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7 tips for working more efficiently with PowerPoint shapes

Don’t work harder than you have to in Microsoft PowerPoint. Put these seven tips to work for you today.

Man giving a PowerPoint presentation

Image: iStock/SeventyFour

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The best presentations are visually informative, and shapes are a huge part of that visual message. Working with them is typically easy, but everyone wants to work a little quicker and smarter when then can. In this article, I’ll show you seven tips that will help you get those shapes into shape quickly.

SEE: 69 Excel tips every user should master (TechRepublic)

I’m working with Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but these tips will work in older versions. In addition, many of these tips will work with other objects—they’re not strictly shape tips. There’s no demonstration file; you won’t need one.

1. How to use the shift key for perfect shapes in PowerPoint

When inserting basic shapes into a slide, you usually drag to size and position that shape. You can easily create exactly the shape you need or distort a shape unintentionally. If you need a perfect shape, such as a square, circle, or straight line, you have more control than you might realize. Simply hold down the Shift key while inserting the shape. Doing so will force a specific shape and not allow the distortion you sometimes get. For instance, to insert circle, you use the Oval option, but hold down the Shift key while inserting the oval to get that perfect circle.

SEE: Windows 10: Lists of vocal commands for speech recognition and dictation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

You might already use the Shift key with a few shapes, but what you might not know is that you can use the Shift key with almost all of PowerPoint’s shapes. Spend a bit of time exploring to see the results—you won’t forget the next time you need a perfect shape.

2. How to draw multiple shapes in PowerPoint

Sometimes you want copies of the same shape. When this happens, you don’t have to insert each separately. Instead, do the following:

  1. Click the Insert tab.
  2. Click Shapes and right-click a shape.
  3. Choose Lock Drawing Mode from the dropdown list. Watch the pointer change to a plus sign.
  4. Start inserting the shape—one right after the other.

Press Escape to disable Lock Drawing Mode.

3. How to quickly copy a shape in PowerPoint

Using the above tip, you can quickly insert multiple shapes. Sometimes the shape will already exist in the slide, or you might want an exact replica, so Lock Drawing Mode won’t work. If you’re using Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V to copy and paste the shape, you’re working too hard! Instead, select the shape you want to copy, hold down Ctrl, and drag a copy to another position. If you want the original and the copy to be evenly aligned—horizontally or vertically—add the Shift key. Press Ctrl+Shift and drag.

SEE: Select multiple objects in a PowerPoint slide (TechRepublic)

If you don’t want to use the mouse to drag, press Ctrl+D instead. Try both methods and choose the one that’s right for you. Both also work with multiple selections.

4. How to set default formats for a shape in PowerPoint

You’ll often find yourself using the same formats for a specific shape. When this happens, you can copy the shape or use the Format Painter. If you do this often, you might consider setting the default formats for that shape. That way, you insert the formatted shape instead of formatting afterward—you’ll save a lot of time this way. To set a shape’s default formats, do the following:

  1. Insert a shape and apply the formats.
  2. Right-click the shape.
  3. Choose Set as Default Shape from the contextual submenu.

The next time you insert the shape, it will display the formats you want! No formatting!

5. How to use Quick Styles in PowerPoint

You can spend a lot of time formatting, or you can let PowerPoint do the work. First, with the shape selected, click Quick Styles in the Drawing group (on the Home tab). There are many preset styles you can use. Doing so can save you a lot of time. If you use one of these styles a lot, set it as the default by right-clicking it in the dropdown list and choosing Set as Default Shape.

SEE: How to add an on and off image to a PowerPoint presentation (TechRepublic)

6. How to select hidden shapes in PowerPoint

Some custom shapes are comprised of two or more different shapes. This stacking technique can make it difficult to select a single shape when it’s partially or mostly obscured by the shapes on top of it. When this happens, start pressing Tab. Doing so will cycle through the objects in the order you inserted them. Simply stop when you reach the shape you want. You can go backward through the cycle by pressing Shift+Tab.

7. How to nudge a shape in PowerPoint

One of my favorite tips is using Ctrl+arrow key to nudge a shape just a bit in a specific direction. Sometimes, dragging just won’t let you get the position precision you want. When this happens, hold down Ctrl and use the appropriate arrow key to move the shape just a smidge.