Home tab, with all of the commands there now lit up with newly available keyboard shortcuts, as you can see below.

In this way, you can continue to hit the alphabetical letters and numbers to get at any command in your Ribbon.

For example, hitting Alt, H and then U on your keyboard opens up your bullet point options.

If you want to backtrack through your Ribbon, you can hit the Esc key to walk back one level at a time.

This can be tricky to get used to at first, but once you have it down, you can easily access any command in PowerPoint, even if it doesn’t technically have a shortcut—without memorizing anything.

Shortcut Type 3: Quick Access Toolbar Shortcuts

Once you set up your Quick Access Toolbar with your most frequently used commands (see Key #1 above), you can use your Alt key to quickly access those commands.

To do that, simply hit and let go of the Alt key to turn on your QAT guides, as pictured below.

Then hit the number indicated for the command in order to access it.

In the picture above, hitting 1 on your keyboard pops open the Alignment Tool, with all of its subsequent commands lit up with new shortcut keys, as you can see in the picture below.

This allows you to take a command like the Alignment Tool, which doesn’t have an easy to use shortcut, and make it fast and easy to use.

For example, based on the image above, aligning two shapes to the right would be: Alt, 1, R.

Note: Placing the Alignment Tool in the first position of your QAT is one of the smartest things you can ever do in PowerPoint (see Key #3).

If you are going to be taken seriously by your clients and colleagues, everything on your slides needs to be perfectly aligned.

Key #3: Mastering Your Alignments

Which of these PowerPoint layouts do you think looks more professional?

Obviously, objects in a polished presentation will be perfectly aligned. Thankfully, there's an easy way to do this: PowerPoint has an Alignment Tool command that you can use to perfectly align your objects without any guesswork. On top of that, you can shortcut the command if you set it up in the first position of your Quick Access Toolbar.

To open your Alignment Tool in PowerPoint, simply:

  1. Select an object on your slide
  2. Navigate to the Home tab
  3. Open the Arrange dropdown
  4. Open the Align options
  5. Choose your Alignment direction

Your Alignment Tool is broken into alignments, distributions and alignment options.

Understanding how these different options work can make or break your day at the office, so don’t skip this next part.

While it's not rocket science, understanding the alignments tool isn’t super intuitive the first time through. This is especially true if you don’t understand the crucial but confusing Align to Slide and Align Selected Objects options.

Alignment Options

Align to Slide means that all of your alignments and distributions are based on the outside of your slide (the top, bottom, left and/or right sides).

For example, if you select 3 rectangles and distribute horizontally, the left and right sides of your slide are used as the anchors for your horizontal distribution.

Align Selected Objects means that all your alignments and distributions are based on your selected objects.

For example, if you select 3 rectangles and distribute horizontally, the left side of the leftmost rectangle and the right side of the rightmost rectangle are used as the anchors for the horizontal distribution.

If you get these two alignment options wrong, you might think that your Alignment Tool isn’t working; but you simply don’t have the right setting selected.

As 90% of the time you’ll want to align based on your selected objects, I recommend keeping the Alignment Tool set to Align Selected Objects until you need to align to your slide.

Top, Bottom, Left and Right Alignments

Align Selected Objects
By selecting two or more objects and aligning to the Top, Bottom, Left or Right, the most extreme positioned object is used as the anchor shape that all your other objects are aligned to.

Align to Slide
When selecting two or more objects and aligning Top, Bottom, Left or Right, the edges of your slide are used as the anchor that all your objects are aligned to.

Horizontal and Vertical Distributions

Align Selected Objects If you select 3 or more objects and distribute horizontally or vertically, the two most extreme positioned objects will be used as the anchors that all your other objects will be vertically or horizontally distributed between.

Align to Slide If you select 3 or more objects and distribute horizontally or vertically, the edge of your slide will be used as the anchor that all of your objects will be vertically or horizontally distributed between.

Center and Middle Alignments

These two alignments are easily confused, so for clarity:

  • A center alignment is a horizontal alignment of your objects
  • A middle alignment is a vertical alignment of your objects

And there are two important scenarios to be aware of when you center and middle align objects in PowerPoint.

Scenario #1: Encompassed objects

Align Selected Objects
If you select two or more objects, and the smaller object is 100% within the framework of the larger object, aligning center or middle moves it to the center or middle of the larger object. In this situation, only the smaller object will move.

Align to Slide
If you select two or more objects and middle or center align to your slide, your objects align themselves with the center or middle of the slide.

Scenario #2: Non-encompassed objects

Align Selected Objects
If you select two or more objects, and the smaller object is not 100% within the framework of the larger object, a new total combined area is created, and it’s the middle of that area that is used for the middle or center alignment. In this situation, both the larger and smaller objects will move.

Align to Slide
All your objects will be aligned to the center (horizontally) or middle (vertically) of your slide.

Setting Up the Alignment Tool as a Shortcut

The smartest thing you can do if you use PowerPoint on a daily basis is to set up the Alignment Tool in the first position of your QAT. That’s because it will make an otherwise hard to reach command that you frequently use into a fast and easy Alt driven keyboard shortcut.

Step #1 - Add the Alignment Tool to your QAT

To add the Alignment Tool to your Quick Access Toolbar, simply:

  1. Navigate to the Home Tab
  2. Open the Arrange dropdown
  3. Right-click the Alignment Tool
  4. Select Add to Quick Access Toolbar

Doing so adds the command to the end of your Quick Access Toolbar as you can see in the picture above.

Step #2 - Open the More Commands dialog box

To customize the arrangement of your QAT, simply:

  1. Click the Customize Quick Access Toolbar command
  2. Click More Commands

Step #3 - Move the Alignment Tool into the first position

To put the Alignment Tool in the first position of your QAT, simply:

  1. Select the Align Objects command
  2. Use the Up Arrow to click it to the top of your QAT
  3. Click OK

If you followed along, back in the Normal View, the Alignment tool should now be sitting in the first position on your QAT.

Once you have the Alignment Tool shortcut set up like this, you can shortcut all of your alignment options using the following keystrokes.

The Alignment Tool shortcuts are:

  • Alt, 1, L - Align Left
  • Alt, 1, C - Align Center
  • Alt, 1, R - Align Right
  • Alt, 1, T - Align Top
  • Alt, 1, M - Align Middle
  • Alt, 1, B - Align Bottom
  • Alt, 1, H - Distribute Horizontally
  • Alt, 1, V - Distribute Vertically
  • Alt, 1, A - Align to Slide
  • Alt, 1, O - Align Selected Objects

Key #4: Working Smarter with Tables

In PowerPoint, tables can simultaneously be your best friend for presenting financial data, and also your worst formatting enemy. That’s because tables behave differently than all other objects in PowerPoint. On top of that, you lose all your Excel formatting when you paste your tables into PowerPoint.

If you don’t know any better, you can waste a tremendous amount of time manually formatting your tables, when PowerPoint can easily do it for you 10x faster.

Here are a few steps to significantly cut down the time you spend formatting your tables in PowerPoint.

PowerPoint Table Shortcuts

Table Shortcut #1: Navigating a table in PowerPoint

Before you worry about formatting your table in PowerPoint, here are some useful table shortcuts and tricks in PowerPoint.

Hitting Tab moves you forward through your PowerPoint table, selecting the entire contents of the cell. If you reach the end of your table, hitting Tab again creates a new table row in PowerPoint.

Hitting Shift + Tab moves you backward through your PowerPoint table, selecting the entire contents of the cell.

Table Shortcut #2: Selecting entire rows and columns

If you hover your mouse cursor on the outside of a table, you can select an entire row or column of information.

You can also click and drag to select multiple rows and columns at the same time.

Table Shortcut #3: Deleting vs. backspacing rows and columns

Selecting an entire row or column and hitting the Backspace key deletes the entire row or column from a table.

For example, selecting a column in a three-column table and hitting Backspace leaves you with a two-column table.

This is a fast way to remove rows and columns tables in PowerPoint.

Selecting an entire row or column and hitting the Delete key deletes the contents of the row or column, but does not delete the row or column itself.

For example, selecting a column in a three-column table and hitting Delete, all the contents of the third column are removed, but you are still left with a three-column table.

This is useful when you want to remove the contents of your table, without changing the number of rows or columns.

Table Shortcut #4: Resizing and scaling a PowerPoint table

When resizing a table in PowerPoint, you don’t want to just click and drag it with your mouse. If you do, you will end up with a poorly resized PowerPoint table as pictured below.

You can avoid this by simply using the Shift key to resize and scale your table.

Using the Shift key and dragging the white circular resizing handles, everything will resize and scale properly, saving you a lot of unnecessary formatting and adjusting, as you can see in the picture below.

Table Shortcut #5: Automatically collapse a column

Instead of trying to manually click and drag to resize your column widths, you can automatically collapse them using your mouse.

To automatically collapse a column width, simply hover your mouse over the right-column border that you want to collapse and double-click it with your mouse.

When beginning to format a table in PowerPoint, it’s always best to start with a Table Style first. This ensures you don’t waste time formatting the odds and ends of your table when PowerPoint can automatically do it for you.

Note: You can only collapse a column width in this way. You cannot collapse a row height using this double-click trick.

Automatically Set the Table Style Formatting First

To set a Table Style for your table, simply:

  1. Select your table
  2. Navigate to the Table Design tab
  3. Open your Table Style Options
  4. Click on the Table Style you want to apply

This allows you to instantly move from a non-formatted table to a formatted table in just a few clicks.

Note: You can preview what the table will look like with a style applied to it by hovering on the style, before clicking on it.

Set Your Favorite Table Style Formatting as Default

A common beginner's mistake in PowerPoint when working with tables is trying to manually band the table rows or columns. The reason this is a mistake is that you can easily do this automatically by ticking either Banded Rows or Banded Columns inside the Table Style Options in the Table Design tab of the Ribbon.

Now that you know the power of using the Table Style formats in PowerPoint, you can save yourself even more time by setting your favorite style as the default formatting.

To set a default table formatting style, with your table selected, simply:

  1. Navigate to the Table Design tab
  2. Right-click your Table Style
  3. Select Set as Default

Setting a default table style means that any new table you create or copy and paste in from Excel will start with the table style you set as the default.

Here are a few key points to keep in mind about setting a default table style:

  1. Only the Table Style is set as default. None of the Table Style Options you selected are carried into the default formatting. You will still need to apply these to your tables individually.
  2. Your default table style will only be applied to new tables you create or copy and paste into your presentation. Any existing table will not be affected.
  3. The default table style you set is only applicable to your current presentation. None of the tables in other presentations are affected, and none of your other default table styles are affected.
  4. You can change your default table style at any time for future tables you add or copy and paste into that presentation.

Automatically Distributing Row and Column Spacing

Another place you can lose a lot of time when formatting your tables in PowerPoint is in trying to manually distribute your rows or columns.

This is another time when PowerPoint can help you out, with its distribution commands in the Table Layout tab.

You have two options for distributing your table rows and columns:

  1. Select your table and distribute all your rows and columns at once
  2. Click and select the specific rows or columns you want to distribute

Key #5: Formatting Your Charts 10x Faster

Now that you know how to handle your tables in PowerPoint, let’s talk about charts.

Charts are the most complicated object class, because they have the most individual elements, and all of them can take multiple levels of formatting. If you aren’t careful, formatting the charts in your presentations and pitch books to look the same can take you hours, instead of just minutes.

As you can see in the image above, every element of a chart can be formatted, including (but not limited to):

  • The axis; The axis labels; The chart area; The chart title; The legend; The data labels; The data series

Standardize charts by setting up a chart template and using it to format all your charts in Word, Excel and PowerPoint

And a lot of these charting elements can take multiple levels of formatting like shape fills, shape outline colors, shape outline weights, font styles, font sizes, gap widths, etc.

On top of that, once you format all the individual pieces of your chart, it’s next to impossible to figure out how everything is individually formatted. This makes it challenging to standardize all your charts with the same formatting, without duplicating and copying and pasting your data.

Instead of making this common mistake, you can set up a chart template and use it to format all your charts in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

If you use lots of charts, this charting trick will save you from spending hundreds of hours over your career unnecessarily formatting charts in PowerPoint, Word, and Excel.

Chart Formatting Step #1. Format your chart EXACTLY the way you want it

As a first step, format your chart exactly the way you want it for however many data series you will be using. And don’t hold back, because you are going to use your formatting as a template for your future charts, so take the time now to go the distance with your formatting to get it exactly the way you want it.

The last thing you want to do is get sloppy with your template and have to immediately update it.

Formatting your chart exactly the way you want it ensures that you can seamlessly use it for any chart in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Note: If you already have a chart with all the formatting you want, you can skip this step, and simply use the chart you already have.

Chart Formatting Step #2. Save your formatted chart as a Chart Template

To save your chart formatting as a Chart Template, simply:

  1. Select your chart on the outside edge
  2. Select Save As Template
  3. Give your template a unique File Name
  4. Click Save

Note: If you don’t see the Save As Template option in your right-click menu, you probably right-clicked a data series within your chart. Try right-clicking the plot area of your chart or first selecting your chart as an object by selecting its outside edge.

Clicking Save, your chart formatting is then saved so that you can then apply to any chart in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint.

You can save as many chart templates as you like in this way as Chart Template Files.

Note: All of your Chart Template Files are saved as to your own personal version of Microsoft Office. They are not saved as part of your presentation. To share your Chart Template Files with a client or colleague, you’ll need to copy and paste the files from your computer to theirs.

Chart Formatting Step #3. Apply your chart template to your other charts

To apply a saved Chart Template in Word, Excel or PowerPoint, simply:

  1. Select your chart
  2. Navigate to the Chart Design tab
  3. Select Change Chart type
  4. Select the Templates folder
  5. Choose your Template
  6. Click OK

Clicking OK, all of the chart formatting you saved as a template.

In this way, you can now cycle through your pitch book or proposal and standardize all your charting formatting using your template.

Tying it All Together

If you master these five areas of PowerPoint, you are well on your way to becoming a true PowerPoint Guru.

To learn even more about how to level up your PowerPoint skills, take the course used in productivity training programs at top financial institutions and business schools: The Wall Street Prep PowerPoint Crash Course has everything you need to build better pitchbooks and fly through slide decks with lightning-fast efficiency.

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