Use Pop-Up Text To Highlight Slide Content

By Ellen Finkelstein

powerpoint--tips-add-pop-up-text-to-explain-slide-1Sometimes you need to explain a specific area of a chart or diagram. This is hard to do either by just talking about it or adding general text, because neither points to the specific area you are referencing. One choice many presenters make is to use a laser pointer. The laser pointer has a couple of disadvantages:

  • You have to face the slide with your back to the audience.
  • It’s almost impossible to keep the pointer still, distracting the audience.

A better option is to add an arrow or circle around the area and animate it it to appear when you click anywhere on the slide. The problem with this solution is that you may not always want to discuss the chart or diagram in the exact same way. So if you have 3  arrows, sometimes you want arrow 3 to appear first but other times you want arrow 1 to appear first. With simple animation, the animation always occurs in the same order.

Another issue is that you might want the shape (such as the arrow or circle) to contain text and those shapes make it hard to fit much text.

So how do you add pop-up text that can appear in any order you choose?

The Power Of Triggers

Triggers let you specify that an animation happens when you click an object on the slide. So you can control in which order an object appears.

I think that a great use for triggers is to add explanations to a chart. There’s one problem though – the chart isn’t made up of separate objects and I don’t usually recommend pulling it apart,  in case your data changes or you need to change the layout. So instead you can put invisible or almost invisible objects nearby and click on them.


Here’s the original slide. It uses the 2-Content layout so that the chart is on the left and the explanation is on the right. But this makes the chart too small to see clearly and as I mentioned earlier, there isn’t an easy way to specify which part of the chart each line of text relates to.


Instead, you could use callouts, which are shapes that point at something and are meant to hold text. Here’s what the slide looks like with the callouts.


I think this is a better slide because the chart is much clearer (bigger) and the comments now point to the right place. Here are the steps to making the callouts appear when you want them to:

  1. Create the callouts with their text. You’ll find them from the Shapes gallery, under Callouts. I used the Rounded Rectangular Callout. You can not only resize them, but drag the little yellow square or diamond at the point so that it points where you want it to.
  2. Display the Animations tab.
  3. Select one of the callouts. Click Add Animation and choose Appear from the Entrance section. (In PowerPoint 2007, choose the Animations tab and click Custom Animation. Choose Add Effect, Entrance, Appear. If Appear isn’t on the list, choose More Effects, then choose Appear and click OK.)
  4. Do the same for the other callouts.
  5. Create a shape that you’ll click to trigger the animation. It can be any shape. Drag it on top of the area that you want to bring attention to. Note: When you add the shape, make sure that the chart isn’t selected, because you can lock it inside the chart–a frustrating situation in some cases. Also, you might have difficulty selecting the shape later–in that case, either click off the chart and drag a selection that includes the entire shape or select any object and press the Tab key to cycle through the objects.
  6. You can make the shape invisible by right-clicking and choosing Format Shape. Then set its line to No Line and set its fill to any color, increasing the transparency to 100%. If you discover (after setting the trigger) that you can’t find it, set it to 98% or 99% transparency or give the shape a color that is almost the same as your background (a very light gray worked well on my white background). 
  7. powerpoint--tips-add-pop-up-text-to-explain-slide-4Tip: You’re going to have to select which object you’ll click to make the trigger work and with several callouts and several objects to click, it can be hard to figure out which is which. So start naming your objects. On the Home tab in the Editing group, click Select, then Selection Pane.
    Click the object you wanted to select to see it highlighted in the Selection pane. Then click that object, select the default name and choose another one that is more meaningful. Do this for all of your shapes and you’ll have an easier time of it. Here you can see the names I gave my objects.
  8. In PowerPoint 2010 and 2013, click Animation Pane on the Animations tab to display it. In all versions (2007  & later), select the 1st callout and you’ll see it selected in the Animation pane. Click the down arrow to its right (in the Animation pane) and choose Timing to display the Timing tab of the animation’s dialog box.
  9. powerpoint--tips-add-pop-up-text-to-explain-slide-5Click the Triggers button if its options aren’t visible and choose Start Effect on Click of. Then click the down arrow to the right and choose the shape you created–the one you want to click to make the callout appear. Then click OK. Repeat this process to connect all of your callouts with all of your clickable shapes. Here you can see that my callout will appear when I click the object called “advances.”
  10. People often don’t want all of the callouts on the slide at once and you can add animation to make them disappear. One way to do this is to add an animation to the callouts that makes them disappear and set the trigger to the same objects that make them appear.
    In this way, you can click once to make the callout appear and again to make it disappear. To add a Disappear animation to a callout in 2010 & 2013, select it and choose Add Animation on the Animations tab. Then choose Disappear from the Exit group. In 2007, choose Add Effect, Exit, Disappear.  Finally, apply a trigger in the same was you did before.

Watch the Demo!

Here you can see how I run through this slide, clicking to display a callout and again to make it disappear. I could do that in any order.

 About the Author:

Ellen Finkelstein is a PowerPoint MVP who can train you or the presenters in your organization to create high-impact, engaging, professional presentations for training, sales, business, or education. For more information visit

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