How to Create a Timeline in PowerPoint

A Basic Timeline in PowerPoint

When you need 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.

Note: Instructions in this article apply to PowerPoint 2016, 2013, 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 PPT file is to create it in another program, then copy and paste it into PowerPoint. Just export the timeline from a program like MS 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'd also possible to link the timeline in a way similar adding Excel data to Word, which will update automatically when you make changes.

How to Make a Timeline in PowerPoint With Built-In Functions

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

PowerPoint's SmartArt Graphics

To use one of these for a timeline:

  1. Select the Insert tab on the large ribbon toolbar.

  2. Select SmartArt.

  3. In the dialog box that appears, browse for the chart that best suits your need.

    Tip: Items in the Process category are good options, such as Basic Timeline or Vertical Chevron List.

  4. Select OK to insert the SmartArt into your presentation.

  5. The item will appear in an editable window. For example, you can add chevrons to the Vertical Chevron List by editing the bullets to the left. It works just like a regular list, and you can press Tab and Shift+Tab to make an indent and outdent.

  6. Alternatively, you can continue to decorate your SmartArt once it's added, e.g. with callouts.

The SmartArt function is less robust in PowerPoint Online, but the most relevant types of graphics (e.g. the ones mentioned above) are present and usable.

How to Make a Timeline in PowerPoint With a Template

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

PowerPoint Timeline Template

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

Note: Templates are usable in all versions of PowerPoint provided they are in standard PPTX format.

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 completed, PowerPoint should start up automatically. It will also show a quick introduction wizard, as well as a sample file.

    Office Timeline's Toolbar

Once installed, a new Office Timeline Free toolbar becomes available. This contains tools to create new timelines, select the style of timelines to be inserted, and enter/import the data on which the timeline is based.

Note: 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 should be prepared to create any type of timeline you need in PowerPoint.