Flowcharts are useful for documenting and visualizing processes. Here we will cover nuances of using PowerPoint for drawing flowcharts. We will also cover ways in which new shapes can be created. If you want professional flowcharts you must use Visio or similar dedicated tools.
Using PowerPoint for drawing flowcharts
Although PowerPoint is not the best tool for drawing professional and complex flowcharts, it is still the most commonly used tool. In the process, lot of time and energy is wasted in the process of drawing shapes, connecting them and formatting. We will see specific features of PowerPoint which will help speed up flowchart creation and animation.
If you intend to present the flowchart on a projector, do not change the PowerPoint layout. If you want to print it, change the PowerPoint page size to suit your needs. PowerPoint slides are landscape by default. If you want a to create a long, vertical process flowchart, change the page size of PowerPoint before you start drawing.
SmartArt is NOT designed for drawing flowcharts
SmartArt is a feature for visualizing textual data. Although it does have a process diagram section, the shapes in that diagram are similar. In a flowchart, each shape will most likely be dissimilar. Therefore, SmartArt is not ideally suited for drawing flowcharts.
However, you can use it as follows:
Create a process diagram using SmartArt. Go to Design Menu – Convert to Shapes. Now ungroup shapes so that you have control over individual shapes. Change the shapes as required using relevant flowchart shapes and complete the diagram. This can be a faster methodology in many cases. Here is an example. Left side shows base text and right side shows a simple linear process SmartArt.
Now after conversion to shapes and changing shapes and relationships between shapes, we can finally arrive at this flowchart.
Using Flowchart AutoShapes in PowerPoint
These shapes are available. We can use them directly to create flowcharts. The look and feel of the shape can be changed ONCE and then all future shapes can be drawn to match it.
Customize a shape manually. Right click on it and choose Set As Default Shape. Now all future shapes will look similar. This default setting is specific to the current presentation. It does not change the default for other presentations. Similarly, you have to customize one line (or arrow) and then set it as Default Line.
These have sticky ends. You see small circles at all sticky end points. If the circle is filled hollow, it is not coupled with (stuck to) another shape. If it is green in color, it is coupled. When you drag the end point of a connector towards another shape, the sticky points are shown. Drop it approximately near the sticky point. That’s it. Practice it a few times and you will get the hang of it quickly.
Now, if you move the shapes, the arrow will move with it. Sometimes it gets confused – like this. In that case, right click on the connector and choose Reroute option. It figures out the right way.
Smart Guides help you align shapes quickly
Depending upon the version of PowerPoint (2010 onwards), dotted lines appear along the boundaries of shapes to show you alignment and spacing amongst shapes. These guides appear only when you are moving one or more shapes using the mouse.
Activate Guides from View tab in the ribbon. There are only two guides to start with. Press CTRL key and drag either of them to create more guides. Position them as needed. Shapes snap to the guides automatically.
Using a Grid
Grid is also useful in alignment and positioning of shapes. Grid size can be changed. Right click on an empty area in the slide – Grid and Guides – and change the size.
Using Animation to illustrate the flowchart steps
If you need to animate the flowchart, you must use Selection Pane before you put a single shape on the slide. Home tab – Select dropdown – Selection Pane. Now add each shape and you will see it in the Selection Pane. Double click on the shape name in Selection pane and change its name immediately to what the shape represents. This names will simplify your work enormously when you are using animation, groups and effects.
Creating custom shapes using PowerPoint
This is possible from PowerPoint 2010 onwards. Create a new shape from existing shapes. Create two base shapes, overlap them. Select both of them and then choose the Merge Shapes button from Drawing tab. You can merge, combine, subtract or fragment shapes. Read these articles for details: Show Off Demo: Create new shapes in PowerPoint, Merging Shapes – Part 2
In the next article, we will cover how to use Visio more effectively.