Understanding Microsoft Powerpoint and How to Use It

Deliver professional-looking presentations for business or classroom

Young man has presentation with graph on lcd screen

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Microsoft's PowerPoint software is used to create professional-looking slideshows that can be displayed on projectors or big-screen TVs. The product of this software is called a presentation. Usually, a presenter speaks to the audience and uses the PowerPoint presentation for visuals to hold the listeners' attention and add visual information. However, some presentations are created and recorded to provide a digital-only experience.

PowerPoint is an easy-to-learn program that is used worldwide for presentations in businesses and classrooms. PowerPoint presentations are equally suitable for huge audiences and small groups where they can be used for marketing, training, educational, and other purposes. 

The information in this article addresses PowerPoint 2016, PowerPoint for Office365, PowerPoint 2016, and PowerPoint Online.

Customizing PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint presentations can be made into photo albums complete with music or narrations to distribute on CDs or DVDs. If you are in the sales field, just a few simple clicks add an illustrative chart of data or an organizational chart of your company's structure. Make your presentation into a web page for emailing purposes or as a promotion displayed on your company's website.

It is easy to customize presentations with your company logo and to dazzle your audience by using one of the many design templates that come with the program. Many more free add-ins and templates are available online from Microsoft and other websites. In addition to an on-screen slideshow, PowerPoint features printing options that allow the presenter to provide handouts and outlines for the audience as well as notes pages for the speaker to refer to during the presentation.

Uses for PowerPoint Presentations

There is no shortage of uses for PowerPoint presentations:

  • Employee training sessions
  • Product launches
  • Sales meetings
  • Trade show demos
  • Club meetings
  • Public appearances
  • Family trees
  • Digital portfolios
  • Photo slideshows
  • Marketing strategies
  • Quarterly-earning presentations
  • Business plans

Where to Find PowerPoint

PowerPoint is part of the Microsoft Office package and is also available as:

  • A standalone program for Windows computers and Macs
  • Part of an Office 365 subscription
  • PowerPoint Online
  • PowerPoint apps for Android and iOS mobile devices

How to Use PowerPoint

PowerPoint comes with many templates that set the tone of a presentation — from casual to formal to off the wall.

PowerPoint open to the

As a new PowerPoint user, you select a template and replace the placeholder text and images with your own to customize the presentation. Add additional slides in the same template format as you need them and add text, images, and graphics. As you learn, add special effects, transitions between slides, music, charts, and animations — all built into the software — to enrich the experience for the audience.

Collaborating With PowerPoint

Although PowerPoint is often used by an individual, it is also structured for use by a group to collaborate on a presentation.

In this case, the presentation is saved online on Microsoft OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint. When you're ready to share, you send your collaborators or co-workers a link to the PowerPoint file and assign them either viewing or editing permissions. Comments on the presentation are visible to all the collaborators.

If you use the free PowerPoint Online, you work and collaborate using your favorite desktop browser. You and your team can work on the same presentation at the same time from anywhere. You just need a Microsoft account.

PowerPoint Competitors

PowerPoint is by far the most popular presentation software program available. Approximately 30 million presentations are created daily in the software. Although it has several competitors, they lack the familiarity and global reach of PowerPoint. Apple's Keynote software is similar and ships free on all Macs, but it has only a small share of the presentation software user base.