How to Navigate PowerPoint Slides Like a Pro

By Dan Pinnington

Every presenter should be confident navigating through the slides in his or her PowerPoint presentation. But we can all recall seeing (and maybe even being) a flustered presenter who couldn’t get the correct slide up on the screen. Few things look worse. Here are pointers that will let you fly around the slides in PowerPoint and avoid navigation-related snafus.

Being in control of a PowerPoint presentation requires that you are intimately familiar with all the commands and keyboard shortcuts for slide navigation.

Pressing the PageUp button 22 times to get to the slide you want is just not cool.

When doing presentations, I prefer having access to my computer for three important reasons. First, having the computer in front of me allows me to see the current slide without turning my back on the audience to look at the screen. Second, even if I have a remote control, there are a number of keyboard shortcuts that make moving through your slides easier and quicker. Third, instant access to the keyboard can also be a lifesaver if there are unexpected technical glitches.

Let’s run through the essential keyboard shortcuts now.

Jumping one slide at a time. My favorite way to jump to the next slide in a presentation is to hit the space bar. Of course, pressing PageDown, Enter, the N key (for “next”), or the down or right arrow keys will do the same thing. The space bar, however, is a much larger target that is a lot easier to hit if you are nervous or your hands are shaking.

Being able to quickly go the other way is important, too, which you know if you’ve ever seen a presenter who accidentally jumped ahead a slide and couldn’t go backward. Ouch! To jump back to the previous slide, try the Backspace key. It is bigger than the PageUp, P (for “previous”), or up and left arrow keys, which all accomplish the same thing.

Jumping multiple slides. One of the most common criticisms about PowerPoint is that it forces you to do linear presentations—a series of slides, one after another, in a preset and fixed order. Hour-long presentations, of course, don’t always go in the exact order you planned, especially if you get a question from the audience that requires going to a nonadjacent slide in your presentation. And remember, pressing PageUp 22 times to get to the slide you want is just not cool.

To easily (and invisibly to the audience) jump to any slide in your presentation, press the Alt key, followed by the numerical digits that represent the number of the specific slide, and then press Enter. The desired slide will instantly appear on the screen. Now that is cool. It does, however, mean you should memorize the numbers of the key slides in your presentation, or have a list of the numbers in front of you.

Now, what happens if you want to respond to a question or make a point but don’t know the number of the slide you want to go to? A simple right-click on your mouse brings up a menu with a number of options. The option of interest here is Go to Slide. Move the cursor over this menu item and, bingo, up pops a numbered list of the titles for every slide in your presentation. Click on the desired title to jump directly to the slide.

The rapid-exit strategy. If, for some reason, you don’t get through all the slides in your presentation and the moderator is about to give you the hook, you’ll need to make a quick and graceful exit. If the last slide in your presentation is your conclusion, simply hit the End key to jump to it.

In similar fashion, pressing the Home key will instantly jump you to the very first slide in your presentation. This can be handy if you want to refer to a summary or outline of points on the first slide.

How to avoid a blackout. Now let’s turn to some common technical glitches that, luckily, can easily be avoided with a bit of homework and preparation.

Here’s one that scares presenters: Have you ever seen a screen go blank in the middle of a presentation? To extend battery life, most laptops have power management features. These features will shut down a screen, or even the whole computer, after a certain period of inactivity. This is helpful when you’re on a long flight but not something you want in the middle of a presentation.

You should turn off or disable all power management features prior to your presentation. To do this, click on Start, select Control Panel, and click on Power Options. Under Power Schemes, select Always On.

But I can’t see my computer screen. Have you ever had the screen on your laptop go blank after plugging a projector into the laptop? This glitch frustrates a lot of people, although it’s actually very easy to fix. Plugging a projector into your laptop is essentially the same as plugging a monitor into it. The computer does not distinguish between the two. It thinks a monitor is attached to the laptop and assumes you want to look at that monitor, so it turns off the laptop screen. The trick is turning on both your laptop screen and the projected image for your audience’s screen at the same time.

If you look closely at the function keys on your computer, you will see some with markings on them (other than the F1, F2, F3, etc.). They are often in a color that is different from the markings on other keys. One of these markings will be a little square or rectangle representing a monitor. By pressing the Fn key and this monitor key, you can turn the laptop screen and the projected image on and off. It is actually a three-way toggle on most computers. That is, it will switch between having the laptop screen on, the projected image on, or having both on simultaneously. Repeatedly hit the keys to cycle through and get both the laptop screen and the projected image on.

Note that you may have to wait a few seconds each time you press to let the images appear.

Now you are a master slide navigator. Go out and wow your audiences.

For more Information About the Law Practice Management Section

This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 26 of Law Practice, April/May 2006 (32:3). For more information or to obtain a copy of the periodical in which the full article appears, please call the ABA Service Center at 800/285-2221.


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Dan Pinnington is Chair of the ABA TECHSHOW 2007 Board and an Editor of the Law Practice Today webzine ( He can be reached at .

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