Recently I’ve been pushing my PowerPoint animation skills to the max, because an awful lot of presentations should come under the heading of “cruel and unusual punishments”, and we aim to fix that. Whilst I knew that you could get quite creative with PowerPoint if you put your mind to it, you can actually do some really impressive things with the animations built into PowerPoint 2010 (I’m not brave enough to try this with the earlier versions…). However one thing I hate about PowerPoint is that isn’t going to make it easy for you. It’s almost as though PowerPoint wanted you to just use bullet points or something…

Going wild with PowerPoint animation

By applying multiple animations to the same object at the same time you can create some pretty cool visual effects, and 9 times out of 10 I’ve been able to create something that animates in the way I had in mind when I sketched out the slide (more on this soon). So if you want something that looks a bit more special in your presentations I’d fully recommend going out and seeing what you can do with the animations. One word of warning though before you start: Editing and revising your animations will be a nightmare. In fact it is often so bad that it is easier to start from scratch than try to edit a set of complex animations.

Check out our Level 2: Animation Ninja tips to see how you can do this with a handy step-by-step.

The first hurdle

There are a number of things that make complex PowerPoint animations difficult. PowerPoint likes to use its default setting for everything, it jealously hordes some of the most useful animations trying to fob you off with the flashy ones, and the motion paths definitely have a life of their own; getting them to do what you want is like wrestling with snakes. Yeah, don’t get me started on the motion paths, eurgh, that’s definitely one thing I really hate! However, what I find the worst is coming back to a set of animations I’ve done a while ago, with the intent to fix some little mistake I missed at the time. When you’ve got more than a few things going on it becomes very difficult to work out what’s going on with that list of animations. If playing with motion paths is like wrestling that snake, then coming back to rework an animation is like rounding up that snake’s extended family, stuffing them all a box, giving it a good shake and then trying to work out which one you originally had a fight with.

Enough with the snakes!

Probably the biggest culprit for this problem is the fact that there is a limited view of the animation timeline. No zooming out to see everything you’ve created, just scrolling up and down. Then to make matters worse, for some reason the scroll wheel on the mouse doesn’t work in the custom animation pane. Instead it scrolls through the slides. So one minute you’re careful adjusting the timings of something’s zoom in and the next thing you know you’re staring at something completely different 10 slides later, and you’ve lost the place where you were working. A simple thing to avoid doing, right? But I can’t believe the number of times I’ve done it, particularly when I’m focused on something tricky. So keep that finger off the mouse wheel!

I hate getting lost in the clutterpowerpoint animation

But once you’ve managed to keep the custom animation pane in check, then there is the fact that all of the animations are helpfully labelled things like “Oval 314”. Firstly, where are the other 313 ovals, because they aren’t on this slide. But more importantly I’m not designed to remember long lists of things, it’s seven things tops for me, so wouldn’t it be more useful if the object were labelled something more descriptive, even if I had to do it myself? Failing that, could you colour code the animations so that it was easy to spot each animations on any given object! Good luck trying to find the exact animation you want to change, because PowerPoint is going to make you work for it. The best it can offer you is the way an object’s animations are selected when you select that object, so you can find them all, then it is a process of elimination to work out which is the precise one you want. But beware, there is one more pitfall hidden here. Once you have selected an object and therefore all of its animations, make sure you deselect all of the animations you don’t want to change, as otherwise you’ll apply any changes you make to all of those as well, and that is a pain to fix!

What would make my life so much simpler with PowerPoint animation?

So give me these features and I could really turn my PowerPoint animations up to 11!

  • Motion paths that don’t auto relocate, and just stay where I’ve left them.
  • An animation timeline you can scroll and zoom, so you easily manage it.
  • Effective labelling within the animation timeline, so it is clear which animations apply to which objects.

Do you manage to handle the PowerPoint animation system better than I do? Got any good tips to share?

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Written by

Chris Arrington-Korek

Managing consultant

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  1. Image of Stuart Stuart says:

    I totally agree. Also a page turn animation should be added, the colour typewriter should be reinstated and you should be able to reverse the direction of the wheel animation.

    • Image of Chris Korek Chris Korek says:

      Hi Stuart, thanks for the comment. You’re right, it would be brilliant if the wheel could go counter-clockwise as well, or even better if you could start it part way around, rather than just at the top. It’s a shame that PowerPoint animations only seem to do half the job sometimes.

  2. Image of Batman Batman says:

    When adding a wheel animation, also add a spin emphasis animation at the same time (set to ‘with previous’). Set this spin animation to 360 degrees COUNTER clockwise. The wheel will now animate counter clockwise.

    • Image of Chris Korek Chris Korek says:

      Hi Batman,

      I’m impressed you can take time out of your crime fighting schedule to be a PowerPoint Pro as well! Thanks for the tip, it’s a good one. But unfortunately I find it only works sometimes, whenever I’ve tried to use it on an object without rotational symmetry it tends to look strange. The best compromise I’ve come up with so far is to quarter the object and then use the “Strips” animation to animate each quarter in sequence. If you set the timings to be fast enough you barely even notice!


  3. Image of Mike Mike says:

    One tip that can be helpful: use the selection pane to hide everything except the object you are trying to edit. This can make it much easier to find/alter the animations you have previously created for said object, as everything else will be hidden. But yeah, the animation pane is a real pain in the behind.

  4. Image of Keith Gardner Keith Gardner says:

    I think PowerPoint is the longest-running “B” movie ever. It has had well-known issues and problems and “opportunities for improvement” since the first version (well, the first version I used which was near the beginning of time), that have remained exactly the same over all the versions that have come in the meantime. It is part of Microsoft’s cash cow butchery, so why change it? Part of what people “learn” when they are learning the product is how to work around the shortcomings, and so if it were fixed, people would have to relearn everything. This way, Microsoft can make zero investment in the product except to re-skin it from time to time, and just reap the profits. A smart – but unkind – business model.

  5. Image of Sandra Johnson Sandra Johnson says:

    You can change the object names in the Selection Pane. So we can check that one of you list. Great article. I use this feature all the time when creating complex animations.

  6. Image of Mike Mullany Mike Mullany says:

    Another problem I have with Powerpoint is that there appears to be a limit on the number of animations in a slide show. After spending hours adding animations to the last few slides of one presentation, I found that they didn’t all save. I have repeated th e animating procedure several times just in case I was doing something wrong and had much time wasted. Can anyone shed light on this, please?

  7. Image of Stephan B Stephan B says:

    @ Mullany: As i know there is no limit for animations in Powerpoint. You can add as many as you want. Maybe some of your animations overlapped the others and could not be shown. You can find more informations here:

  8. Image of David David says:

    I agree the scrollwheel thing is a pain but I have found a workaround, at least for 2013. If you click the arrow in the top right corner of the animation panel and select “Move” you can detach it from the main window and it “floats.” When floating, the scrollwheel no longer scrolls the slides!

  9. Image of 2L8 2L8 says:

    Weeell, I get that I’m commenting about four years after the fact, but I just found this and thought that a lot of your points are pretty great. The zoom-out would be really useful for slides where I have some 10, 20 triggers (each with 3 or 4 animations) to explain things… among other things you brought up.

    But, isn’t PPT pretty amazing? I use it recreationally to make games (especially those maze games using the mouse-over hyperlinks). However, my games always take a lot of animations and my computer keeps freezing. Kinda depressing. If there’s anything I want from Microsoft, it’d probably be better memory efficiency. I don’t want my program to crash my computer. *shrug*

  10. Image of Viji Viji says:

    I prepared a complex animation which was working fine most of the time.Now suddenly the animation behaves differently.The objects with custom motion path is not moving from the place i designed.Instead it does the same from the top left corner of the screen.If I resume the show and again start it works fine.The problem happens again when I check in slide show again.

    Many times it works as expected and suddenly it behaves differently. Please help to solve this issue.


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