Create Beautiful Charts in Microsoft PowerPoint

Have you ever heard of a corporate presentation that didn’t include a chart?  Me either.

Charts are among the most used tools to help tell a story visually.

The trick is telling the story in the most effective, yet concise way.

Let’s look at an example that compares two scenarios in a single visualization.  This will not only be easy and quick but also fun.

Let’s dig right in.

Our task at hand is to give a presentation that showcases and compares two different budget scenarios.

Scenario 1 portrays a more conservative approach to the budget, while Scenario 2 portrays a more aggressive approach.  We want to focus more on Scenario 2 as this is the budget we are promoting.

One approach to presenting these budgets is to have a separate slide for each chart.  This will be difficult for the user to remember what they saw on one chart when having switched to the other chart.

If we place both charts on the same slide, the information becomes small and difficult to read.

What if we combined the two charts into a single chart that looks like the following?

Our viewer can easily compare the budget differences between the categories and each scenario’s impact, while a custom heading that clearly describes the chart’s information is a nice touch.

This latter option seems like the obvious road to travel, but it’s not without its issues:

  • How do we make such a chart?
  • When will you have the time to figure out the mechanics of the chart?

This is where our 5 minutes of fun begins.

Enter the World of think-cell

Creating slides in Microsoft PowerPoint is painstaking.  Frequently used chart types and graphical elements are missing and there is nearly no automatic placement.  Usually, you end up manually updating numbers and pushing around shapes.

Prepare to fall in love with think-cell.

You can get a free 60 day trial and single licenses for with this link.

think-cell is different.  It is a powerful charting and layout software that automates your PowerPoint work, improving slide creation efficiency and quality.  Within minutes you get well-laid-out and great-looking slides.

think-cell is trusted by 8 out of 10 Fortune 100 companies, and over 22,000 companies around the world.

think-cell makes creating impressive charts so much easier.

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

Charts like these will help you stand out in a crowd.  It’s never been easier to impress The Boss.

A Quick Example

You need to present the sales development of your products in your next meeting.

You have summarized the data in a PowerPoint chart, but you don’t want to present something like this:

(click for larger image)

This type of bog-standard chart is easy to create in PowerPoint, but we need something that stands out and draws attention to your effort and hard work.

Using think-cell, we will take the underlying data and create something special.

Starting the Chart Creation Process

In PowerPoint, we begin with a blank slide and select Insert (tab) -> think-cell (group) -> Elements.  We are presented with a myriad of visualizations we can add to our slide.

Some of these chart types will look familiar, but I can promise you that the customization experience will be very different from what you are accustomed to.

We will select a Stacked chart and “drop” the chart placeholder on the blank slide.

Once placed on the slide, the data sheet opens allowing you to input your data.

think-cell uses a customized Excel sheet to input the data into the chart.  The sheet is a lite version of a traditional Excel sheet, lacking many non-chart-related features, but it will serve us well for this mission.

If you would feel more comfortable using the full-featured Excel environment, you can start the other way around.  You can create the data in traditional Excel and port it over to a PowerPoint slide.  We’ll see an example of that later.

Accepting the sample data, our stater chart appears as follows.

It’s a bit bland to start with but it does have some nice features, like totals above the columns and series labels to the left of the first column.

These labels are easier to read and understand compared to a legend that is above or below the chart.

We want to use our data instead of the sample data, so we can copy the data from Excel and paste it into our think-cell chart.

Double-click the think-cell chart to reopen the underlying data sheet.  Paste the Excel data here, replacing the original data.

Closing the data sheet will reveal the updated chart.

(click for larger image)

Customizing the think-cell Chart

Indicating a Break in Time

Our first customization will be to add a visual separation between the last two columns of the chart.

This will highlight the fact that these are not sequential years of data; there are some missing years.

If we select the part of the X-axis that separates the last two columns, we can drag it to the right to increase the distance between the two columns.

Right-clicking the same portion of the x-axis displays the think-cell customization menu.

Some of these customization options may not be available depending on the state of other settings.

We will activate the Add Baseline Break option to visually break the X-axis timeline.

Updating the Chart Series Colors

If we want to change the series color that represents “Prod D”, one way is to click the leftmost series for “Prod D”, then hold down Shift and click the rightmost series for “Prod D”.

This reveals a popup menu with many customizable options, like accent colors.

Selecting an option, like Accent, will reveal the settings for that option.

The colors are derived from the theme colors that are used in the PowerPoint slide.

Another way to select an entire series across the columns is to select any data point in a column for the desired series, then press CTRL-A.

We’ll color each of the series in the following manner.

(click for larger image)

Adding an Axis and Axis Label

The next enhancement will be to add a Y-axis (i.e., vertical axis) with a custom label.

Right-click in an empty area of the chart to reveal the chart options control wheel.

We will click on the lower option labeled Add Y Axis.

This adds the Y-axis to the left of the chart while simultaneously relocating the segment labels to the right of the chart.

(click for larger image)

To add a label to the Y-axis, right-click the Y-axis and select the option for Add Title.

Customize the newly added title with your desired text.

Displaying a Growth Rate

Next, we want to show a growth rate using a CAGR line (compound annual growth rate).

Right-click an empty area of the chart and select the option for Add Compound Growth Arrow.

This adds a CAGR line for the entire time.

(click for larger image)

We can limit the CAGR line’s scope by dragging the line’s circular handle from the 2022 column to the 2019 column.

This produces an updated CAGR line.

(click for larger image)

We can customize the CAGR line’s text by selecting the circular text and editing the decimal precision, written text, and a host of other text-based changes.

We will set our decimal precision to 2-decimal places and customize the text.

Customizing the Segment Labels

Now we will customize the series labels to include the growth rate for each series.

Select any of the series labels on the right of the chart and press CTRL-A to select all labels.

We will change the option marked Series to read Series CAGR.  This will display both the series name and the CAGR percentage.

We will also customize the series values in the color segments to display the Absolute % of each series in the year 2022.

We can’t use the CTRL-A shortcut because the system will target each value in the selected series.  We want all series in the year 2022.  This will require the Click-Shift-Click approach to selecting chart objects.

Adding Segment Connector Lines

Finally, to guide our eyes from one series to the next across years we’ll add series connectors by right-clicking an empty area of the chart to bring up the options wheel and select the Add Connector option.

Our updated chart appears as follows.

(click for larger image)

We don’t want the connector lines between the years 2019 and 2022, so we click on one of those connectors and press the Delete key to remove them.

(click for larger image)

Adding a title to finish the slide and we have our finished chart.

(click for larger image)

With just a few minutes of our time and a few clicks of the mouse, we have transformed the original, boring chart into an eye-catching, informative story.

(click for larger image)

The Options are Almost Limitless

The previous example was but one of many charts that can be created using think-cell.

You can create more sophisticated charts, like a Gantt Chart, with a built-in calendar and self-adjusting labels.

Linking to Excel Data

Our demonstration thus far has started with PowerPoint and garnered the help of Excel via the think-cell add-in.

We can work in the opposite direction if you prefer, starting with Excel and funneling the results to a PowerPoint slide.

The best part is that we can link our Excel data to the PowerPoint slide so the chart updates when our Excel data changes.

We’ll start by creating a new, blank slide in PowerPoint.

Next, switching to Excel, we select our data and click the Insert (tab) -> think-cell (group) -> Elements – Line.

Selecting the chart type will automatically switch us back to PowerPoint and ask us to select our location on the blank slide for the new line chart.

We can see the link information above the line chart (our file is located on the D-drive and named “Startup.xlsx”.)

Because we want the chart to update automatically when new data is added to the Excel file, we click the Helpful Tools button in the think-cell feature group and select Data Links.

We can see in the Data Links dialog box a list of all slides with linked data (ours is on slide #6) and we can change it from a disable updates state to an automatic update state.

Adding Data to the Excel File

Returning to the Excel file, we see that think-cell has added a bit of formatting to indicate what data is being observed by the think-cell line chart.

Let’s add a couple more startups with some data and see how the PowerPoint line chart reacts.

Notice that the newly added data is outside the green bounding box that indicates think-cell’s observed data range.

We need to extend the green bounding box by dragging the circular blue handle down a couple of rows to encompass the new data.

Switching back to PowerPoint, we see the line chart has automatically updated to include the new startups.

(click for larger image)

Adding years to the Excel data yields an updated line chart in PowerPoint.

(click for larger image)

We could perform a myriad of other customizations to the line chart to help tell the best story possible.

You are encouraged to try as many of the customization options as you like.

You learn best by doing.  Don’t be afraid to push buttons to see what happens.  You can always click the Undo button if you don’t like a feature.

Here’s your chance to get think-cell for FREE for 60 days.