Create professional looking diagrams by using techniques that line up things perfectly; Issue #164 July 22, 2008

PowerPoint Tip: Align & Distribute for consistency

On one of the makeover slides I created for a workshop I am giving tomorrow, I created a Gantt chart to show the implementation timeline for the service that was being sold. When you are creating a timeline by hand, it is important to space out the time periods evenly or else the visual does not look correct to the audience. To make it easier, I used a feature that is one of the subjects of today’s tip – the distribute feature.

Aligning, having multiple objects lined up at the top, bottom or along one side, and distributing, having multiple objects evenly placed either horizontally or vertically are two important tasks that are hard to do by hand. If you have ever tried to arrange multiple pictures on a wall lining up the right edges or the tops, you know what I am talking about. This has always proven stressful for me as my wife expects me to be able to measure, nail the hook in and everything to be perfect. But few of us are that good.

When you have multiple photos on a slide or other objects, including text boxes, you may struggle as I do in lining them up perfectly by hand. Isn’t it OK if they are “close enough”? Unfortunately, no. People infer importance by position and what may be a small difference on your screen becomes a large difference when projected and the audience may interpret someone as the head of the team if their picture is slightly higher in a row than the other team members.

When positioning objects on a slide, people interpret objects that are closer together to be somehow related. So if you don’t want to suggest a relationship that is not correct, you need to evenly position the objects across the slide vertically or horizontally. Again, doing this by hand is very difficult and too often does not work out the way you planned.

Fortunately for all of us, PowerPoint has two features, the align and distribute features that automatically do this for us. I often use them to make life simpler as I did to distribute a timeline when preparing the Gantt chart slide for tomorrow. When using these features, here’s a trick I have learned. If I want a group of objects to be aligned with their right edges in the same spot, I will position one object exactly where I want the right edges to be. Then I position the other objects left of that one. When I use the right align feature, it lines up the right edges according to the object that is positioned farthest to the right, so I get everything lined up with the one object I placed in position.

When distributing objects, pay attention to whether you are distributing them within the space they already occupy (as I did for my timeline) or whether you want to distribute them across the entire slide (as you would for a group of pictures of team members possibly).

For my Gantt chart timeline, I used both of these features. First, I added text boxes with each of the time points, in my case 0, 2, 4, 6, etc. weeks up to 18 weeks. I placed the 0 and the 18 week text boxes at each end of the timeline. I used the align feature to first align all the text boxes so their tops lined up. Then I used the distribute feature to evenly distribute them along the timeline. Hope that helps gives you an idea of how these features can be useful in your presentations.

If you use these features, you know what a great time saver they are. If you haven’t explored these features, you can learn how to use each of them in less than five minutes with the short “how to” videos here. You’ll be glad you learned how to make your slides look better and save time doing so with these features.