Advanced PowerPoint Animations - Some Pitfalls

Advanced PowerPoint Animations - Some Pitfalls
March 20, 2012

This PowerPoint Animation post initially appeared on the BrightCarbon Visual Marketing blog and we have repurposed it with their permission. BrightCarbon is a communication agency specialising in B2B sales tools, pitch presentations, and dynamic animations.

Recently I’ve been pushing my PowerPoint animation skills to the max, because an awful lot of presentations should come under the heading of “cruel and unusual punishments”, and we aim to fix that. Whilst I knew that you could get quite creative with PowerPoint if you put your mind to it, you can actually do some really impressive things with the animations built into PowerPoint 2010 (I’m not brave enough to try this with the earlier versions…). However one thing I hate about PowerPoint is that isn’t going to make it easy for you. It’s almost as though PowerPoint wanted you to just use bullet points or something…

Going wild with PowerPoint animation

By applying multiple animations to the same object at the same time you can create some pretty cool visual effects, and 9 times out of 10 I’ve been able to create something that animates in the way I had in mind when I sketched out the slide (more on this soon). So if you want something that looks a bit more special in your presentations I’d fully recommend going out and seeing what you can do with the animations. One word of warning though before you start: Editing and revising your animations will be a nightmare. In fact it is often so bad that it is easier to start from scratch than try to edit a set of complex animations.

The first hurdle

There are a number of things that make complex PowerPoint animations difficult. PowerPoint likes to use its default setting for everything, it jealously hordes some of the most useful animations trying to fob you off with the flashy ones, and the motion paths definitely have a life of their own; getting them to do what you want is like wrestling with snakes. Yeah, don’t get me started on the motion paths, eurgh, that’s definitely one thing I really hate! However, what I find the worst is coming back to a set of animations I’ve done a while ago, with the intent to fix some little mistake I missed at the time. When you’ve got more than a few things going on it becomes very difficult to work out what’s going on with that list of animations. If playing with motion paths is like wrestling that snake, then coming back to rework an animation is like rounding up that snake’s extended family, stuffing them all a box, giving it a good shake and then trying to work out which one you originally had a fight with.

Enough with the Snakes!

Probably the biggest culprit for this problem is the fact that there is a limited view of the animation timeline. No zooming out to

see everything you’ve created, just scrolling up and down. Then to make matters worse, for some reason the scroll wheel on the mouse doesn’t work in the custom animation pane. Instead it scrolls through the slides. So one minute you’re careful adjusting the timings of something’s zoom in and the next thing you know you’re staring at something completely different 10 slides later, and you’ve lost the place where you were working. A simple thing to avoid doing, right? But I can’t believe the number of times I’ve done it, particularly when I’m focused on something tricky. So keep that finger off the mouse wheel!

I hate getting lost in the clutter

But once you’ve managed to keep the custom animation pane in check, then there is the fact that all of the animations are helpfully labelled things like “Oval 314”. Firstly, where are the other 313 ovals, because they aren’t on this slide. But more importantly I’m not designed to remember long lists of things, it’s seven things tops for me, so wouldn’t it be more useful if the object were labelled something more descriptive, even if I had to do it myself? Failing that, could you colour code the animations so that it was easy to spot each animations on any given object! Good luck trying to find the exact animation you want to change, because PowerPoint is going to make you work for it. The best it can offer you is the way an object’s animations are selected when you select that object, so you can find them all, then it is a process of elimination to work out which is the precise one you want. But beware, there is one more pitfall hidden here. Once you have selected an object and therefore all of its animations, make sure you deselect all of the animations you don’t want to change, as otherwise you’ll apply any changes you make to all of those as well, and that is a pain to fix!

What would make my life so much simpler with PowerPoint Animation?

So give me these features and I could really turn my PowerPoint animations up to 11!

  • Motion paths that don’t auto relocate, and just stay where I’ve left them.

  • An animation timeline you can scroll and zoom, so you easily manage it.

  • Effective labelling within the animation timeline, so it is clear which animations apply to which objects.

Do you manage to handle the PowerPoint animation system better than I do? Got any good tips to share?