How to work with PowerPoint layers

With your PowerPoint template and slide master in place, you’ll want to begin building visuals and messaging on top to create slides with depth and impact. However, one of the most common problems encountered by PowerPoint veterans and keen amateurs alike is how to arrange and keep track of different elements when designing slide layouts.


PowerPoint Layers: Selection and Visibility

The answer to this problem is a set of incredibly useful features that surprisingly few people are aware of. PowerPoint’s Selection and Visibility Pane enables you to treat individual design elements like layers, working with them as you would in design applications like Photoshop.

Towards the right-hand side of PowerPoint’s ‘Home’ ribbon, you’ll find the Editing group of tools. Choose Select then Selection Pane to open a pop-out box titled Selection and Visibility.


Rename PowerPoint Layers

This new pane will show all the objects on your current slide, but they’ll likely have inscrutable names automatically assigned by PowerPoint – such as ‘Rectangle 1’ and ‘TextBox 3’. This might not be an issue when you have one text box and one rectangle on a slide, but when you have multiple of each and you’re trying to animate them, things get tricky. To rename an object, simply single-click its name in the pane and type your desired descriptor.

Giving your objects convenient names is especially useful when implementing more complex animations. Your conveniently renamed objects will now carry their new monikers through to the Animation pane, which makes distinguishing them roughly 1000x easier.


Reorder PowerPoint Layers

The Selection Pane allows you to easily access objects that are obstructed by others, and which would otherwise be hard to access with the mouse (just click the desired object’s name in the list).

However, its other key function it is useful for is reordering. Simply select the name of the object you wish to move in the pane, then drag it upwards (for forward) and down (or backward).


Hide PowerPoint Layers

Hiding objects is an effective way of removing them from the slide without actually deleting them. You might want to hide certain elements on a slide to give you the space you need to work closely with others.

Since your objects should now be clearly labelled, you can simply click the ‘eye’ icon next to the desired object’s name in the Selection Pane to toggle its visibility on and off.


PowerPoint for Mac – Where’s the Selection Pane?

While Mac users don’t have access to full Selection & Visibility features in PowerPoint at the time of writing, they can use the Reorder Objects tool (under the Arrange menu). This launches a simplified drag-and-drop interface that you can use to dictate the position of each object in your design.

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