How to Create a Timeline in PowerPoint

PowerPoint timeline

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When you want to demonstrate how things occur (or have occurred) between two points in time, a timeline is your best bet. There are several different methods to insert a PowerPoint timeline into your presentation so you can show this progress to others.

Instructions in this article apply to PowerPoint 2019, 2016, 2013; PowerPoint for Office 365, Powerpoint for Mac, and PowerPoint Online.

How to Paste a Timeline From Another Program Into PowerPoint

A straightforward way to get a timeline into your PowerPoint presentation file is to create it in another program, copy it, and paste it into PowerPoint. Just export the timeline from a program like Microsoft Project or Excel into a graphical format such as JPG, GIF, or PNG, then insert the timeline graphic into PowerPoint like you would insert pictures or clipart. It's also possible to link the timeline in a way similar to adding Excel data to Word, which updates automatically when you make changes.

How to Make a Timeline in PowerPoint With SmartArt

PowerPoint also offers a built-in function, called SmartArt, that makes adding timelines a breeze. SmartArt objects are configurable graphics that you set up in a point-and-click fashion.

To use a SmartArt graphic for a timeline:

  1. Go to Insert.

  2. Select SmartArt.

  3. In the dialog box that appears, browse for the SmartArt graphic type that best suits your need.

    Items in the Process category are good options. For example, choose Basic Timeline or Vertical Chevron List to get started on your timeline.

    SmartArt Graphics are configurable through point-and-click.
  4. Select OK to insert the SmartArt into your presentation.

  5. The SmartArt graphic appears on the slide along with a text pane where you'll edit the text. Add text to the objects by editing the bullets in the text pane. It works just like a regular list, press Tab and Shift+Tab to make an indent and outdent or press Enter to add a new bullet point.

    A screenshot showing how to add text to a SmartArt graphic in PowerPoint
  6. Continue to decorate your SmartArt by changing the colors, choosing a different style, and reordering elements.

PowerPoint Online doesn't contain as many SmartArt graphics formats as the desktop version of PowerPoint. The ones mentioned in this article are available.

How to Make a Timeline in PowerPoint With a Template

There are pre-configured PowerPoint templates that allow you to quickly piece together a timeline.

PowerPoint Timeline Template

The PPTX file pictured above is available from the Microsoft Office Template Gallery. Move and copy the existing objects on these timeline templates to create new phases of the timeline, or new milestones and annotations. This method is a bit more hands-on, but it allows you to get the exact results you want.

Templates in PPTX format are compatible with all versions of PowerPoint.

How to Create a Timeline in PowerPoint With an Add-In 

Another approach is to use a PowerPoint Add-in specifically built for creating timelines. Office Timeline is an excellent choice if you're looking to add project timelines (e.g. Gantt Charts), and it's available in a free version.

Office Timeline PowerPoint Add-In

You'll need a few minutes to get up and running with the following steps:

  1. Download the Free Edition of the app from the Office Timeline website.

  2. Double-click the .EXE file to start the installation.

  3. Once the installation is complete, PowerPoint starts automatically, shows a quick introduction wizard, and provides a sample file.

    Office Timeline's Toolbar

Once installed, a new Office Timeline Free tab is added to Powerpoint. This tab contains tools to create new timelines, select the style of timeline to be inserted, and enter or import the data on which the timeline is based.

The Office Timeline Add-In is only available for Windows versions of PowerPoint. However, there's also Pincello, a web-based tool that outputs timelines in PowerPoint format.

Armed with the above options, you're now prepared to create any type of timeline you want in PowerPoint.