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What is a linked Excel chart in PowerPoint?

What is a linked Excel chart in PowerPoint (and why does it matter)?

A linked chart is simply a PowerPoint chart that references an external Excel spreadsheet as its data source.

This allows you to use your financial model (or other external Excel spreadsheet), to create and update your PowerPoint charts. The problem is, these types of charts are easily broken.

A linked PowerPoint chart is a chart referencing an external Excel spreadsheet as its data source.

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Linked charts are great if you know what you are doing, but they can also drive you nuts if your colleagues are linking them by accident.

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To create a linked chart in PowerPoint, first create a chart in Excel, then copy and paste that chart into PowerPoint.

To create a linked chart in PowerPoint, you need to first start in Microsoft Excel, then move to PowerPoint. You cannot start in PowerPoint to create a linked chart.

To create a linked chart in PowerPoint, simply:

  1. Create a data range in Excel to chart
  2. Create a chart for your data inside of Excel
  3. Copy and paste that Excel chart into PowerPoint

As you copy and paste the Excel chart into PowerPoint, PowerPoint automatially creates a link back to the Excel spreadsheet’s data. As that Excel spreadsheet is now updated, so will chart in PowerPOint be updated.

As far as chart formatting, you have two options as you paste your chart into PowerPoint.

You can use the Paste Options as you paste your chart into PowerPoint to dictate the formatting of your chart.

To see these formatting options, simply click the Paste Options command in teh lower right-hand corner of your chart. The two linked options are:

  1. Use destination theme and link data: Which uses your PowerPoint theme to format the chart.
  2. Keep source formatting and link data: Which uses your Excel chart formatting to format the chart.

These are NOT linked charts in PowerPoint

Where do professionals get confused with their linked charts? It has to do with Excel.

So to be clear, all PowerPoint charts use an Excel spreadsheet as their data source for their numbers. That includes charts created in Microsoft PowerPoint.

The difference between a PowerPoint chart and a linked PowerPoint chart is where that Excel spreadsheet exists.

Charts created using the Insert tab in PowerPoint are not linked charts.

While any chart inserted into PowerPoint using the Insert Chart dialog box has an Excel spreadsheet behind it, those Excel spreadsheets exist within your PowerPoint presentation. They are not external Excel spreadsheets.

How to tell if a PowerPoint chart is linked to Excel?

As most people do not understand that copying and pasting charts between thier Excel spreadsheets and their PowerPoint presentatins creates a linked chart, it is common to run into linked charts.

To see if a chart is linked, right-click your chart, select edit data, and then look at the top of the Excel spreadsheet that opens.

A fast way to see if a PowerPoint chart is linked is to open its data source.

  1. Right-click your chart in PowerPoint
  2. Select Edit data
  3. Look a the top of the Excel spreadsheet that opens

If the chart is linked, you will get the following warning:

LINKED DATA This data is linked to an Excel Spreadsheet. Changes made here will be saved to that spreadsheet.

This means that any changes you make within the Excel spreadhseet, are saved to the Excel spreadsheet. They again are not saved within your PowerPoint presentation.

Error: The linked file isn't available

If you right click a PowerPoint chart and select Edit Data and recieve the following error message, that means that you have a broken link chart.

This broken link chart warning means that your PowerPoint chart is no longer referencing the external Excel spreadsheet.

A broken link chart is a linked chart that is no longer properly hooked up to its external data source. To epxand your knowledge and learn how this happens, read my guide here.


Now you know what a linked chart in PowerPoint is, and how easy it is to create one by first starting in Microsoft Excel.

Some teams like to link their charts like this, other teams do not (as it tends to create broken link chart issues). If you are starting a new job, find out what your boss prefers before you start creating a bunch of linked charts in PowerPoint.

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