The only PowerPoint shortcuts you should really know


PowerPoint shortcuts that strike the perfect balance between practicality and effectiveness

Using PowerPoint without shortcuts is like cooking in a kitchen without modern appliances, I wouldn’t recommend it. Just as you’d struggle to chop, mix, and cook without the help of a knife, blender, and oven, making slides without of shortcuts is a bad idea if you use PowerPoint regularly. Now that you’re convinced of using shortcuts, let’s delve even deeper in this cooking analogy.

Not all shortcuts are created equal. Some are like a microwave – easy to learn, quick to deploy, and highly effective. These are the shortcuts you’ll find yourself using time and time again, making your workflow smoother and your days shorter. On the other hand, there are shortcuts that are akin to using a fire to cook your meals. These shortcuts might be useful in some scenarios but, unless you take the time to learn them, they’re often hard to remember and rarely see the light of day. This is either because you don’t get the chance to practice them frequently, or they’re just too long to type out.

The following shortcuts are the ones I use on a day to day as a consultant making slides. I recommend this setup for most professionals building slides regularly, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. For example, some of my co-workers have mastered alt-code shortcuts and use ‘ALT+H+FC+arrows to select the color+ENTER’ to change text color. I personally think that’s a little extra and won’t save me time compared to using my mouse.

‘SHIFT’ in PowerPoint is the trick to manipulating shapes with precision. It’ll bring your slides from a jumbled mess of shapes to a clean and visually pleasing structure.

  • SHIFT+Click and drag an object: Holding ‘SHIFT’ while moving an object will move it at the same height or width as its original position.
  • SHIFT+Draw a shape: Holding ‘SHIFT’ while drawing a shape will keep its aspect ratio 1:1. This means you’ll draw squares instead of rectangles and circles instead of ovals. Also, if you resize a shape while holding ‘SHIFT’, it’ll keep that shape’s original aspect ratio.
  • SHIFT+Draw a line: Holding ‘SHIFT’ while drawing a line will keep it perfectly vertical or horizontal.
  • SHIFT+rotate an object: Rotating an object while holding ‘SHIFT’ will rotate to common angles only. This helps in straightening your lines or setting them to 45°.

An underrated benefit of ‘CTRL’ shortcuts is that most of them can be actioned with the left hand only. This means you can keep that right hand on your mouse, preventing extra movements from mouse to keyboard. Also, everyone already has the reflex to copy-paste, so the ‘CTRL’ muscle-memory is already built.

  • CTRL+Click and drag a shape: This shortcut is used to duplicate a shape that you have selected and drag it anywhere on the slide. It’s a game changer because it allows you to essential copy-paste and position a shape at the same time.
  • CTRL+SHIFT+Click and drag a shape: Adding ‘SHIFT’ to the above shortcut allows you to position your duplicated shape at the same height or width as your original shape.
  • CTRL+SHIFT+C or V: I must copy-paste a shape or text’s format with this shortcut at least 100 times a day. Here’s the use-case: most of the time I add a new shape or text to my slide, I want it to have the same formatting as what’s already there; using this shortcut is much faster than clicking on the home tab and using the format painter tool. Also, this is a ridiculously easy new shortcut to learn because you’re probably already used to ‘CTRL+C’ and ‘CTRL+V’. You just have to add ‘SHIFT’!
  • CTRL+A: I use this shortcut whenever I want to select all the text in an object to apply a formatting change or to write new text in it’s place. I don’t really every use CTRL+A to select all objects on a slide because it’s rare to want to change the formatting or position of all everything on your slide.
  • CTRL+Y: This shortcut is used to repeat whatever action you last completed. I use it whenever I want to repeat relatively long tasks like changing the bullet indents and spacing of many text boxes. F4 also does the same thing but I find it annoying to have the function key on at all times.
  • Ctrl+V+CTRL+T: This shortcut is used to copy-paste the text only (without it’s formatting). I often find myself copy-pasting text from a website or other deck and don’t want it’s formatting to get applied to my slide.
  • CTRL+G: I group objects on frequently to move them or duplicate them as a unit which keeping their respective positions the same. For example, if there are 2 shapes that I want to align in the center of the slide but keep their spacing to one-another the same, I’ll group the shapes first and then align to center. Use ‘CTRL+SHIFT+G’ to ungroup the shapes.

I use ‘ALT’ shortcuts exclusively to actions the tools in my quick access toolbar. ‘ALT+(any number)’ will action the tool in that number’s position on your quick access toolbar. I only use the shortcuts for the first 5 positions for two reasons: 1. I like my shortcuts to be typable with one hand (only my left) and 2. My memory and laziness prevent me from learning the others.

Screenshot of PowerPoint ribbon showing alt-code shortcuts
  • ALT+1: If there’s one thing you should do after reading this article, it’s placing the ‘Align objects’ tool in the first position of your toolbar. This way, you can type ‘ALT+1+L’ to align left, ‘ALT+1+R’ to align right, ‘ALT+1+T’ to align top, so on and so forth…
Screenshot of PowerPoint shortcut for aligning objects

Another alignment tip is to use ‘SHIFT’ to align precisely if you have the PowerTools add-in. One of the most annoying parts of PowerPoint has to be aligning shapes to the center or middle. PowerPoint seems to arbitrarily choose whether to align between all shapes or to the center of one of them. Holding ‘SHIFT’ ensure alignment to the first shape selected. For example, ‘ALT+1+SHIFT+C’ will align shapes to the center of the first shape selected.

Here are the other add-in tools I put my other quick access toolbar slots and why:

  • ALT+2: Match to first is used to match the formatting and size of all objects to the first selected objects. A common use case for this tool is when adding a new icon to your deck and want its formatting and size to match the icons currently on that slide.
  • ALT+3: Swap position is pretty self explanatory; it swaps the positions of 2 selected objects. This tool is used every time you want to replace an object with another. For example, when your manager asks you to change an icon for another one, you can
    • Add that new icon to the slide
    • Select the original icon and then the new one
    • Type ALT+2 then ALT+3 to match their size and formatting and then swap the icons’ positions.
  • ALT+4 and ALT+5: Copy and paste position is a game changer when you want the same object (e.g., title, subtitle, breadcrumbs) on many slides to have the same position. That way, those slide elements won’t dance around when flipping through your presentation, they’ll stay fixed.

Good news is you can get much faster at PowerPoint if you don’t use these shortcuts yet. The hard part will be forcing yourself to use shortcuts so they can become reflexes. It’ll slow you down at the beginning, but the time saved in the long run with far outweigh the initial annoyance.