The Complete Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial


How often do you receive slides from colleagues and waste entire days formatting them together in the hope of making your presentation continuity acceptable? How many times have you decided to leave the presentation as it was because you had no time? Have you presented that awful collage to a wincing audience? How many times have you tried to reduce the size of a presentation, unable to figure out why it was so heavy? How many times have you tried to align titles from one slide to another, flicking back and forth? I created Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial for you to solve these problems!

I believe it’s time to discover the magic of the Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master.

The Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master is probably the most powerful and flexible tool in PowerPoint. It’s extremely easy to use and quick to learn. The Slide Master has the power to save you hours of work that would otherwise be spent formatting and reformatting your slides. However, if misunderstood or ignored, it will often cause a dramatic waste of time.

What is the PowerPoint Slide Master and why it is so important?

Microsoft’s definition for the Slide Master is:
Master slides control the look of your entire presentation, including, fonts, background, effects, and just about everything else. You can insert a shape or a logo on a slide master, for example, and it will show up on all your slides automatically.

Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial explanation

The Slide Master is a powerful tool that enables you to manage the layout of a PowerPoint presentation. Every time you create new slide in your presentation, you can assign it a specific layout.

Imagine the Slide Master like a bottom layer underneath your slide. It contains all the information about the layout of your slides, ready for you to add your information.

Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial

A Slide Master is made from the layouts used within a presentation. As you can imagine, this enables you to create unicity amongst your slides. For example, you will have all the titles in the same position, with no need to recreate and reposition them on each slide. After all, it would be a great waste of time and you will really struggle to get the same position from slide to slide.

The PowerPoint Slide Master takes care of that very efficiently. And if you need to make a quick edit on the presentation when nearly complete, you can quickly do so through the slide master.

Let’s suppose you finish your presentation, you deliver it to your boss and he tells you that he desires the titles to be a smaller font size and a specific color.

If you go slide by slide, it can take a very long time. But if all the slides are linked to a layout in the slide master, you’ll just need to edit the layout slide once and the changes will automatically be applied to all your slides. In order to apply one of the layouts to the active slide, right click on the slide thumbnail “select layout”, and you’ll be able to select the layout to apply.

To open the Slide Master, click on “View” and then “Slide Master”.

In any new PowerPoint presentation, you’ll get a set of standard layouts preset in the standard Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master. Remember, in order to close the slide master and go back to normal view, you need to click on Close Master View in the Slide Master tab.

The magic comes when you edit the Slide Master and customize it to your needs. Let’s see how it works.

First, you’ll notice that the slides are not all the same; there is a hierarchy between them.

On the very top, you’ll find the theme slide; it includes all the features to be applied to every layout. Every theme slide may group multiple layouts. The layouts inherit the formatting from the theme slide. When you edit other presentations, you’ll find many themes in the Slide Master. Some of them will look so old that they will reveal how long that presentation has been shared and reused without taking care of keeping the Slide Master clean. Therefore, PowerPoint allows you to have multiple themes within the same Slide Master,  but I do not see why you would need to have multiple themes within the same presentation. My advice is to always keep just one theme and to include all the layouts you need in it.

Applying fonts to the PowerPoint Slide Master

Have you ever struggled applying the font to all the slides of your presentation? Do you remember the last time you found yourself checking all the slides to make sure the font is the one you chose, and not some standard font that PowerPoint applies to every new slide?

When you create a new slide in PowerPoint, it automatically applies a layout and the layout takes formatting from the theme. Therefore, if you want to apply a font to your presentation and be sure it won’t change every time you create a new slide, apply the font to the theme and PowerPoint will replicate this to all layouts. Let’s see how it works:

First you need to select the theme slide, then select the Font menu in the Slide Master menu and you’ll be able to apply a font combination to the theme.

As you can see, PowerPoint gives you the opportunity to choose a combination of fonts: one for the title and one for the body.

Learn more reading the chapter “Design thinking, think like a designer > Font structure and recommended fonts” from the Lean Presentation Design book to learn how to properly choose the most effective font combination for every presentation.

Applying color combinations to the PowerPoint Slide Master

You can apply the same method to other formatting options; for example, colors. You’ll get many ready-to-use color combinations.

Once selected, close the Slide Master, go back to the Normal view and create a simple shape to see what happened to the color palette. As you can see, the standard color palette has changed to allow you quickly select colors from the palette applied to the main theme.

Color combinations are one of the most powerful tools you can use to boost your communication effectiveness. However, building a color palette requires design skills. If you do not use specific techniques, you risk creating a negative impact with your communication.

Applying effects to the PowerPoint Slide Master

From the theme slide, you can also control the effects applicable to shapes.

After you set them up in the Slide Master, you’ll find the effects available in the Normal view. Insert a new shape, open the Format tab of the shape, and then the ready-to-use effect panel.

Even if this panel is very effective, I never really use it in my presentations. The effect panel gives you the possibility to create several forms of 3D effects, which I recommend not to use in your presentations.

Edit PowerPoint slide master background image

If you want to quickly apply a background to the slides, you can easily choose it the background styles panels.

How to insert editable placeholders in the Slide Master

You surely noticed that every time you apply a layout to a slide, it comes with placeholders like editable text boxes. These text boxes aren’t standard ones because they are placed in a layout and can be edited from the normal view.

This mechanism allows you to leverage the power of the Slide Master. There are several types of PowerPoint slide master editable text boxes you can apply to a layout. The most important ones are the title and the footers. You can quickly select them from the top menu with a check box.

Date, footer description and page number are all part of the bottom page placeholders.

Once the placeholders are placed in the slide, you can format them as you prefer. You can choose among several type of placeholders.

Slide Master > Placeholders > Text

Creates a text box with a pre-formatted bullet point up to five level of indentation. The text box shows six icons in the middle that let you choose the kind of content you can insert from the Normal view. This is the most complete placeholder. All the others are single parts of this one.

Slide Master > Placeholders >Picture

Creates a box to quickly add an image.

Slide Master > Placeholders > Chart

Creates a box to quickly insert a chart.

Slide Master > Placeholders > Table

Allows you to quickly insert a table.

Slide Master > Placeholders > Smart Art

Placeholder for the PowerPoint Smart Arts. I never use Smart Arts, and neither should you!

Slide Master > Placeholders > Media

Perfect for inserting videos.

Slide Master > Placeholders > Online Image

You can even add a placeholder to facilitate inserting images from the web.

Thanks to all these placeholders, you can create complex and accurate layouts. You can even add multiple PowerPoint Slide Master editable text boxes in the same slide. All these functions are very useful when you need to setup layouts to be filled by others. A typical case is when you need to collect the same slide from separated persons (eg. Slide with the monthly performance report from different geographies compiled by the business units in the country).

You could easily setup a layout to share with all the business units. They will update their charts, their tables, the title and a nice video where they can comment the figures. You’ll only need to collect the slides and put them together in the same presentation and they’ll all come nicely formatted in the same way.

Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial

Cleaning up PowerPoint Slide Master

When you jump on somebody else’s presentation, you’ll find that the master is often a mess. There are many themes with redundant layouts and many others that are in the document since it has been created and aren’t used anymore. This is not effective because you will get lost among the layouts every time you try to apply one to the slides and it also wastes a lot of space, making the presentation very heavy. In these cases, I recommend you to clean up the Slide Master from the unused or redundant themes, and use one main theme with only the layouts you really use in the presentation.

When you start cleaning your Slide Master, you’ll notice that some layouts cannot be canceled. This happens because those layouts are in use by a slide in the presentation. If you go over the layout previews with your pointer, PowerPoint will tell you which slide is using it, so you’ll be able to quickly find the slide and unlink it from that layout just applying another layout.

PowerPoint master slide templates

Microsoft developed many PowerPoint Slide Master templates you can download for free.

Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial

I strongly recommend you to avoid failing into the trap of the ready-to-use PowerPoint master slide templates. The master slide is crucial to unleash your creativity and to clean up your presentation. If you use ready-to-use master slide templates, you’ll force yourself to stick to old fashioned designs and you’ll get an ineffective presentation.

I prefer to create a new presentation, to clean up the default Slide Master template and to keep it simple and clean. I often keep only the layouts I really need and I create new designs as I require them.

Slide Master makes your presentation flexible

I always use the PowerPoint Slide Master to deliver my clients the flexibility to edit and upgrade the presentations I create for them in the future. Every time I create a new presentation, the first thing I do is format the Slide Master to set formatting options and to create the layouts I’ll need. My clients always receive their presentation with the customized Slide Master I create for them so they can add new slides, applying the same formatting combination properties I created for them.

One of my most acclaimed PowerPoint Slide Master templates is the Elance look alike presentation.

Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial

This is a great example on how you can standardize a presentation and re-use the graphics for any future presentation if you work properly with your Slide Master.

I developed a 12 layouts in this presentation and provided several examples on how to use them. So, as seen in this tutorial, if you right-click on the slide thumbnail and check the layout panel, you can choose one of the layout from the Slide Master.

Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial

For example, let’s say you need to make section divider slides.

First you choose one of the layouts. In this case, I’ll select the third one.

You get the slide ready.

Now you just need to add the section number and the section title you prefer.

The beauty here is that every time you’ll add a section splitter slide, you will just need to recall the same layout and to change the two text fields. You won’t need to align the background green rectangle and the different placeholders. Finally, all the slides will look the same and you’ll get consistency through your presentation.

Get your Elance template copy now!

Name layouts properly

In my experience, clients require me to craft a ready-to-use set of layouts to unify all their corporate presentations. The typical example is the internal communication function that wants to standardize the presentations within the company. This is very important because it creates unicity internally and also when the corporate presentations are sent to clients. In these cases, the Slide master presentation becomes the official theme of the company and, after I deliver it, it is often shared with all the employees. Since there won’t be any explanation attached, it might be very useful to name the layouts properly. In the following image, you’ll see how I named the 9 layouts I developed for one of my clients.

When you choose names for the layouts, it’s always important to agree them with your client, in order to be sure that they will be meaningful, and therefore of help for those who will need to use them.

In order to name a layout in the Slide Master, you need to right click on the layout you want to edit:

Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial

Now choose Rename layout and type the name you chose.

Conclusion – Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial

In this Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master tutorial we saw that the Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Master is probably the most powerful tool you can leverage to reduce the time spent formatting your slides. It might take more time in the beginning because you won’t go straight away to work on the presentation, but you’ll dedicate some time to set up, but trust me, you’ll be grateful the whole time you’re doing your presentation.

How do you use the Slide Master? Should you have any further curiosity about it do not hesitate to comment on this post and share it with me. I’ll be glad to contribute.


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