Animation v. Transition

I imagine we’ve all seen PPT presentations and lectures where things fly around the place, dramatic changes happen between slides with shattering glass or rolling cubes and so on appear to spice up or add performance to the slides. These usually involve 2 elements of PPT and I’m going to look at each in turn. They are transitions and animations. The difference between the two might be characterized as being between slide and within them. But both appear to provide novelty, a degree of dramatic license and perhaps notably, given the persistent demand for ‘innovation’, choice about how we present and how we differentiate our work from others. I’ll start with transitions.


Transitions, like animations, have their own tab on the top of the PPT file. They act between slides. That is, they create a discernible gap or break in slide content form one to the next. They’re popular for a variety of reasons. There is an element of ‘pzazz’ involved and they appear to offer some form of break between slide content.  Transitions can be added to any one, or all slides, and you can add the same transition to all the slides in one click; or you can give each slide its unique transition. My concern with them is that, in dividing up the slides, they serve to interrupt the flow and add time in which nothing, other than a showy moment, is happening. In that sense, for me, they have always been a distraction, breaking up the flow of the slides and losing time between slides whilst also stopping flow briefly.


Melting clock, lost time. Copyright

I toyed with them when PPT first came out, but dropped them rapidly when the novelty gave way to a realization that for me, and for the presentation, they served no real purpose I could see. It was a case of form over function. Nowadays, I tend to discourage their use if asked.


Animations take place within a slide. As far as the use of images goes, there isn’t much to animate (unless the images are animations of course which is a different ball game). Animations here refers to the motion of text on a given slide. It’s not uncommon to see, for example, text appear as if it were coming out of a typewriter, one letter at a time. Some people even add the clatter of the keys. My own rule is to keep it simple. Like transitions, animations has a tab on the top menu bar of PPT. There is a wide range of types of animation and, for the imaginative and those with time on their hands, you can create your own, moving text (or anything else you can add to a slide) anywhere, with any vector (or movement in a given, or multiple, directions).


Animations for me involve motion of text on a given slide. There is a good evolutionary reason to consider using animations, given how much digital distraction an audience brings with it that we need to compete with (I’m thinking about people reading Facebook posts, sharing images on Instagram, replying to emails and texts and so on). Sudden motion at our periphery forces us to look towards what’s moving. My understanding is that this is about predation. Some take the view that it applies to us as subjects of predation – having to keep a wary eye out for an attacker. Others suggest that we as predators use the eye’s attraction to motion to locate victims.

Eye detecting movement. Copyright

Either way, text animation can draw an audience’s attention towards the screen we want them to look at – not always and not all the time, but this motion has a positive rationale whilst transitions seem less valuable.  In my experience, and with a nod to gurus like Guy Kawasaki, it’s wiser to use only discreetly. My own preference is for a ‘wipe’ effect or a ‘fade’, depending on where the text is on the image, how much space it takes up relative to the key object in the image, and what I had for breakfast. I’ll provide some guidance for anyone who might be interested. I imagine most people know how to do this but for anyone that doesn’t, this may help.

Menu bar – ANIMATIONS – CHOOSE FROM STARRED OPTIONS IN MENU ABOVE SLIDE – THAT’S IT. Speed and duration is automated, but I have found it really helpful to click the ‘after previous’ option next to the green arrow at the top right. This advances the animation as soon as your new slide appears on-screen, meaning you’re not having to click again to get the text to appear. The image below shows where that little arrow lives.

And for a really professional slide, we can add a semi-opaque fill, so the text isn’t rendered invisible by various different colours in the image it accompanies. I’ve put below an example of what a difference it can make to the visibility of text and the professional appearance of the slide.

Text without semi-opaque fill. Source


With opaque text fill

Creating a semi-opaque fill:

Right click on your text’s boundary box (not the text itself). FORMAT SHAPE – FILL – SOLID FILL – TRANSPARENCY (to taste, depending on image)

I’ll provide a free blank slide with built-in animation etc to anyone who asks.You’ll be able to modify it to your own taste if you want.


This perhaps sounds like a lot of effort, and it’s a fair concern. I’m going to devote a post to this issue, but if I were asked to justify it, I’d say we spend a great deal of time getting words onto a slide, and images have their own value as a parallel medium for communicating meaning. You don’t have to put images onto every slide – or even any slide if you’re not happy with it. A few at a time can make a big difference. From MML theory perspective, it’s no less legitimate or important a task than putting words up on the screen.