Microsoft’s PowerPoint development team isn’t one to stay on its heels. Almost every few weeks they push out new tweaks and additions to Microsoft 365 subscribers. Usually these are small things, but sometimes these features, such as Morph or Designer, make significant progress.
After all these years, however, there are still glaring omissions and flaws in the program that never fail to frustrate users. Fortunately, PowerPoint has long allowed third parties to step in and create plug-ins and tools that solve these frustrations in some cases and greatly extend the functionality of the software in others.
Technically, there are a few types of PowerPoint add-ins, but we can sort them into two main categories: Office add-ins and PowerPoint add-ins. In this article, I’ll show where you can find them, how they might work for you, and which might help you the most.
You can find Office Add-ins and install them easily from the program by clicking the Get Add-ins button on the Insert tab (Figure 1). If you don’t see the button with the red icon, you may need to click the My Add-ons button with the hexagons icon first. From there, you’ll come to an Office Add-ins store, where you can search and browse all sorts of tools from Microsoft and other vendors, tools meant to add some kind of functionality to PowerPoint, Word, or Excel.
In some cases, you can use the same add-in in all three programs, although they are usually application specific. The organization here isn’t great, but you can browse by categories or search by keyword. For example, type in stock photos and you’ll find add-ins that allow you to search and insert images directly from Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, Pexels, and many other sources (Figure 2).
All Office Add-ins will install a panel on the right side of the PowerPoint screen and add a button to display this panel on your Insert or Home tab.
You must be connected to the web for these add-ons to work, and while all are free to install, some may require additional purchases or paid subscriptions.
Adobe Stock and Shutterstock add-ins allow you to watermark test images, but you need a paid subscription to remove the information. Pexelson the other hand, provides completely free images. Pick up provides stock images, but also a very user-friendly digital asset management system so that your employees can easily insert assets belonging to several suppliers.
And if you’re looking for icons, then The name project has you covered with Icons by Noun Project, which gives you access to its extensive collection (Figure 3). Note that Icons by Noun Project recently switched from inserting PNG to using the much more flexible SVG format, so I hardly need to go to the website anymore.
If you live and breathe Adobe, the Adobe Creative Cloud add-on gives you access to your CC Libraries without ever leaving PowerPoint! (Figure 4)
You can explore many more office add-ins, such as Power BI tiles (insert visualizations from Microsoft Power BI),
web viewer (insert live web pages), and QR4Office (inserts custom QR codes). More are being added all the time.
Office Add-ins work on both Windows and macOS and even in online and mobile versions of PowerPoint, which we won’t see much of when we move on to our next category.
Now on to the other world of add-ins: those that are usually used to add a tool to an existing ribbon tab or provide you with a whole new tab and a whole set of tools.
PowerPoint add-ins are created and distributed by third-party developers and usually come with their own standalone installers. Their price ranges from free to expensive and they offer a wide range of features.
If you can only choose one supplement, bright slide that should be it. Originally created by design firm BrightCarbon for their in-house designers, this vast suite of tools is now available to the public for free. It supports both Windows and macOS, is constantly updated, and has quickly become a staple for professional slide designers. For a more comprehensive overview of the tool, check out my article “Brightslide: The Essential Add-in for PowerPoint” on CreativePro.com.
PowerPoint charts often seem stuck in the past because they haven’t been significantly updated in years. think tank has long offered an alternative that not only gives you additional chart types such as Mekkos, Gantts, and waterfalls, but also finer control over standard chart labeling and formatting. You might find the interface a little too slick and minimal, so it might take a bit of getting used to (Figure 5).
Aside from an expensive annual subscription (Windows and macOS, $247.50/year), the big problem with Think-cell is that the charts, although they can be connected to Excel datasheets, exist in their own containers on slides and are separate from Desktop Maps. Some users find Think-cell helps them create a larger volume of graphics faster, but others find it hard to stay on brand when using a strict template.
Another set of long-standing tools is provided by ToolsToo Pro (Windows, $19.95). Whatever your level of expertise, you’ll find something here to dramatically improve your PowerPoint workflow, like super-charged selection and formatting tools or tools to help you get rid of things like unused masters or embedded chart data. You get what you pay for with ToolsToo due to the large number of features (Figure 6).
An instant must-have, Slide (Windows, $48) shows you information about every image, font, and master layout used in your file – the scan tool makes it easy to identify that 30MB TIFF that’s preventing sending your file by e-mail, for example.
I use it all the time to reliably identify and replace unwanted fonts that have slipped into my file. If you’ve ever encountered PowerPoint’s reluctance to replace one font with another, this is the add-in that will do it without complaining (Figure 7).
Build a graph
You may not need to hire an artist to create a smooth process graph if you use the Build a graph add-in (Windows, $99/year), which provides you with an extensive catalog of professional graphics and graphical elements.
With one click, you can insert fully composed infographics or graphic elements if you prefer to create your own finished product. A searchable library includes everything from icons and 3D pyramids to vector maps and isometric illustrations. And each chart is inserted as PowerPoint shapes, which means you edit and recolor them yourself (Figure 8).
Some supplements only do one thing, but do it beautifully. Thor (Windows, Free) is such a tool that allows you to determine the size and position of an object and then “hammer” (apply) those attributes to any other object with a single click. You may already be thinking about that project where this simple ability could have saved you hours (Figure 9).
I hope this article got you excited about expanding your PowerPoint capabilities with add-ins, but we’ve only scratched the surface. In addition to the tools I’ve already mentioned, you might consider PresentationPoint to create digital signage, Talk time to control the timing of a presentation, slide for live polls, and Empower Slides to manage slide libraries and maintain brand consistency.
And if your organization has a unique need, many developers will be happy to create a custom add-in for you, including BrightCarbon, PPTAlchemyand PPTools. These developers also tend to offer many smaller add-ons for free.
If you regularly use PowerPoint without add-ins, you are probably spending more time than necessary in the program. So start trying out some of the amazing tools that are just waiting for you!