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Convert Word to PowerPoint: 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid


In this article you’ll learn to convert your Word documents (properly) into PowerPoint slides, and avoid the 5 most common mistakes that will trip you and your colleagues up along the way.

This is a classic – get PowerPoint to do it for you scenario – where a little bit of setup (and smarts) will save you hours of tedious and boring work, helping you get to Happy Hour.

If this is your first Word to PowerPoint rodeo, I recommend following the steps I’ve laid out sequentially as there are a few non-intuitive catches along the way. If you already know where you are stuck, feel free to use the links below to navigate this post.

I’ve also included an extra Word to PowerPoint recommendation (strong opinions, as usual) at the very end of this post.

The 5 common Word-to-PowerPoint Mistakes

  1. Not setting up your Word document properly
  2. Forgetting some text in the process
  3. Trying to import tables, charts and pictures
  4. Importing into a broken PowerPoint template
  5. Not properly pushing your Word content into the correct PowerPoint placeholders

Mistake #1: Not setting up your Word document properly

This is a critical step and is the reason why most people’s Word documents never import into PowerPoint correctly.

Before you can convert your Word document into PowerPoint slides, you must first format your Word document properly as an outline using the default Microsoft Word Heading Styles (as described below).

And although this is the “correct” way to use Word, most people don’t know this. That’s why almost every Word document you will ever touch during your career will NOT be set up like this, and will NOT import properly into PowerPoint on its own.

To set up your word document properly, follow these steps.

Pro Tip: Save a copy of your document

Before you go through this conversion process, I recommend saving a copy of your Word document. Chances, you won’t want to around the new (technically better) outlined document to your bosses, clients and colleagues…

Because let’s face it. They’ll most likely be confused by the new format and won’t be able to use it correctly. As they say, old habits die hard.

So keep a copy of the original so that you don’t lose it.

Fix: Outline your Word document properly

In your Word document, you want to first sweep through and format the content that you want to import into PowerPoint, using the:

Heading 1 Style for your slide’s title text, and the Heading 2 Style for your slide’s content text.

It’s these two Header Styles that define the hierarchy of the content and tell PowerPoint how to map it into PowerPoint.

And if you think the default styles are ugly, I agree! But it may not matter if you’re simply importing into Word.

If you plan on using the newly outlined document, however, see the optional formatting step below on how to update the default Header Styles.

To format your text using these Header Styles, simply select the text and from the Styles dialog box, choose Heading 1 and Heading 2. You can see I’ve started in the picture below with the orange and green rectangles, mapped to the Style Gallery there on the Home tab.

There are a number of advantages to setting up your Word documents properly using these Header Styles (such as the ability to automatically generate a Table of Contents), but that is beyond the scope of this blog post.

The default Header Styles in Word are ugly. If you are going to use these going forward in Word as they were meant to be used, I recommend setting your own formatting.

To do that, first format your text however you like (below I’ve made the title orange). After formatting your text:

  1. Select your formatted text
  2. Right-click the Header Style you want to update
  3. In the right-click menu select “Update Heading 1 to Match Selection.”

This automatically updates the formatting (for all of your Heading 1 Styles), similar to using the Slide Master in PowerPoint (ahem…I hope you use these HUGE time-savers!).

Mistake #2: Forgetting some text in the process

Before you continue, it’s important to note that ONLY text that is formatted using the Header Styles options in Word will import into your PowerPoint presentation.

Keeping this in mind, there are two important points to note here:

Point #1: Be thorough in your formatting

Double-check that you properly format ALL of the text you want to import into PowerPoint. If you forget to format a needed piece of your Word document properly, that piece will not import into PowerPoint.

Point #2: Think strategically about your Word formatting

The positive side of this draconian formatting rule is that you can strategically NOT format pieces of your Word document that you do not want to import into PowerPoint.

For example, if you have a 50-page word document but only want to import information from a few of those pages, you can strategically format the information you want (using the Header Styles) and ignore the rest. Then you know that the other 47 pages of content will not import into PowerPoint.

Mistake #3: Trying to import tables, charts and pictures

With your text properly formatted as an outline in Word, you’re probably wondering about your tables, charts and pictures, right?

Don’t waste any time trying to do this. As of right now (PowerPoint 2016), only text can be automatically imported into PowerPoint as slides.

The tables, charts and pictures in your Word document must be added manually.

It sucks, but that’s just the way it is.

How to import your Word document into PowerPoint​​​​

With all of the common mistakes above now avoided, you’re finally ready to import your Word document into PowerPoint. To do so, follow these steps.

Step #1: Insert new slides from outline

In PowerPoint, from the Home tab, open up the New Slide dropdown menu and select “Slides from Outline…”

Step #2: Find your Word document

Using the dialog box, navigate to wherever you have the formatted version of your Word document saved and select Insert.

Step #3: Delete any stray slides

After clicking Insert, you might need to delete out some stray slides depending on how your Word document was set up.

In this 8-page example, my cover page was converted into some weird blank slides that you can see below (this is the kind of stuff you want to delete).

Note: If you just followed these steps and it didn’t work, see the next common mistake, Importing into a broken PowerPoint template.

Step #4: Apply your theme (if appropriate)

Just so that we’re not working with a blank presentation for the rest of this post, I’ve navigated up to the Design tab and applied the ‘Ion Boardroom’ theme to the entire presentation .

Once you have your slides in place like this, you are now ready to get all of your placeholders set up properly.

Mistake #4: Importing into a broken PowerPoint template

When converting Word documents into PowerPoint slides, they will ALWAYS import using the “Title and Content” slide layout.

If by chance you are using a template that doesn’t have this layout (not recommended!) this conversion process will not work, regardless of what you do.

If this happens to you, here are my suggestions:

In the longer term

Get your template designer on this. It’s a big mistake not to have a ‘Title and Content’ slide layout in your template.

In the short term

You can fudge this conversion by following these steps:

  1. Start a new blank PowerPoint file.
  2. Copy and paste the ‘Title and Content’ slide layout from the slide master to your PowerPoint document’s slide master.
  3. Make whatever formatting adjustment you need on your template.
  4. Import the Word document again as described above.
  5. Make whatever additional adjustments you need to fit your content to your template.

Mistake #5: Not properly pushing your Word content into the correct PowerPoint placeholders

Your Word documents will ALWAYS import into PowerPoint using PowerPoint’s ‘Title and Content’ slide layout, regardless of what type of information you are importing from Word.

That means that if you have a slide like my Wyoming slide pictured below (which is supposed to be part of the 3-part content layout of my template), you will need to manually massage your content into the slides (which I will show you how to do below).

How to apply a template to your content

Step #1: Apply the correct slide layout

From the Home tab, open up the Layout dropdown menu and apply the correct layout for your slide.

Applying a slide layout like this will appear to mess up your slide (note in the picture below how all of the content is forced into the title placeholder), so don’t stop here.

Step #2: Open the Outline View

Hit CTRL + SHIFT + TAB to open up the Outline View (see the left side of the screen in the picture below). This is where you can quickly adjust the content on your slides.

Step #3: Hold CTRL and Hit Enter

Click into the Outline View and holding the CTRL key down, hit ENTER until you have numbers for each of your text placeholders.

As I have 6 total text placeholders in my layout, I have hit ENTER a total of six times.

Step #4: Cut and paste your text

From here you will need to cut (CTRL+X) and paste (CTRL+V) your text to match your layout. There is no other hotkey that I know of.

If you have multiple secondary titles like I do, you will need to line them up first (Title 1, Title 2, Title 3) as pictured below, and then follow them with your text placeholders (Text 1, Text 2, Text 3).

Step #5: Close the Outline View

When you are done massaging your text into your layout, hit CTRL+SHIFT+TAB to close the Outline View and you are good to go.

Conclusion + recommendation

This tip is not new by any means, but it’s worth repeating…

Word documents DO NOT make good PowerPoint presentations. Good presentations require extra work.

That’s why if you’ve made it this far, I highly recommend investing some time to clean up your slides and add more visual elements. If you are interested in learning some of my best and fastest tricks for doing so, you can sign up for my free ‘Save 40 Hours’ training series, using the link below.

Updated on December 14, 2017

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  • ‫ג’וד ברק Jude Barak‬‎

    Wow! thank you so much. I did not have time to go through the too I knew about and did not know about others. You increased my productivity even before I opened PowerPoint. Another AddIn I use is Neo/Ipsum by Justin Bretshneider – Very easy way to test decks with some very cool ipsums.
    Download http://justinbret.com/neoipsum-download/

    • Happy to help, Jude! And thanks for sharing the ipsum add-in with us, that’s great!