Project Timelines in PowerPoint

Microsoft 365 in 365 blog series


How often do you use PowerPoint Designer when creating presentations? Personally, I’ve never been very good at making PowerPoint look good. In fact, a running joke whenever I present at SPTechCon events during their Lightning Talks is that I use an Arial font with a plain white background and no design at all, which is always in stark contrast to all of the other presentations. Here’s my title slide:

title of slide by buckleyplanet

But I digress. For people like me who do not have the patience to create the beautiful and amazing PowerPoint slides we see from our peers, there is PowerPoint Designer to the rescue. Of course, it’s not new. Microsoft made a big push around PowerPoint Designer back in the fall of 2015 when they also announced the Morph capability (which is an awesome tool that I don’t use enough). But Microsoft continues to add capabilities to the entire Office suite, and timelines is one of the latest features to help your team members become more productive.

The real power of PowerPoint Designer, however, is the automation of slide creation using a cloud-powered recommendation engine. When it was introduced in the Office blog by Kirk Koenigsbauer, cvp for the Office team, back in November 2015, where he described it as:

This all works thanks to a powerful combination of automated design and smart image analysis. PowerPoint Designer was built in collaboration with professional graphic designers, who helped develop over 12,000 creative blueprints. Designer applies cloud intelligence to analyze and identify the most compelling portion of your images to determine which blueprints work best with your content. For example, if the visual contains a natural scene, Designer can zoom, crop and frame it. But if the image contains a chart, it focuses in on the relevant region to ensure the important data is highlighted. Designer then selects from the 12,000+ blueprints to provide multiple layout options to help you make the most of your image. The end result is a high quality and customized presentation—in seconds.

If you’ve not yet had a chance to experiment with PowerPoint Designer, it’s well worth your time to check out what it can do.

Turning Text into SmartArt

Of course, we’ve probably all spent hours of our time, painstakingly creating intricate timelines to help communicate the status of a project. Or maybe you went out and purchased one of the literally hundreds of project planning and timeline templates that can be found online.

One of the incremental improvements within PowerPoint Designer, as the Office applications begin to add more intelligent capabilities enabled through the cloud, is its ability to turn text into readable SmartArt graphics, including timelines.

Turning text into SmartArt in PowerPoint

When leveraging PowerPoint Designer, the application notices when you have added a timeline to your presentation, and jumps into action. PowerPoint can recognize times, dates, and topics on your slides – and then takes those inputs and intelligently redesigns your content into professional-looking timelines.

The days of 3rd party timeline templates is gone. You can now create high-impact timelines within your presentations out-of-the-box. Yes, you’ve long been able to add a SmartArt graphic of a timeline into your presentations – however, the difference here is the PowerPoint Designer intelligent analysis of your content and other design elements in helping you make something visibly pleasing to the eye. Those generic SmartArt timelines of yesteryear were more trouble than they were worth. Now, the system provides design options.

How to Create a Timeline in PowerPoint

To create a timeline, begin by typing out a list of items. The design pane within PowerPoint Designer will open, giving you a number of selections for your timeline look and feel. When you make a selection, PowerPoint converts your list into a SmartArt graphic, and allows you to continue editing. Of course, you can always revert back to text by simply right-clicking on the SmartArt and converting the image back to text.

This capability is now officially one of my favorite productivity tips!

Creating beautiful timelines in PowerPoint

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (, leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.