How to use triggers to control what happens next in PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint triggers give you a lot of power because they allow you to choose when animations are implemented during the show.

Image: monticello/Shutterstock

Clicking a Microsoft PowerPoint slide once to start animations that occur in a particular order is common. But what happens when you want to control the order during the show? When this happens, use PowerPoint triggers. In this article, I’ll show you how to connect three famous quotes to three arrow shapes. During the show, you’ll control the order in which PowerPoint displays the quotes by clicking the arrows.

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I’m using Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but you can use an earlier versions through PowerPoint 2007. For your convenience, you can download the demonstration .pptx file. This file contains two slides. The first is complete. The second contains the shapes and text boxes so you can follow along using the second slide.

What is a PowerPoint trigger?

A PowerPoint trigger is a small instruction that makes something happen. You could think of clicking a slide to move to the next one as a built-in trigger. By using a trigger, you determine when a specific action or animation occurs. The trigger doesn’t contain the action or animation, it only sets it into motion. It’s the race referee that hollers “Go!”

Perhaps the best thing about triggers is they let you control when something happens. If you decide to reveal information in an order different from the original plan, you can! Now that you know what a trigger is, let’s move on.

How to prepare the PowerPoint shapes and text

Figure A shows a few shapes and text. We’re keeping things simple to not distract from the trigger focus. We won’t spend any time inserting the shapes and text, so if you’re working with your own slide, I’ll use the arrows to trigger an animation that reveals its corresponding text.

Figure A

We’ll use triggers to display text.
We’ll use triggers to display text.

Because we need to assign each trigger to an element, we’ll name the arrows. Later, when you’re connecting each arrow to its text, meaningful names will make this process much simpler.

Now, let’s name the first arrow—the one to the left of the Benjamin Franklin quote:

  1. Select the arrow and then click the contextual Shape Format tab.
  2. In the Arrange group, click the Selection Pane to open it.
  3. In the resulting pane, the arrow you selected is highlighted (gray).
  4. Click it once and PowerPoint gives you access to the shape’s name.
  5. Enter Franklin (Figure B), and press Enter.

Figure B

Name an arrow.
Name an arrow.

Repeat the steps above to name the remaining arrows, Seuss and Confucius, accordingly. You don’t have to guess which arrow in the Selection pane matches the quote—simply select the arrow, and the Selection pane will identify it for you.

Now you’re ready to add the animations that will expose the quotes when triggered.

How to add the animations in PowerPoint

The triggers will start the animations that expose each quote, so we need to apply the animations next. We’re going to keep things simple:

  1. Click the Franklin quote.
  2. Click the Animations tab.
  3. From the gallery in the Animations group, click Wipe. If it isn’t available, click the gallery’s More button and look for it in the Entrance section. You can choose another animation if you like. Applying an animation will display a small indicator next to the text box with the number 1.
  4. After setting the Appear animation, click the Effects Options and choose From Left from the dropdown—or choose any direction you like. When the animation is triggered, PowerPoint will reveal the text from the left.
  5. With the Franklin quote still selected, click Animation Painter in the Advanced Animations group twice and then click the other two text boxes to apply the same animation to the other two text boxes. Click Animation Painter to disable it.

Figure C shows the small animation indicators and the Selection pane. Right now, the indicators are numbered 1, 2 and 3. That means if you click the slide, the animations will display the quotes in that order. We don’t want that, we want a trigger to display each quote, in any order we like. That’s where the arrows come in.

Figure C

Add an entrance animation.
Add an entrance animation.

How to add the animation triggers in PowerPoint

Instead of clicking in the animation order, let’s add triggers to the arrows so we can click the arrow to expose each quote, in the order we choose. To add a trigger to the Franklin quote, do the following:

  1. Select the Franklin text box.
  2. In the Advanced Animation group, click Trigger.
  3. From the dropdown, choose On Click Of.
  4. The resulting list displays the objects we can use to trigger the entrance animation for the Franklin quote. Remember when we named the arrows? This is why. You can easily identify the right arrow. Choose the Franklin shape (Figure D).

Figure D

Connect the Franklin arrow to its quote with a trigger.
Connect the Franklin arrow to its quote with a trigger.
  1. Notice that the other two indicators have new numbers because we replaced animation 1 with a trigger. The two remaining text boxes are now 1 and 2.
  2. Repeat the above steps connecting the quotes accordingly: Seuss to the arrow named Seuss and Confucius to the arrow named Confucius. At this point, the animations will no longer be numbered.

Believe it or not, you’re done!

How to run the PowerPoint show

Run the show now, and PowerPoint will display the slide and the three arrows, but not quotes. Click arrows in any order you choose to display the quotes. Figure E shows the result of clicking the Seuss arrow.

Figure E

Click an arrow to display a quote.
Click an arrow to display a quote.

The trigger’s value is that you control the order of things. You can even let your audience choose the order. When running the demonstration file show, remember that there’s a second slide that contains the shapes and text boxes.

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