What is a PowerPoint template?

That’s an excellent question, and one that too many professionals take for granted… which is why they often get fooled by fake templates.

So let’s dive into what templates are, and why they’re useful.

In short, a template is a pattern or blueprint for your slides that you save as a .potx file.

Templates can contain layouts, theme colors, theme fonts, theme effects, background styles, and even content” (according to Microsoft Office).

In other words, a PowerPoint template is a set of instructions placed in the Slide Master View of your presentation that dictates the look, feel and behavior of all the slides within your presentation

The good template news

From a speed training perspective, templates are a god-send.

That’s because they allow you to get all of your people on the same page (or slide, if you’ll pardon my humor) about formatting.

On top of that, a properly built template makes it easy for you and you are team to maintain a consistent look and feel across all of your presentations.

They also allow you to make big changes to your presentation in one place, and have all those changes made across your entire presentation.

Note: If you want to see these template tips in a blog post format, read my tips and tricks guide here.

The bad template news

The bad news, is most people’s templates don’t work properly. I’m sure you’ve heard (or said) this before:

“This template is broken…” or “Why can’t they just follow the corporate template?!?!”

And while it’s easy to blame the creator or the end-user of the template (and there’s plenty to dish out), the truth is that most PowerPoint templates are built and explained very poorly.

They’re not thought-out, constructed, and shared properly. Our goal is to change that.

Before we jump in though, let’s first take a quick look at what a PowerPoint template is NOT (how to spot a fake PowerPoint template), what a proper template is, what the differences are between a template, a PowerPoint theme, and a slide master.

What a PowerPoint template is not

If you’ve ever purchased a pre-built template on the web, chances are that you didn’t actually buy a PowerPoint template, but rather a set of inspiration-generating slides.

How to recognize a fake PowerPoint template

If you open the Slide Master View, you’ll see that none of the placeholders are set up or formatting correctly based on the slide layouts. Typically, they’re just slides with images, fancy fonts, and specially made icons on them.

They may look great but they don’t function as PowerPoint templates.

Why fake PowerPoint templates can be dangerous

real PowerPoint template is designed to save you time by automating a lot of the actions you take when building a new presentation.

fake PowerPoint template is the opposite – it’s a time-waster.

All it does is give you a bunch of unformatted slides to deal with, items to pick and choose from that you’ll probably have to re-format to fit your presentation, and worst of all, it pre-supposes that you’ll be able to keep everything consistent, because it leaves all that work up to you.

So it’s not just a time-waster, but it’s dangerous if you like to keep your decks consistent and professional.

What is a real PowerPoint template?

This is the real question. The kicker. A real PowerPoint template is one that it built natively in PowerPoint, using placeholders on the slide master, color palettes, and other features in PowerPoint.

A well-designed template will not only make your slides and overall presentation look good, but it will make building those slides a lot faster. It’s not just an inspiration-board, it’s a functional guide or pattern used to quickly build out any number of similar presentations.

On top of that, it’s going to ensure that everything stays consistent and polished, no matter how much content is added and who uses it.

What is the difference between a template, a theme, and a slide master?

Once again, a template “is a pattern or blueprint of a slide or group of slides that you save as a .potx file. Templates can contain layouts, theme colors, theme fonts, theme effects, background styles, and even content” (according to Microsoft Office).

A PowerPoint theme however, is simply a set of instructions that provide the formatting and layout information for your presentation, meaning primarily colors and effects. While it does contain Slide Masters, it does not have any regular PowerPoint content/slides.

As Steve Rindsberg puts it:

“You can start a new presentation based on a theme or a template; the difference is that when you start a presentation based on a template, your new presentation inherits the content … slides and such … contained in the template.”

And, as he further explains, themes work across PowerPoint, Word and Excel, whereas templates are program-specific.

A Slide Master is a set of blueprints that determine how each slide will look when you insert it in the Normal View and start building presentations. You can have multiple Slide Masters in a template or theme and each Slide Master has its own theme applied to it.

Want to learn how to create your own custom PowerPoint theme?

If you’re ready to start building out things from scratch, you can start by creating your PowerPoint Theme. Read our guide here for details.

Want to learn how to create your own custom PowerPoint template?

If you already know all of this and want to take it a level up, you can start building your PowerPoint template from scratch. Read our guide here.

Looking for a new PowerPoint template (that works)?

If you are looking for a professional PowerPoint template to hit the ground running with, check out my guide here.


So that’s what a PowerPoint template is and you can use one.

Remember, there are a lot of FAKE PowerPoint templates floating around. On top of that, the people using them might have spent good money on them and have no idea they are using a bad template. So gentle if you raise the issue with them.

If you enjoyed this article and want to learn other ways to boost your PowerPoint skills, visit us here.

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