Breaking links to Excel; Issue #359 March 15, 2016

Many professionals use Excel to do analysis and then want to present the results of that analysis in a PowerPoint presentation. There are a number of different methods for including Excel data in PowerPoint. Some insert the Excel table or graph as an image, some insert them as a PowerPoint object, and some insert an Excel object linked back to the original Excel file. Linked Excel objects are what I want to address in this article.

What I see often in the slides I review for my customized workshops is that presenters may not even be aware that they have linked an Excel object when inserting it on a PowerPoint slide. This often happens with graphs because the default Paste (using Ctrl+V to paste a graph copied from Excel) actually creates a linked object.

Why can linked objects be an issue? A number of issues arise when you or others want to make edits to the data but don’t have access to the source Excel file. Some issues arise because there are different update methods depending on what insert method you used. The issue I want to focus on is when others do have access to the linked Excel file. This can happen when the linked file is on a shared drive or Sharepoint storage space. This access gives anyone who gets the PowerPoint file the ability to change the source data. With certain financial or product data, this can be a real problem.

How can you protect the source Excel file while still using a linking method so you can update the data easily? By breaking the links before you send the PowerPoint file to others. You can see the links in a PowerPoint file by clicking on the File ribbon and scrolling down the right side of the screen that shows the properties of the file. You should find an item titled Edit Links to Files. When you click on that item, you will see a dialog box that shows you the links that are embedded in the PowerPoint file.

Some of the links listed may be very long depending on the folder structure. When you scroll to the right, you can see the name of the file and what type of link it is. Some will reference an entire workbook, some will reference a graph object on an Excel sheet, and some will reference specific cells from an Excel sheet.

You can select any link and click on the Break Link button to break the link. If the link is to a table of cells or a graph from Excel where it is a Drawing Object in PowerPoint, the object on the slide changes to a picture, preventing any edits to the data. If the link is to an Excel chart that was pasted into PowerPoint as a chart, it remains as a Chart Object in PowerPoint, but you lose the ability to update the data for the chart. The Edit Data button on the Chart Tools – Design ribbon is grayed out.

In both cases, you lose the ability to change the data in the object. PowerPoint does not copy the data in the object and turn it into a PowerPoint object with full editing capabilities. It creates an uneditable object on the slide. Before you break the links, you will want to make sure the table or graph looks exactly the way you want it. And you will likely want to save the file with a different name to indicate that the links are broken. This allows you to keep the links in your version of the file for future updating.

The subject of using Excel data in PowerPoint is much more complex than most presenters realize. It involves determining what approach to use, which method to use, and how to update or protect the Excel data. The information in this article comes from my extensive video course on using Excel data in PowerPoint. When you use Excel data in PowerPoint, take the time to understand what will work best to achieve the result you are looking for.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.