Six gentlemen at the National University of Singapore have developed an add-on software called PowerPointLabs, which essentially adds a ribbon of handy shortcuts into your existing PowerPoint program. All of the things it does for you are possible without the software add-on, however they require several steps that may be quite time consuming if you don’t know what you’re doing, and some even if you do. So if you are an ambitious PowerPoint user who doesn’t have time to fiddle around with learning all the tricks that experts such as the BrightCarbon staff have figured out, then you will find PowerPointLabs to be very helpful.

For the moment, the PowerPointLabs is available for free download, however their website suggests that it may not be for long, so if you are considering whether or not to download the software I recommend grabbing it regardless and deciding if you will use it or not later (hopefully after reading this article). Once you have downloaded and installed the software you will be prompted to read through a PowerPoint file tutorial providing guidance and examples of the software features. If you do not see a tab labeled “PowerPointLabs” across the top of your PowerPoint window, restart the application, and if that still doesn’t work, restart your computer. Once you’ve got everything configured you can scroll through the PowerPoint file to learn more about the features. Note that this is not intended to be viewed in presentation mode because it is an interactive, instructional guide. You will go into presentation mode occasionally, but only to see how the effects play out. Let’s take a look at the different features this software has to offer:

Highlight points, text, and background

These three features are used to make different text items on the slide stand out bullet point by bullet point, or by any given selected text area. The Points and Text features will change the color of the text, while the Background tool will give a highlighter effect. At BrightCarbon we highly discourage text heavy slides which would require the use of effects like these, however if you absolutely insist on sticking to your guns this is a good way of keeping your audience on track with what you’re talking about. The instructions state that you can simply select the slide and then click on “highlight points” in order to have all the bullet points on a slide stand out one after another, however I had to select the text in order for the effect to work. The same goes for highlighting text and background.

Personally I think the “highlight background” tool is the most effective because it is the most obvious. This effect can be easily achieved without the software as well:

  • Start by using the shapes tool to create a box around the desired text
  • From here you can either: use the “send to back” button under the arrange tab, to make the box appear behind the text, or adjust the transparency of the box if you want a cloudy effect. This can also be used to hide text items you don’t want emphasized
  • Next add in the animations: Fade and wipe in are probably good choices
  • If you have text that goes over onto two or more lines, repeat this process, making a box for each line. Next, open up the animation panel and right click on each proceeding line and select “after previous” to make the lines highlight one after another, as they would in a karaoke prompter

Create Spotlight

The “create Spotlight” function allows you to highlight a region of your slide by blurring and darkening everything other than the item or items which you have selected. This function is very handy, and looks really cool. It is also decently functional, in that it allows you to adjust both the transparency and the softness of the edges for the area you are trying to highlight. However one problem I have with it, is that it doesn’t let you adjust the color within the function, and if you try to adjust it with the normal fill tool, it changes the color of the spotlighted region as well. So if you are curious how to create this effect manually:

  • Create a box over the entire slide and adjust the color and transparency to your liking
  • Go to the shapes tool and select freeform shapes, then outline the area of the slide which you wish to highlight (if you have trouble viewing the object beneath this box, you can always make the box more transparent and readjust it once you have cropped out the desired area)
  • Using the Boolean shapes tool, subtract the highlighted area from the transparent box
  • Just like the “create spotlight tool” you can adjust the edges of the shape, by right clicking and selecting format shape

Create Spotlight

Add animation slide

This function has the potential to save you some serious time with tedious tinkering. Let’s say you have three objects scattered across a slide and you want to add an animation to make them line up. Simply create one slide with the starting position, and one with the desired end position. Then select the first slide and click on “add animation slide”. This will create a slide in between the original two, with motion paths on each object to create the desired effect. You can also adjust the desired start and end positions, and then hit “recreate animation”. While you can do this yourself using custom motion paths in the animations ribbon, it can take a lot of time and effort to get each object placed in exactly the right position, especially if you end up changing your mind down the road. Here’s a trick if you want to steal the perfect motion paths without having the slide in between:

  • Use the “add animation” slide to create your desired effect
  • Select one of the objects from the animation slide, and underneath the animations tab, click on the animation painter. This has copied the animations for that object onto your clipboard.
  • Click on the corresponding object on the original slide and the animations will automatically be applied (they are applied to the next object you click on, so don’t fuss around). Repeat this for each object you are trying to animate

Animate in slide

This is another handy tool that will save you a lot of time, regardless of how experienced you are with PowerPoint. This function allows you to draw several objects of various size, in different locations around the slide, and give off the effect that they are one object changing size and locations. You can also do this with objects of the same size, and the function will simply create motions paths within the slide. Just be sure to click on the objects in the order you would like them to animate on the screen, and by clicking “animate in slide” the software will create the desired effects using a series of motion paths, grow/shrinks, appears and disappears. Once again this is something you do yourself, however I find it particularly annoying to ensure that the ending position perfectly aligns with the starting position of the succeeding object, and adjusting the grow/shrink animation to get the exactly effect you want can be time consuming if you want to show many different sizes. If you are curious as to how to do this, just look at the animations panel for details.

Zoom to area, drill down & step back

Before you start to play with these effects, save everything! They can make your PowerPoint run really slow or even crash, especially the Zoom to Area. I would suggest saving an alternate copy of your presentation and fiddle with the effects there as a precaution. These function will give off the effect that you are zooming in or out of a specific area of your slide. Essentially what they do is take screenshots of areas you select and use a series of zooms, motion paths, and appear/disappears. With the Zoom to Area you can select multiple sections to zoom in on. Although you can change this in the settings, it will automatically create one additional slide for each section you select. This appears to be the reason it causes PowerPoint to crash, so I’d advise de-selecting this option. The Drill Down and Step Back slides create additional slides to give off the effect that you are either zooming into particular section to show detail, or zooming out to show how one section is part of something larger. I had much less trouble with these functions messing with my PowerPoint.

Crop to shape

This might be my favorite function in the software. The normal crop function within PowerPoint only allows you to cut into rectangular shapes. However with the Crop to Shape function, you can crop out a section of a picture using any of the shapes available in PowerPoint, including the freeform tool which gives you endless possibilities. Simply place the shapes over the areas of the photograph you want to crop out, and it will create a copy of the photograph within that shape, leaving you with the original intact. You can also ungroup the cropped sections as you please. This will be particularly useful if you want to crop out a single object of a photograph with irregular edges. The format tab in PowerPoint has a remove background button, but that doesn’t always work perfectly. You could use programs such as Photoshop or Gimp to select the object, but many of us don’t want to take the time to learn how to use the software (even though Gimp is quite simple, and free!). With Crop to Shape you can use the freeform shape tool to trace the desired object and crop it out of a photograph, all within PowerPoint. Crop to Shape

Shapes lab

If you are someone who likes to create a lot of custom objects using either the Boolean or freeform shapes tools, this is going to be very exciting for you. The Shapes Library is exactly what it sounds like- a catalog of different shapes which can be inserted to your slide. However, you can add any shape you create within PowerPoint to your shapes library simply by right clicking on that object. This allows you to re-use shapes in future presentations without having to search for files on your hard drive.

Color labs

This tool is similar in that it will allow you to store custom colors that you create for future use, however it offers some other features that can be helpful for those who struggle with chromatic synthesis. For any color you select the Colors Lab will offer matching colors in a monochromatic, analogous, complementary, triadic, and tetradic scheme. You can also save favorite color palettes and upload existing ones with the click of a button.

Audio & captions

PowerPointLabs has three functions that allow you to add audio narration or captions to your presentation. Using the Add Audio button, you can choose to either record a narration or have one automatically generated for you. The record function is also in your standard PowerPoint software, underneath the slide show tab. I’ve found that to be pretty dependable, but the sound quality depends on the equipment you’re using and the environment you’re in. I advise against using the auto-narrate function, because it generates a robotic reading of your speaker notes that will surely bore your audience. Maybe you could use it as a sound effect if you’re trying to demonstrate how boring it is to speak in a monotone voice. The captions feature generates text boxes to appear on the bottom of your screen to go along with the corresponding clicks of a slide. If you are including an audio recording of your speech or presenting it live, these captions will mess with the brain’s processing mechanisms and cause your audience to retain less. You are much better off just using audio in conjunction with visuals. This also requires you to stick to a strict script, putting more pressure on you. Regardless of how the deck is being presented, you are going to have to plan to lose the bottom bit of your slides, and the changing text is going to distract your audience from the rest of the presentation. This could be helpful for presenting very minimal information about a presentation consisting entirely of photographs, but other than that the only situation I could think of where captions would help your presentation is if you know that your audience is hearing impaired.


At just under one megabyte for the entire installer package, I would say that PowerPointLabs is definitely worth the download. While it does not have the highest functionality, it does offer a lot of time saving short cuts to make your life a bit easier. It is also completely free, and after a few days I still haven’t received any spam email or newsletters from them, which is refreshing.

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  1. Image of maha maha says:

    great program

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