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Google Slides cheat sheet: How to get started

How to use Google Slides to create, collaborate on, and lead business presentations.

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Recover older versions of a presentation

It’s easy to go too far when making tweaks to a presentation. Fortunately, it’s also easy to roll back to an earlier version of the presentation. Click File > Version history > See version history. This opens a panel on the right that shows a list of older versions of your presentation.

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Using Version history to view an earlier version of a presentation. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To view an earlier version of your presentation: Click the date for it in the list. That version of the presentation will then appear in the main window.

To restore an earlier version so it replaces your current presentation: With the version you want to restore showing in the main window, click the yellow Restore this version button at the top of the screen. The restored version will then appear at the top of the version history list.

To give an older version a unique name: Click on its date. You’ll be prompted to type in words to replace the date. (The date and time will then appear in smaller size underneath the new name.)

Give a presentation

When it’s time to play your presentation to an audience, Google Slides has two modes: Slideshow and Presenter view. Slideshow mode essentially shows what your audience will see. Presenter view mode provides additional tools for your eyes only that run alongside Slideshow mode.

Slideshow mode: Click the Slideshow button at the upper-right corner of the screen. Google Slides will expand to full-screen view and show the slide that’s currently in the main window. (If you want to start the slideshow from the first slide in your presentation, click the down arrow to the right of the Slideshow button and select Start from beginning.)

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The control bar in Slideshow mode lets you click through the slides, turn on auto-play, use a laser pointer effect, and more. (Click image to enlarge it.)

When you move the on-screen pointer to the lower-left corner of your presentation, a control bar appears. You use this to click forward and back through the slides. Clicking the three-dot icon on the control bar opens a menu with other controls, such as starting auto-play and adjusting how quickly it moves from slide to slide.

On this menu, Turn on the laser pointer turns the mouse pointer into a simulated red laser dot. Captions preferences — available only if you’re using a Chrome browser or Chromebook — lets you turn on real-time, automatic transcribing of your words as you say them (English only) and shows them to your audience as on-screen captions. Open speaker notes takes your presentation out of full screen and opens a separate “Presenter view” window, as described below.

Presenter view mode: Click the down arrow to the right of the Slideshow button and select Presenter view. This shows the presentation in your browser window and launches a separate window that assists you while you’re giving your presentation.

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Presenter view lets you (but not your audience) see your speaker notes while presenting. (Click image to enlarge it.)

From the Presenter view window, you can jump to any slide in your presentation, read the speaker notes you wrote for a slide, and control the Q&A feature. There’s also a timer that you can set to remind yourself how much time you’re spending showing a slide — or the entire presentation — to your audience.

Click the AUDIENCE TOOLS tab to use the Q&A feature, which lets you take questions from your audience. To open questions for a slideshow, click the Start new button. A web link appears at the top of your presentation. An audience member watching your presentation on their computer, phone, or tablet can click/tap that link, which will take them to a page where they can type a question for you. You’ll see the question  in your Presenter view window, and you can choose whether to show their question to the rest of your audience during the presentation. To close questions for a presentation, turn the switch from ON to OFF.

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Audience members can submit questions from their devices, and the presenter can decide whether to display them as part of the slideshow. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Present in Google Meet

Need to give a presentation during a Google Meet video meeting? As long as you’re using a Chromium-based browser (Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Opera, etc.), it’s easy: Toward the upper right of the Google Slides page, click the Google Meet icon. From the panel that opens, select a meeting that’s scheduled on your Google calendar today, start a new meeting, or type/paste in the web link or code that you have for another meeting.

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Click the Meet icon to get started presenting to a video meeting.

If you start a new meeting, a sidebar for the meeting will open on the right. At the bottom of the sidebar, click the Present now icon (a box with an up arrow). On the panel that appears, select your presentation and click the Share button, and you’ll be presenting to the meeting.

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Choose which tab or window you want to share and click the Share button. (Click image to enlarge it.)

If you join a scheduled meeting, you have two choices: “Join the call” and “Just present this tab.” If you click Join the call, a sidebar for the meeting will open on the right. Follow the same steps as above to present to the meeting. If you click Just present this tab, you’ll go directly to the panel where you select your presentation and click Share, but you won’t have a sidebar where you can follow the main meeting.

To stop sharing your presentation to the meeting, click the Stop sharing button at the top left of your browser window.

For more details about using Google Meet, see our Google Meet cheat sheet.

Download and export a presentation

Google Slides lets you download presentations for use offline. On the top menu, select File > Download and choose a file format. You can save your presentation to your PC as a PowerPoint (.pptx) file or in other formats such as PDF, or as JPG or PNG for an individual slide.

5 tips for working with Google Slides

Now that you’re comfortable working in Google Slides, try these intermediate tips.

Use the Google Slides mobile app

With the exception of the “Version history” tool, the Google Slides app for Android, iPhone, and iPad has many of the same features described in this guide.

When you have a slideshow open, the toolbar at the top of the screen lets you take a variety of actions:

  • To present your slides on your phone or tablet, on a Chromecast device, or in a Google Meet meeting, tap the triangle icon.
  • To share your presentation with other people, the headshot silhouette. (See “How to share from the Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides mobile apps” in our Google Drive cheat sheet.)
  • To view all the comments in the presentation, tap the Comments icon (a chat balloon) if you see it in the toolbar, or tap the three-dot icon and select View comments from the menu that appears.
  • The three-dot menu also lets you see the presentation’s Q&A history, export it, make it available offline, and more.
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The Google Slides Android app.

To edit or comment on a slide: Tap the slide, and a menu will appear that lets you add or view comments for that slide or edit it. Tap an element on a slide, such as text or an image, and tools to edit that element will appear.

Any changes you make to your presentation in the mobile app are automatically saved and will appear the next time you open it in the Google Slides web app.

Get suggested slide layouts and content

Click the Explore icon at the lower-right corner of the screen. The Explore sidebar will open along the right side. In most cases, you’ll be presented with thumbnails of suggested layouts that Google Slides has automatically customized for the slide that’s open in the main window. Click the one you want, and it will be applied to the slide.

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Use the Explore tool to get suggested layouts (left) and search for images (right).

At the top of the Explore sidebar is a search box. You can type in a word or phrase to find related content on the web or in your Google Drive. Search results appear on separate Web, Images, and Drive tabs in the sidebar. Click a web or Drive result to open it in a new browser tab. On the Images tab, click the + icon on the upper-right corner of an image to insert it onto your slide.

Create custom slide layouts to use as templates

You can design your own slide layouts to use as templates in any future presentation. First, open a new, blank presentation as described above. Then:

  1. On the menu bar over the blank presentation, select View > Theme builder.
  2. The main window switches to a layout editor. Toward the left you’ll see a column with the heading THEME on top and LAYOUTS just below that. Click the thumbnail of any layout in the LAYOUTS list. It will appear in the main window.
  3. You can remove objects that are already in any layout. For example, click on a block of text. A frame appears around the text. Without selecting the text itself, move the pointer toward an edge of the frame, right-click, and select Delete from the menu that opens.
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Creating a custom slide layout. (Click image to enlarge it.)

  1. Using the formatting toolbar above the slide, you can add new objects to the slide, including images, image placeholders, shapes, lines, and blocks for text. (Tip: enter placeholder words inside the text blocks.) When you click on any object, a frame appears around it. Drag and drop the frame to relocate it on the slide, or drag its edges to change its shape or size. You can also add or change the border and background colors for any object on the slide and/or change the background color for the whole slide.
  2. When you’re finished designing your layout, click the Rename button above the slide and give the layout a unique name.
  3. If you want to create another custom layout, click on the thumbnail of another layout under the column LAYOUTS and repeat the above steps starting from #3.
  4. When you are finished custom-designing all your layouts, click the X toward the upper-right of the slide layout in the main window.
  5. Along the top of the screen, click anywhere inside Untitled presentation and start typing. Tip: Use a name that indicates this is a template (e.g., “Annual Budget Presentation - Template”).

In the future, you can make new presentations starting from this template, and your custom slide layouts will be available.

  1. Open the template presentation you created in the steps above. On the menu bar, click File > Make a copy > Entire presentation. On the panel that opens, type in a name for the new presentation you want to create and click the Make a copy button. Google Slides will open this new presentation in a new browser tab.
  2. On the toolbar above the first slide of your new presentation, click Layout. From the panel of thumbnails that opens, select one of the layouts that you created. It will then be applied to the slide in the main window.

Collaborate on a presentation in Google Chat

An alternative way to collaborate on a presentation is to share it in Google Chat. Other people in your chat can add comments and help make changes to your presentation.

Start in Google Chat. To the left of the box where you type in your chat messages, click the + icon and select Drive file from the menu that opens. A panel will open over the screen listing the files in your Google Drive. Find and click your presentation to highlight it, then click INSERT on the lower-right corner.

You’ll be taken back to the chat message box. Click the blue right-pointing arrow to the right of the box, and a panel will open over the screen designating permissions for the shared presentation. By default, permissions are set to Comment. To change this, click Comment and select View or Edit. You can also allow the people in the chat to share a web link to your presentation with others outside of the chat by selecting Turn link sharing on.

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You can share a presentation to individual or group chats in Google Chats. (Click image to enlarge it.)

After you’ve set the permissions, click SEND, and your message will appear in the chat stream with a large thumbnail of your presentation. To open a presentation in the chat, click the thumbnail. The presentation will open inside a large window that’s laid out alongside the right of the chat stream.

This is actually Google Slides running inside the chat window with your presentation loaded in it. Thus, most of the Slides commenting and editing tools are available for you and others in the chat to use on your presentation (if you granted them permission to comment or edit). The user interface is the same, except there’s no menu bar.

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Collaborating on a presentation from within a Google Chat. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Use keyboard shortcuts

Save time in Slides by using keyboard shortcuts for common tasks. Below are some of the most useful to know. For more, select Help > Keyboard shortcuts from the top menu when you have a spreadsheet open or press Ctrl + / (Windows, Chrome OS) or ⌘ + / (macOS).

Handy Google Slides keyboard shortcuts

This story was originally published in September 2019 and updated in August 2022.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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