A Few Tips on How to Use PowerPoint for Mathematical Presentations

What These Are About

These tips may help you produce math-heavy PowerPoint presentations more efficiently, and get them to look better. They assume familiarity with the basics of PowerPoint. They do not argue for or against using PowerPoint for your presentations (there are many pros and cons). They were born out of a conversation among graduate students in the MIT theory group sometime in 1999 or 2000, when many of us were discovering PowerPoint and agreed that a page for sharing tips would be useful. Some of them are probably getting out of date as newer versions of PowerPoint come out.

They are maintained by Leonid Reyzin. Please contact me if you have additional tips you think should be included, or if you find something wrong (or no longer applicable).

Machine Independence

One of the biggest headaches with PowerPoint is the difficulty of getting it to look the same on different machines. To that end:

Making Overlays

Get everything you want onto one slide, and get in its final form. Then split it into overlays as follows: copy it as many times as the number of overlays, and simply "hide" parts on each slide. To hide a part, change its color to white, or cover it up with a white rectangle. Do not delete text, because that will move other text around, and your overlays won't match. Instead, change its color to white.

Typesetting Math

One way to typeset mathematical formulas and symbols in PowerPoint is to use TexPoint add-in. I haven't tried it myself, but have heard good things about it. Just save often, because PowerPoint's tendency to crash apparently only increases when the add-in is used (in particular, when the LaTeX interpreter is closed improperly).

Another option, starting in PowerPoint 2010 for PC, is to toggle math mode by pressing Alt-=, which will allow you to write math using LaTeX syntax (note, however, that your formulas won't necessarily display correctly in other versions of PowerPoint, particularly on a Mac; thanks to Claudio Orlandi for checking this).

If you prefer to use "straight" PowerPoint, here are some tips.

  1. Getting it to look good

  2. Inserting non-standard characters.

  3. Subscripts and superscripts

  4. More complex formulas.

Drawing

Layout and Design Tips

Miscellaneous PowerPoint Tips