PowerPoint Basics for Historians, Part 3


Part 3: Creating Your Own Template

In previous posts in this series, I discussed some general design principles and some ways to ensure smoother delivery of PowerPoint presentations. Today’s post introduces the basic process of building a new PowerPoint template. (Remember, for clarity’s sake, all instructions in this series are written for Windows PC users. For additional instructions from Microsoft, try here.)

Brand-new PowerPoint users often rely on pre-made templates included with the software. They pick a template that looks attractive, add text and maybe some images, and voilà: a slideshow.

I have criticized PowerPoint’s off-the-rack templates already. They include a lot of unnecessary and distracting design elements. Because audiences see the same templates over and over, they turn into clichés. They also encourage bad habits. Pre-made templates seem ideal for displaying lots of text, which presenters will (proverbially) read aloud to the audience.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. With a little experimentation, this alternative will help you create PowerPoint slideshows that fit your unique combination of teaching style, subject matter, and favorite classroom exercises. Even highly experienced PowerPoint users may not realize how easily you can create and save your own template. You can custom-build it with all the specific elements you expect to need in a particular course or subject, then use it over and over just like PowerPoint’s pre-made templates. Here’s how.

Step 1: Using Slide Master View

Before you begin, you need to understand that PowerPoint has different viewing modes. Most of the time, you’re probably using PowerPoint in “Normal View” without thinking about it. To build a new template or change an existing template, however, you will be working in a different mode.

First, open a new blank presentation. (Don’t bother to add any text or other content.) Then go to View > Master Views. The one you want to select is “Slide Master View.” Basically, this viewing mode lets you see the template itself instead of individual slides.

Presentation Views: Normal and Slide Master

When you’re working in Slide Master View, each of the thumbnails you see on the left side of your screen is the “layout” for a different type of slide in your template. (If you’ve ever used PowerPoint, you’re already familiar with at least two layouts because you know that a title slide looks different from the other slides.)

In the thumbnail pane in Slide Master View, the top layout in the list (marked with an arrow in the image below) is actually a general template that controls all the others. Changing an element on this slide (e.g., changing the font of the title) will change the same element in all other layouts too. Nested beneath it, however, are also all the specific layouts, which you can edit independently: Title Slide Layout, Title and Content Layout, Comparison Layout, etc. Each of these layouts is the format for a different type of slide.

PowerPoint Slide Master: Layouts

Each layout has “placeholders” for text, images, and other kinds of content. By adjusting these placeholders—e.g., by changing the font or size of placeholder text, deleting a placeholder, or changing the background of your slide—you will change the formatting for any slides of that type that you make using your template.

To begin designing your custom template in Slide Master View, pick the layouts you think you’ll use regularly for PowerPoint presentations in your course, and adjust them until they look the way you want all the slides of each type to look. (If you’re absolutely sure you won’t need a layout you see in the list, you can delete it entirely to simplify your life.)

Step 2: Creating New Layouts and New Placeholders

So far, you’re editing features that already existed in the default template for a blank PowerPoint presentation. But when I create a custom template for a history course, I also typically want to include some new features that weren’t already included. For example, I like to make a custom layout to show block quotations. Let’s look at how this works.

To create a new custom layout, go to Slide Master > Insert Layout, or right-click in the outline pane on the left of the screen and select “Insert Layout.” This creates a new layout with just a few pre-existing elements on it. If you right-click on the thumbnail, you can select “Rename Layout” to type a new descriptive name for it.

Then, with your new layout selected, add the elements you want, using Slide Master > Insert Placeholder, which gives you a menu of options for types of placeholders to use. Make sure you’re inserting placeholders, not regular text boxes, images, etc.—they would show up on slides exactly as you entered them on the master layout, like something written in permanent ink, instead of being elements you could edit.

ppt3-2b      ppt3-3a

To create a layout for block quotations, for example, I insert a new placeholder text box and enlarge it to fill most of the slide. I delete all levels of formatted placeholder text except one. Then I use the regular font/paragraph tools—the same ones you use in Normal View—to remove the bullet point and make the placeholder text look the way I’d like a block quotation to look. Because I want to make sure I can include a citation, I also create a second, smaller text placeholder underneath the quotation placeholder. That’s where I will write the names of the author and publication when I display the quotation.

With this process, you can create all sorts of custom slide layouts that might be useful for your courses—layouts specifically designed for displaying pictures of archaeological artifacts, for example, or for showing maps, or for posing a multiple-choice question to the whole class, or for displaying an annotated bibliography.

Step 3: Saving a Template

If you’ve followed Steps 1 and 2, you’ve already created your own custom template. Congratulations! If you switch from Master View back to Normal View, you can start creating a new presentation with it already. The crucial final step, however, is to save your new template so that you can use it many times in the future.

If you’re using the newest versions of PowerPoint, go to File > Save As (or Save a Copy, if you’re using Office 365) > Browse. If you’re using older versions of PowerPoint from Office 2010 or Office 2007, go to File > Save As. Either way, in the dialog box that opens, type a distinctive name for your template and then select “Save as type: PowerPoint Template.” Note: A PowerPoint Template (with a file name ending .potx) is a different type of file from a PowerPoint Presentation (.pptx). Then click “Save.”

Saving a Custom PowerPoint Template

This process automatically saves your new template in the computer’s folder for Microsoft Office templates. From now on, you can use your custom template to create new PowerPoint presentations. When you create a new presentation and PowerPoint asks what template you’d like, you can simply choose your custom-built template instead of one of the pre-made options. Depending on your version of the software, it will be listed under “Custom,” “Personal,” or “My Templates.”

Now that you’re creating your own templates, how can you make them look better? The next post in this series will consider ways to use images more effectively.