Bullet Hack

Hello layout friends. Are you ready to discuss paragraph styles in PowerPoint? Hold up. That, my dears, was a trick question. Sadly, we just learned last week there are no paragraph styles in PowerPoint.   Today I want to show you a hack. I’ve looked for a better description for this—trick, workaround, super-secret PowerPoint superpower…and honestly nothing works as well as hack.

Designers—I know that in one paragraph I am going to lose you. You are thinking, this is all PowerPoint, I’m outta here. But I implore you to stay around for at least a bit. Why? Because I had to find this hack because of y’all. When you are asked to design a PowerPoint deck, you are going to work in InDesign/Illustrator thinking someone else can translate your vision into PowerPoint. That person is me. Even when I coach a designer on how simple they need to make their slides, they return with slides more complex than PowerPoint can handle, especially at the template level. Every time I see your beautiful design and have to say “PowerPoint can’t do that” I die a little inside when I see the frustration on your faces. I’ve had to come up with some sneaky methods for getting your content designed in InDesign to work. Your takeaway here is for me or anyone to translate your work into PowerPoint, we need you to make your design simple, clean and elegant—but we can also use the information below to help make sure your vision is possible.

Templates are tricky. You can have multiple content ‘placeholders’ on a page but each one can only have one formatting style. So, you use two text boxes…but then you might have alignment issues. What if a text box is designed for two lines and the user has one or three? It isn’t going to have the appropriate spacing. And, you’ll never be able to properly center both text boxes vertically. You’d be relying on a non-designer to manually guess at the space between the two paragraphs (aka boxes) and then center them on the page. Use my hack and you can make it happen. The hack is quite simple once set up correctly in the master pages.

All that being said, I have to advise you to proceed with care and consideration. Before you read on…the tradeoff here is that this hack isn’t immediately intuitive to the user. This solution relies on good documentation, training and/or a savvy end-user. Please consult with your IT team or the end-user of the template to make sure you think this is something that is sustainable. Use this hack only if you know your audience is going to use it correctly or at all. Let’s remember, I call it a hack for a reason. We’re going to take advantage of the formatting PowerPoint applies to bulleted lists without using bullets. Let’s get into the hack here for those of you who want to see the inside dirt:

Making the hack:

  1. Open the master layout you want to create the two formatting styles on. If there isn’t a content placeholder already on that page, add one by going to the Slide Master Ribbon>Insert Placeholder>Content.
  2. Unless wanted, select all the copy and remove the bullets.
  3. Unless wanted, remove all your hanging indents. Open the Format Text window (right-click and select Format Text… or hit cmd-t.) Now go to the Paragraph section and change Indentation>Before Text to ‘o’, and then change the Special to: (None)
  4. Select the first paragraph that says “Click to edit Master text styles.” Edit the formatting as needed using Format Text… 
  5. Select the second paragraph that says “Second level” and repeat step 4.
  6. Continue with the other levels. If you only want two levels of formatting, you can select “Second Level” through “Fifth Level” in step 5 to repeat the same formatting down through each level.
  7. Close your master and test your work.

Using the hack:

  1. Copy and paste your text into the box, or type your content.
  2. At this point all the copy will be in the first type style. Remember this hack relies on you tricking the content into thinking it’s a bulleted list, which is usually triggered by hitting tab or the increase indent button.
  3. Select the copy you want to be in the second formatting style and hit “Increase Indent” or you can hit tab with the copy selected.
  4. Bam! Formatted text.
  5. Bonus, there is no limit on which level you can apply this too. See my video for an example of applying a second level formatting to a first paragraph.

That’s it. So simple…but it works. Just remember this is a great idea for consistency, speed and workflow–but it relies on a lot of training and communication with your coworkers.


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