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Let viewers set the pace of your PowerPoint presentations

Put your presentation on autopilot, or add controls that let others decide when to proceed to the next slide.

It's your presentation, and you have every right to control its pace by deciding when to move to the next slide. But there are times when you want to let the presentation run itself, or you may want to allow the person viewing it to decide when to move to the next slide (or maybe even a little of both). You can convert any PowerPoint presentation into a self-running slide show, or add controls that let the viewer go to the next slide, with just a few simple settings.

Once you've finished putting your presentation's slides in order, select one, and in PowerPoint 2003, click Slide Show > Slide Transition to open that task pane. In the Advance slide section of the task pane, check both "On mouse click" and "Automatically after" and enter the time you want the slide to remain visible. While you'll likely want to test the automatic slide loading to ensure that a slide doesn't stay on screen too long or disappear too quickly, it's a good idea to play it safe by clicking Apply to All Slides.

Ten seconds should be sufficient for most slides; if your slides take longer than that to read, maybe you should be splitting them into multiple slides, or rewriting them. Remember, brevity is the soul.

The Slide Transition task pane in Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003
Click 'Automatically after' in PowerPoint's Slide Transition task pane, and set a time for your slides to run automatically.

To set a presentation to run automatically in PowerPoint 2007, open the file, click one of its slides, choose the ribbon's Animations tab, check Automatically After in the Advance Slide area to the far right, and click Apply to All to the left of that option. Tweak the timing of the slides by clicking the Slide Show tab, choosing From Beginning at the far left, and noting which slides stay visible too long, and which need to stay on screen longer.

Add manual slide controls
You can combine automatic slide timings with viewer slide controls to let people decide when to move to the next slide, while also moving them after a set time if they take no action themselves. Start by following the steps above to apply lengthy onscreen time for each slide. Then in PowerPoint 2003, select the presentation's first slide and choose Slide Show > Action Buttons. Click the Next button, and a plus sign appears on the slide. Click the spot on the slide where you want the button placed, and leave Hyperlink to: Next Slide selected. You can resize the button, or double-click it to view other AutoShape options.

Now select the next slide, choose Slide Show > Action Buttons, and add both a Next and Previous button. You can also add a Home and/or End button. (If you customized the appearance of the Next button on the first slide, you can copy and paste it onto the next slides.)

The Set Up Show dialog box in Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007
Add slide controls to your presentation in PowerPoint 2007 by selecting the Set Up Slide Show button to open the Set Up Show dialog box.

In PowerPoint 2007, you add slide-control buttons simply by clicking the ribbon's Slide Show tab, choosing Set Up Slide Show, and selecting Manually under Advance Slides. This adds a control bar in the bottom-left corner of the slides with icons for going to the next slide, returning to the previous slide, annotating the slide, and moving to other slides in the presentation, among other options.

The slide-control options in PowerPoint 2007
Place slide controls in your PowerPoint 2007 presentation via a single setting in the Set Up Show dialog box.

Thursday: a free utility makes it easy to customize your right-click menus.