Creating powerful presentations requires planning and preparation. This is no different from designing PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint plugins are known for adding that extra touch that makes presentations stand out from the rest. These add-ons automate and enhance aspects of your presentation, which can help you get your message across more effectively.
You could easily get lost in that immense jungle of choices if you do it alone, however, so here we have done the homework and present to you top picks from select categories, with provision for free and paid platforms.
We humans, as Romih (2016) aptly stated, are visual creatures. The presentation of information, data, and complex ideas in visual form played a key role in the rise of human civilizations. They are being used as scaffolding to concepts or even as “proofs” of the veracity or validity of complex ideas (see Alsina & Nelsen, 2007). Humans have done it since time immemorial. The world’s oldest drawing by Homo sapiens was a crayon-on-stone piece done around 73,000 years ago.
Visual presentation is not unique to modern Homo sapiens, too. Researchers like Hoffman and colleagues (2018), as pointed out by Barras (2018), believe that archaic humans like the Neanderthals engage in symbolic behavior. However, this is still a part of a lively debate.
The point is it is in our DNA to express ourselves and learn using visual aids. Interestingly, it is believed that more than 50% of our cortex or the surface of our brain is devoted to visual information processing (Williams n.d., cited in Hagen, n.d.). Hence, there is no wonder why many people prefer some form of visual aid when learning, be it a teacher writing on a board or using PowerPoint.
As visual culture evolves, preferences change. As pointed out by Gallo (2014), a survey showed that 46% of the respondents admitted to being distracted by traditional presentations. Instead of watching and listening, they were sending text messages, surfing the internet, checking social media, and even falling asleep (Prezi & Harris Poll, 2014, cited in Marketwired, 2014).
To keep up with this evolution, presenters may need to up their game when it comes to tools. To this end, PowerPoint (PPT) plugins could be just the tools you need to make your traditional slide presentations more engaging.
Sources: Harris Poll, 2014, cited in Marketwired, 2014
About 70% of professionals who give presentations agree that presentation skills are critical to their success (Prezi & Harris Poll, 2014, cited in Gallo, 2014). In the academic setting, PowerPoint, used as a powerful visual aid, has become an integral part of the contemporary classroom. And even though it was found that students do not necessarily prefer PowerPoint presentations over traditional transparencies in individual classes, it was found that students, for the most part, prefer PowerPoint-based lectures over lectures that used transparencies after a semester of school (Bartsch & Cobern, 2003).
And, with the rise of visual culture, from social media posts to video-on-demand services, pedagogy, as we know it, needs to evolve with it. This is applicable to both business and educational settings.
In one study, it was found that students are usually asked to present for an average of 10 minutes in two classes per semester (Alshare et al., 2004). Instructors and students themselves agree that the critical objective of this requirement is to improve communication skills. Presentations train students to talk to a group of people. Moreover, the researchers also pointed out that employers are demanding graduates have great communication skills (written, oral, and listening).
When it comes to presentations, though, different aspects have different values for different people. Alshare and associates (2004) found that instructors ranked the “content” of presentation first. Students, on the other hand, ranked the “organization” of the presentation as the top priority. Both parties in this study, however, agreed that both “well-organized” presentation and “enjoyable content” were the two most important measures of the effectiveness of a presentation.
Relevance is also an important aspect when creating presentations. Bartsch & Cohen (2003) found that students dislike slides that have irrelevant pictures. Students performed worse with these on recall and recognition tasks. It is believed that organisms learn by associating sequences of stimuli with each other (Christian, 2010). Also, other thinkers find that analogy is the core of cognition (see Hofstadter, 2006, cited in Palmer, 2006). Whether you agree with this or not, it is self-evident that humans can learn through and express themselves via analogy and association. The use of similes and metaphors is good evidence of this.
From these, we can learn three important factors that make presentations (and communication in general) effective:
But what about individual slides? Here are five aspects to consider as pointed out by communication expert David J.P. Phillips in his TEDx Talk, Death by PowerPoint.
We all know that being able to present ideas in a fun, visual, and stimulating way is a great skill to have. But many professionals have a fear of doing presentations (Prezi & Harris Poll, 2014, cited in Marketwired, 2014). It was found that 20% would do something to get out of presenting. Twelve percent would get someone else to present and 9% pretend to be sick. Moreover, presenters would try different measures to deal with the fear, including taking a shot of alcohol or liquid courage (5%), take some medication (7%), and some even picture the audience naked (7%).
This shows that it is important that professionals have the right tools to be more confident in making great presentations. One survey showed that 91% of respondents agree that they would feel more confident if their presentation was designed beautifully (Noar, 2018). In the next section, we will discuss a class of tools that can help make effective slides and visuals way easier.
Sources: Harris Poll, 2014, cited in Marketwired, 2014
PowerPoint (PPT) plugins are add-ons to the program that can automate certain aspects of presentation-making and make it easier for you to create engaging slides. They are easily downloadable from the Microsoft AppSource and vendor websites. Also, it is quite easy to install them. A guide is provided in a section below.
Generally, plugins make creating slides on PPT even simpler. For instance, you want to swap a shape for another without changing the original’s placement. When you do this on PowerPoint manually, it is quite tedious and will cost you a few sighs. With additional plug-ins, you can easily swap shapes, colors, and many more aspects of different elements easily.
Other PPT plugins can help you make way more engaging and highly-visual presentations easier. This is thanks to advanced data presentation features packaged with easy-to-use controls. For example, there are those that allow you to use different kinds of charts and visualizations not available in the PowerPoint vanilla version. PPT to video converter app is also available.
Also, if you need royalty-free graphics, there are PPT plugins for those too. They provide you with professional-looking graphics and professionally-taken images. You do not have to settle for clip arts or spend enormous time creating your own. Just use a plugin to quickly crunch out engaging slides.
For business and academic presentations, there are plugins that can help you create charts, diagrams, and graphs. With these, you do not have to switch programs and screen capture to paste these on your presentation. You can just create and edit them straight from PowerPoint. This is useful in showing research results and data. Also, it can be helpful in the business setting when you present plans and projects.
There are PPT plugins that are free while being quite powerful and useful in themselves. There are also advanced tools that afford you more freedom and extend the range of your visuals. However, they come at a price.
In the next section, we will give you a rundown of our favorite PPT plugins for both academic and business presentations.
Our interests in this article are only limited to PPT plugins for general academic and business presentation use. There are, of course, standalone plugins that are highly-specialized and offer users higher levels of customizability (e.g. creating new color palettes, sending PPT to multiple Smart TVs, more choices for emojis, etc.). These are beyond the scope of this article. Similarly, we will not be discussing third-party connectors or plugins that can be used to directly transfer and present data from another program onto PPT.
We will provide a rundown of plugins for (1) General Use, (2) Academic Use, and (3) Business Use.
This is a free e-learning authoring program that allows users to create responsive quizzes and courses directly in PowerPoint. iSpring Free lets you add media like audio and video, and it can convert your file into flash or HTML5 format, thus enhancing your PPT file’s functionality (Matsuda et al., 2017). Also, it is free.
If you are old enough to remember old Encarta CDs that contain interactive courses, then you would find out that you can create this type of dynamic and responsive courses with iSpring Free added to your PPT. You can place objects, animate them, add transitions to slides, and create interactive quizzes. Most of these you can do on PPT itself. However, PPT is not designed to make it that interactive in that level of ease.
With iSpring Free, you can easily turn your slides into elearning materials. You can also turn your slides into quizzes or surveys. Hence, you will be able to track learner progress as you go.
Another great thing about this PowerPoint plugin is that it makes your courses available on any device. Its because iSpring Free allows you to publish your slides on the web and on your learning management system (LMS) too. It effortlessly converts your slides to compatible formats like HTML5, SCORM 1.2, or SCORM 2004. This way, you will not have a separate system for performance measurement—rendering you elearning facilitation workflow easier and smoother.
However, iSpring Free does not have enough features for full-on elearning courses. In particular, the free version only supports five quiz questions and just 15 slides for a course. You also get only three question types. If you want to have more features, you have to switch to its paid version.
The iSpring Suite is the paid version with more advanced features for creating PPT-based quizzes and other interactions for web consumption (Kevan & Ryan, 2016). With it, you will get an unlimited number of questions and course slides. Also, it makes 14 question types available.
The paid suite also allows for more customizability of your elearning or business training slides. You will be able to create conversation simulations, do screencasts, video tutorials, add narrations, have interactions, and get access to a rich content library.
The content library allows you to pick characters and edit existing scripts to create responsive role-play simulations. With a drag-and-drop editor, you can create scenarios for sales or call center training. If you want to use this in an educational setting, the paid version is compatible with 156 LMS platforms such as Moodle, Canvas, TalentLMS, and many more.
In the free version, you can only embed videos. In the paid version, you can edit videos from right inside PowerPoint. It comes with a user-friendly studio where you can splice videos, add effects, texts, music, and other media. It is easy to use that you do not need to be an advanced video editor to make great PPT-based videos.
The iSpring Suite is priced at $770 per user a year. For three or five users, you will get discount prices of $650 and $620, respectively.
If you do not have the time and the resources to do voice-over narrations for your PPT slides or video course, Speech-Over Professional can help you with text-to-speech (TTS) narration. All you have to do is type what you want to say and its Acapela TTS function will convert it to narrations. You can choose from different voices from voice-over talents of different genders and accents.
With this, you can cut your spending and your production time. Also, you and your trainers are not necessarily required to be there to deliver courses. It is perfect for distance learning and self-paced training courses. You can also make interactive narrations and make your materials more engaging.
It comes in different versions: the U.S. English version, German version, Danish version, and the Indian version. Although there is some similarity to natural speech, the narration might be a tad robotic for your taste. It is good but it might not cut it with people with keen ears.
The monthly subscription is priced at $29 per month, billed monthly while the annual plan is at $299, billed yearly.
Power-User will help you create presentations on PPT like a true power user and more instantly. This PowerPoint plugin has dozens of features that can help you save time and deliver highly visual presentations. Its wide range of functions includes the creation of diagrams, pipettes, Gannt charts, tornado charts, Mekko charts, and Sankey charts, among others.
The platform also has a rich templates library so you do not have to start from scratch. It also has a data map function that you can use to present and highlight geographical information and data. This is perfect for presenting academic survey research or business information like market shares, local sales, and performance. The country maps available range alphabetically from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. U.S. states maps are also available.
Moreover, Power-User is not only limited to PowerPoint. You can use its features for both Word and Excel as well.
Another great thing about Power-User is that it is free for academic use. Teachers and students get it for free. However, if you want to use it in business settings, then you can get it for a little less than $20 per month billed annually. This plan includes 400 PPT and Excel templates, 6,000 flags and vector images, 200 editable maps, an agenda builder, advanced charts, and tools for automation and manipulation.
This PowerPoint plug-in is a repository of free stock photos and videos shared by talented creators. Pexels media are licensed under Creative Commons Zero and are easily browsed, searched, and downloaded (Lehnen & Artemchick, 2016). Moreover, these media are free for commercial usage and you do not need to place attribution.
The media are available in collections, which range from gardening to mockups.
Mentimeter is an interactive presentation and meeting software. It is a standalone presentation software that can hold its own against similar programs. Its main differentiator, however, is that it offers presenters the chance to get real-time input from online students or remote teams. And, the vendor makes these available for you to use on PowerPoint as well through their its plugin.
In an academic setting, it provides students with a way to get involved with classes and sessions using digital technology, including their mobile devices (Skoyles, 2017). This is thanks to features such as live polls, word clouds, Q&As, quizzes, and a lot more on the platform.
For business, you can use it for training, surveys, and getting feedback. There are more than 15 visualizations for audience input. These include Spider charts, pie, donuts, Q&A, and others.
Its free account supports unlimited audience size too. This way, everyone can participate in sessions and surveys. Moreover, there is a segmentation tool where you can see how answers develop over time and identify trends.
With its paid plans, you get more features, including unlimited questions per presentation, export capabilities to Excel of results, the use of your own logo, and a single sign-on (SSO) capability.
Educational pricing starts at $6.99 a month while business plans start at $9.99 a month.
LiveWeb is a useful free PowerPoint plugin that allows users to display acrobat documents (PDF), VRML, java applets, and others within PPT in real-time. This is useful when you do tutorials on how to use online tools. If you are in academia, you can use this add-in to orient your new students about your LMS. If you are in business, you can train employees to use company-specific tools on the web or intranet.
For the newest version of LiveWeb for PPT 2007 or later, you can set the zoom level on the browser page. There is a scripting error suppression feature. Should you want to purchase the source code for LiveWeb if you decide to use your own branding, then you can contact the vendor for details.
GeoGebra is an application for interactive geometry, algebra, calculus, and statistics education. It is intended to be used from primary school up to university level. Helpful to mathematics and science education, it allows users to plot on graphs, explore geometrical shapes and properties, while offering many classroom resources as well.
These resources include interactive prepared courses, tutorials, and collaboration features to learn in groups. The platform also functions as a social media sharing tool for educators. Learners can browse for classroom resources authors and their courses easily.
The GeoGebra for PowerPoint application allows you to access the platform through your presentation file. You can pick an existing construction or start from scratch when you do your lessons. Also, all changes you make get saved in the file as well.
Moreover, there is also this neat GeoGebraTube add-in that allows users to insert materials in Office 365. It can be accessed easily through the My Apps menu and the applets appear as images. They become interactive once you click them.
Additionally, GeoGebra is free.
Waltzing Atoms Molecule Viewer is a molecule visualization tool for PPT and Excel. The application allows you to embed interactive 3D visualizations with zoom and rotate capabilities. With the add-in, you can access the PubChem database. On it, you select a molecule name and get a preview. Once you click embed, you permanently add the molecule to your file.
The program, however, is not free. There is a free trial though. Once registered, you get 20 free embeds. If you want more, you have to get a license through the link in your add-in. A license for one educator will cost you less than $120 for a year. For 10 educators, it comes at a discount price of less than $945 per year.
CK-12 Science Resources allows educators to find real-world examples, videos, and text for science concepts right inside PowerPoint. Targeted to be used for education at the middle school and high school levels, it offers a comprehensive library of science concepts that is easily searchable by keywords.
Moreover, this app was designed to fit different classroom models and education facilitation styles. These include flipped classrooms and 1:1 education. Plus, it has an active teacher community that can help you with materials, technical issues, and educational advice should you need them.
The application is from the CK-12 Foundation, a nonprofit that creates and curates quality STEM content for education worldwide.
ExploreTheData is an add-in that allows you to explore data, as the name says, using interactive, cross-linked tables and charts. It easily helps you plot out a chart by just selecting the variables and data. You are also provided with different views that you can use to gain insights. This is perfect for analytics and analytics presentation. The add-in is powered by a library of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) components. So, it can display large datasets smoothly.
The tables have all the usual functionalities, including data searching, sorting, filtering, and row selection. You can also zoom through a graphical view. Also, it offers a wide range of operations, including the basics like mean and sum, among others.
On the other hand, the charts available are varied as well. You can choose from area plots, line plots, and scatter plots. You can also choose between logarithmic or linear scales. Moreover, it runs on a zoom-dependent rendering engine, providing you with quick access to single data points of a large dataset.
Another visualization tool, the Modern Charts add-in, allows you to add beautiful charts and memorable infographics. This is perfect for presentations, reports, and business dashboards. Moreover, you can use this for a wide variety of business reporting needs from HR to finance. Hence, there are really three uses for it: normal business reports, daily dashboards, and corporate presentations.
With these visualizations, you will be able to help yourself and your audience process information faster. Features include an infographics charts library, color codes input option, the adding of source data for accurate interpretation, and the transposition of data on charts, among others.
The platform is currently free on Microsoft AppSource.
It is important for presenters to get feedback from their audience about the effectiveness of their presentation and their slides. PrimaDeck is an app and a plugin that helps presenters gather feedback on specific aspects of their presentations. With the plugin, you can provide real-time content to your audience. It also acts as an engagement incubator using a chatroom feature. Also, it provides you with a workspace that can connect people with various viewpoints.
By involving your audience, your presentation will have more retention. Additionally, you can easily let your audience know when you have an update in your presentation file.
PrimaDeck can be used for getting feedback for your educational slides. However, it seems more useful for corporate training materials and for professional speaking engagements.
The platform is free for an individual. For professional speakers and entrepreneurs, it costs $9.99 per month.
So, how to install PowerPoint plugins? There are three main ways to add supplemental programs on Microsoft Office software, including PowerPoint. But first, you have to have a copy of an installer of the plugin. You can get these from (a) the official Microsoft AppSource website and (b) vendor sites. If you possess technical programming skills, you can create your own plugins using Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).
Now, after downloading your desired plugin from either AppSource or the vendor/provider website, make sure you know where it is stored on your machine. Here is how to install the plugin in six easy steps.
After installing, you would need to load the plugin in order to use it. Here are the easy steps.
Now, you can use your new PowerPoint plugin for your presentation.
If presenting is a dish, the speaker is the star of the dish. Slides only enhance the speaker’s message and delivery. In David Epstein’s words, an investigative reporter whose TED talk on YouTube has been viewed 6.2 million times, “The slides should supplement the talk, not give it. The speaker is the performer, and the slides are supporting actors. (Gallo, 2014).”
Gallo (2014) adds that Epstein’s experience on TED taught him that the importance of delivering a visually-engaging presentation is to add to the narrative and not just mirror the words of the speaker. So, no matter how great your presentation slides are, you really have to be on the mark.
Of course, this does not mean that you have to settle with traditional slides or bare PowerPoint capabilities. There will always be room for improvement and you can use the plugins we mentioned to help you level up your presentation skills and performance. If you want to take your presentations to the next level, you can also consider leveraging some of the best language learner apps so you can better communicate with colleagues from abroad.