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
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are probably getting out of date as newer versions of PowerPoint come out.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something wrong (or no longer applicable).
One of the biggest headaches with PowerPoint is the difficulty of getting it to
look the same on different machines. To that end:
Make sure your file includes fonts. This is accomplished by going to the "File"
menu, selecting "Save As," and checking the "Embed TrueType" check box in the
dialog box that pops up. Then click "Save." Your file will likely become
very large once you do this, and you may need to compress it to get it to fit
a single floppy (see also "Miscellaneous PowerPoint Tips," below, for how to deal with large files).
If you use Equation Editor/MathType, you need to embed those fonts,
as well. Unfortunately, PowerPoint doesn't know you are using those
fonts simply because an equation is embedded (it treats equations
as graphics); thus, you need to make sure that at least one
character from each font used in your equations
appears somewhere (e.g., on a special slide,
or as white on white, or just a space) in an ordinary PowerPoint textbox.
The fonts you are interested in are MTExtra, Euclid Math One and Euclid Math
Two. Then use "Embed TrueType" option described above. (Thanks to Bob Mathews
for the tip.)
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.
One way to typeset mathematical formulas and symbols in PowerPoint is to use
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.
- Getting it to look good
- Italicize only what should be italicized. Generally, this means
only Roman and Greek variable names (italicizing uppercase Greek is optional).
Be sure to not italicize plus and minus signs, function like
log and cos, numerals, parentheses, etc. If in doubt about
what should be italicized in a particular formula, typeset it in LaTeX and
then mimic LaTeX's output in PowerPoint. To toggle italics, just
- Use Times New Roman or a similar font. Sans serif fonts, such as
Helvetica, are not good for math
(although they may be good for the rest of your
It's ok to have one font for math and another for the text (the slides class
of LaTeX does that, in fact). To change fonts without
using the mouse, use Ctrl-Shift-f and arrow keys.
- You can also change fonts and styles by using the "format painter" button:
simply get one character to look right, and then use the format painter
to copy its format to other similar characters. (Thanks to Shane Scott for this
- Do not use a hyphen for a minus sign. A much better minus sign is an
en-dash. Unfortunately, it is a bit hard to get in PowerPoint.
See "Inserting non-standard characters" below.
- When you copy math around, make sure it has the same font size as the
surrounding text. PowerPoint will not always automatically get it right.
- Inserting non-standard characters.
- To insert Greek letters, simply type the "corresponding" Roman letter
(e.g., "a" for alpha, "t" for tau, "q" for theta), and then change its
font to Symbol. Same for "sum" and "product" symbols: simply use
capital sigma and capital pi.
Standart Unicode symbols for integrals don't look any good.
You may want to use the curve-line tool to make one and then copy it around.
(Thanks to Nikola Venkov for this tip.)
- To insert the many special symbols that are available in Microsoft Word
(such as en- and em-dashes, ©, etc.), simply open up
Microsoft Word, and insert them using the menu "Insert" then "Symbol."
The "Special Characters" tab is particularly useful, and contains handy keyboard
Once you get it in Microsoft Word, simply select it, copy it, and then paste
into your PowerPoint text. Make sure the result has the correct font and size.
Then you can copy it around your PowerPoint file whenever you need it.
- More recent versions of PowerPoint have the "Symbol..." item in
the "Insert" menu (the corresponding toolbar button is available, as well:
see "Miscellaneous PowerPoint tips," below). You can insert characters
from various fonts.
- A host of characters is available in the "Character Map" accessory.
(Go to the "Start" button, then "Applications," then "Accessories," then
"Character Map.") Trying different fonts to find what you need; Symbol font
is particularly useful for math. You can select and copy characters,
then paste over to PowerPoint. Moreover, if you click on a particular
character, you get the "keyboard code" for it displayed at the bottom.
Once you learn the keyboard code, you can type it directly in PowerPoint
without having to copy and paste. For example, the code
for an en-dash (which is good for minus signs)
in Times New Roman font is Alt-0150 (hold down Alt, press
0150 on the numeric keypad, then let go of Alt). The code may be different
in other fonts.
- Subscripts and superscripts
- To make subscripts and superscripts using the menus, select
the character you need, then go to "Format" then
"Font." Note that you can get double superscripts, subscripts of superscripts,
etc., by varying the "offset" amount.
- It is faster to make standard subscripts and superscripts using the
keyboard. Ctrl-= toggles the subscript flag, and Ctrl-+ (same as Ctrl-Shift-=)
toggles the superscript flag. For example, to get
type "a, Ctrl-=, i, Ctrl-=, x, Ctrl-+, i, Ctrl-+" (don't forget to turn
on italics at the beginning by "Ctrl-i").
- You can also get buttons for making subscripts and superscripts on your
toolbar. See "Miscellaneous PowerPoint Tips" below. Or you can use
the format painter: get a single subscript to look right,
and then copy its format to other subscripts
(see "Getting it to look good" above).
- More complex formulas.
- You may avoid using Equation Editor/MathType
(see "Machine Independence" above)
by utilizing multiple text boxes instead.
You can move them around to get them in the right positions. Note
that large parentheses, brackets, braces, and other useful shapes
are available under "AutoShapes" (most likely on your drawing toolbar).
Once you get a formula to look right, group all of its components (see
"Drawing" below), so you can easily move it around and copy it.
- Learn to use "Group," "Ungroup" and "Regroup" in your "Draw" menu
(also on your right-click menu). "Regroup" is particularly handy
if you need to ungroup to modify something little. You don't have
to reselect everything to group it back: simply choose "Regroup."
- To select multiple objects, hold down the Shift key as you click
on them with the mouse.
- It is a pain to select text boxes, because when you click inside
them, you get to edit text. If that happens, press "escape," and the text
box becomes selected. Alternatively, hold down the Shift key as you click.
Conversly, if you've selected a text box and now want to edit its text,
- It is often easier to nudge objects by selecting them and using arrow
keys, rather than by using the mouse.
- Connectors (available under "AutoShapes" on your drawing toolbar)
are great when drawing
graphs, trees, etc. They can be made to stick to an object, so when you move
nodes around, edges adhere to them.
Layout and Design Tips
- You do not have to be stuck with the standard boring slide style.
Play around with it by going to the Edit menu, and selecting Master, then
- When giving a talk that will be projected (rather than printed out
on transparencies), the color combination that is easiest on the eyes
is yellow (or white) on a blue background. (Thanks to Steven Rudich
for this tip.)
- To make small caps font style (equivalent to LaTeX's \textsc
command), type in all uppercase letters. Then select all the letters
you actually want to be in small caps (i.e., not the ones you want to
actually be uppercase, such as first letters of sentences), and simply
make the font about four points smaller. (Thanks to Amit Sahai for
- To start a new line without starting a new paragraph: press "Shift-Enter."
Miscellaneous PowerPoint Tips
- You can customize your toolbars. In particular, it is handy to
have buttons for "Format-Subscript," "Format-Superscript," and
"Insert-Symbol." Go to the Tools menu, then Customize, then click on
the "Commands" tab. Then simply find a command you want by looking at
the various categories, and drag it out of the dialog directly onto a
toolbar you want. (Thanks to Amit Sahai for this tip.)
- If AutoCorrect annoys you (e.g., you have a variable named "i" and
don't want PowerPoint to automatically capitalize it every time),
check out the menu "Tools" then "AutoCorrect." If it doesn't annoy
you but is just occasionally wrong, you can undo what it just
corrected by pressing Ctrl-Z or selecting "Undo" in the "Edit" menu.
- If you file is too large to fit on a single floppy and
you need to take it with you, use the "Pack and Go" command
in the File menu. Be sure to check the boxes that
"Include linked files" and "Embed TrueType fonts" in the dialog
boxes that follow. Prepare a large box of floppies,
as PowerPoint manages to only enlarge your file as it "compresses"
it. However, the packing and restoration procedure is automated,
and beats trying to split the file into multiple chunks yourself.
Don't forget to label the floppy disks in numerical order; run the application
that is included on the first floppy to restore the file to another computer.