PowerPointing More Efficiently with the Quick Access Toolbar
December 5, 2019

With all of the emphasis placed on the shiny new features of PowerPoint lately, it's easy to forget how much impact simply improving your workflow can have on the end product. The more efficiently you can produce and tweak the physical aspects of your slides, the more time you have left to iterate on and fine-tune your messaging, story flow, and ideas. With this in mind, it's stunning how few users I've seen take full advantage of the Quick Access Toolbar.

What is it?

Odds are you're familiar with the Quick Access Toolbar even if you don't know that it has a specific name. It's the upper-most horizontal bar on your program window. Out of the box, it typically displays a handful of basic commands for use via clickable icon:

  • Auto-save toggle
  • Home tab
  • Save
  • Undo
  • Redo
  • ... and an upside-down eject symbol

Now, you may or may not make use of the first handful even if you're actively aware of them. More likely, you access their menus and features via their place in the various drop-downs or by keyboard shortcut. No big deal. But if you've never hovered over that last icon, the downward arrow/eject thingy, and given it a curious click, you've been missing out on one of PowerPoint's most powerful workflow and design features.

Go ahead, click it

Exploring the drop-down menu

Upon clicking into the icon, you'll find ... another menu to access the same commands and features, plus a handful more. Big whoop, I know. But at the button of the list, that 'More commands ..." option? Click it. Yea, via this menu the Quick Access Toolbar can be customized with nearly every available command PowerPoint has to offer.

Accessing the customization menu

Are you seeing the possibilities? Think about your day-to-day program use. How many commands do you find yourself constantly using that need to be accessed away from the Home ribbon for a single click before navigating back? How many sub-commands do you have to dig around for in the second tier of a drop-down menu? Even just opening up a primary feature like the Format or Animation Pane might require clicking into an object or switching ribbons. I mean goodness, if you're not a Key Command Ninja, it takes three clicks to access the left align command assuming you started on the Home tab.

My point is that across the life of a project, all these little extra clicks and navigations add up to wasted time and frustration. Taking full advantage of the Quick Access Toolbar frees your brain up to focus on substance and saves you from the kinds of consistent annoyances that might cause some users to decide "screw it, how important is it really for this to be properly spaced and aligned?" over the course of a 100-slide pitch deck due first thing tomorrow Monday morning.

How does it work?

Taking a closer look at the customization options

The sort menu on the left allows you to organize the commands list for perusal in a number of ways. From there, it's just a matter of finding your preferred commands, highlighting, and sending them to the list on the right from which you can organize them. Top to bottom on the list = left to right on the Toolbar.

It can be a little confusing here and, as there are some repetitive or duplicate command names, but don't get discouraged at having to pop in and out of the menu to nail things down. You basically have to set this up one time to crush your workflow for eternity.

My Quick Access Toolbar Must-haves

Quick caveat: I'm using a Mac, so while the commands generally exist across operating systems, the names may not be identical.

My Quick Access Toolbar is filled out with the type of design commands that are used constantly on any given project but might be buried two or three clicks deep in another menu.

Display the Format Pane

‍As mentioned above, opening the Format Pane requires you to click into an object, then click into the object's ribbon tab, then click the Format Pane button. Here, once click.

More Shape Fill Colors

If you want to eyedrop a color that isn't in your palette, you need to go through a menu or two to do it. No longer.

Align Center, Middle, Left, Right, Top, Bottom:

Thank me later. And make sure you pick the right option because you can also ... add another alignment dropdown menu instead? Yea, no thanks.

Distribute Horizontally and Vertically

Thank me later again.

Bring Forward, Bring to Front, Send to Back, Send Backward

Stop reading this article right now and go add these to your toolbar. You'll save yourself a massive headache with layered designs since you don't have to continuously go back into the menu each time you want to move an object backward or forward a level. Go do it. I'll be here when you get back.

Picture

Once click to insert an image. Bam.

Crop

I keep the version that allows for both one-click crop handle access and has the drop-down menu for shapes and aspect ratios.

Having these commands a click away and available no matter what ribbon or menu I'm currently using is glorious and, when working live with a client, feels like borderline cheating. The ability to do good, simple work at a rapid pace has elicited just as many amazed comments as my finest design or most complicated animation.

You feel me yet?

Hopefully, you're starting to see the value of bringing your most-used commands closer to your fingertips irrespective of the ribbon tab in which you're working. Even if you've got the drive, gumption, and natural memorization skills to go for the Key Command Ninja black belt, it's still worth 15 minutes of your time to load up your Toolbar just in case you get stalled.

Now there are a handful of free productivity-smashing plugins you can download that will replace your Quick Access Toolbar and then some. If you're on a Mac, the YOUtools plugin is your best (possibly only?) bet. It'll work for PC too, but if that's your jam then I'd recommend trying out BrightCarbon's BrightSlide plugin. It's been getting rave reviews from the presentation design community since its release this fall.

But if you have an inherent fear of plugins or your PowerPoint existence is confined to a work computer you're not allowed to download stuff to without explicit IT permission and a blood oath, customizing the Quick Access Toolbar will do your day-to-day PowerPointing a world of good.

I've literally never noticed a client or casual PowerPoint user with a customized Quick Access Toolbar. Not one. But I assume you exist! Do you have any other recommendations for efficiency-altering commands to pin up there? Drop a comment below and help your fellow users out.

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