Automation with PowerPoint macrosI’ve recently discovered how to do a number of things in PowerPoint using inbuilt VBA (Visual Basic), ie by writing PowerPoint macros, which cannot, as far as I know, be done automatically as part of automation software packages. This means that by commissioning a custom automation solution created in VBA, more can be done in terms of customising the look, feel and use of PowerPoint than automation using a software package. At a time when people are becoming much more aware of the importance of good data visualisation and how much more value can be gained from survey research by presenting it well, it’s important to stretch the functionality of PowerPoint as much as we can.
1.    Hyperlinks. VBA can be used to create hyperlinks on every slide (or on the Slide Master) which means, in Slide Show mode, users can navigate easily around the presentation by clicking. Hyperlinks can convert a linear slide-by-slide deck into an interactive resource which users can explore as they wish.
2.    The Slide Master. Each set of slide master slides is called a Design, and can be manipulated in the same way that a slide can. In my experience, Slide Masters are often neglected in survey reports because it’s easy to paste slides in from other presentations and end up with a mammoth number of Slide Master Designs which are impossible to keep track of. It’s easy to inadvertently mess up a slide by tinkering with the Slide Master, because you don’t know which slides are using that design. VBA can bring clarity here, enabling redundant designs to be deleted, reducing large file sizes and producing a manageable number of Slide Master Designs which can be used in a helpful way to avoid people having to make the same formatting changes to their PowerPoint slides again and again.
3.    Changing the order of objects. It’s easy in VBA to send an object to the back, or bring it to the front. This is important when working with any objects that are overlapped, for example a picture as an object background, or colour-coded shapes to highlight figures in a table. Object order can also interfere with the proper working of hyperlinks. No awkward work-arounds required: with VBA you can control this.
4.    Inserting a picture into a shape as “fill”. Why would you want to do this, instead of simply inserting the picture onto the slide? Because you can use the characteristics of the shape. For example if you want your picture to have effects, like shadow, border, bevel, etc, you set up those effects with the shape and they will be retained. Similarly, the shape and exact position of the shape will be retained. So if your picture is a square and you want to show it as a circle, you can create a circle in the PowerPoint and insert the picture as a fill into it. If you want the same shape to appear elsewhere as a heart shape, you can use the same principle without having to create a heart-shaped picture.
5.    Creating gradient effects. This can be done in VBA for any object or series of a chart, and the chart background. You can specify how many gradient stops and the exact colours, plus also matters of finesse such as the exact angle of the gradient. This enables a high degree of control over the visual output, and means that gradient colours can be varied for different brands, segments, sections of the presentation etc.