The Power of the Automator

AutomatorHave you ever been in a situation where you’ve received, say,  30 separate PowerPoint slides from 30 individuals and needed to combine them into one polished PowerPoint presentation? This often happens for lightning rounds or PechaKucha presentations, where multiple people are contributing to a talk (usually in a very fast-paced manner).

Another common use for combining PowerPoint slides is in the classroom, with student-created slides that a professor wants to merge into one presentation for demonstration or teaching purposes. In one of my recent PowerPoint workshops, I received exactly this question from an instructor: How do I take 30 disparate slides, arrange them how I’d like, and quickly insert them into a single PowerPoint presentation?

The first answer is: the hard and long way. In both PowerPoint for PC (2010 and 2013) and Mac (2011), there is a button called “New Slide” with a drop-down option to “Reuse Slides” (on PC) or “Insert Slides from Other Presentation…” (on Mac). This function then allows you to choose a slide or presentation from your computer to add to your own PowerPoint presentation. While you can select a whole PowerPoint presentation to insert, unfortunately PowerPoint does not allow you to select multiple, individual  slides at once. So, if you have 30 different slides, you will be performing this function 30 times.

PowerPoint 2011 for Mac
PowerPoint 2011 for Mac

Enter the Automator. Basically, it’s a Mac application that makes process-intensive tasks much quicker and easier. To create an application that will load many different PowerPoint slides right where you want them in a presentation, follow these steps:

  1. Type “Automator” into your Spotlight bar at the top right (looks like a magnifying glass) and open the application.
  2. The Automator will ask what kind of document you want to create. Click on Application and then select “choose” at the bottom right.Automator1
  3. In the search bar on the left, start to type in “ask for…” and choose “Ask for Finder items,” which appears as an option in the menu. Click on this option and drag it into your workflow area on the right.
  4. Make sure to check off the box that says “Allow Multiple Selection,” as this will enable you to select many things at once. You can customize this function to where on your computer you would like to search first (i.e. Desktop), and what kind of materials to search (i.e. Files versus Folders).
  5. Again in the search bar, start to type “Combine…” and select “Combine PowerPoint Presentations.” Drag this over to your workflow on the right, underneath the Ask for Finder Items workflow item.Automator2
  6. Hit the “run” function in the top right-hand corner (looks like a play button). When prompted, select PowerPoint files from anywhere on your computer (hold down the Command key while clicking to select as many as you’d like).
  7. Be amazed as you see many PowerPoints opening up simultaneously, ending in one presentation that combines them all (hint: to have the slides appear in the order you prefer, select them in that order when running the application).
  8. Save this application for the future. Go to File -> Save, give it a name you’ll remember, and save to your Desktop or another place where you’ll remember it.

And voila! You’ve just created an application that you can use whenever you need to combine many different PowerPoint slides in a matter of seconds. You can program your Automator to perform just about any task. PC users: fear not. There are a couple of programs that perform this same function in Windows:  Action(s) and “Automator” for Windows to name a couple of popular ones.

Any questions? Stop by the WIC Desk or send us an email at wic1@pobox.upenn.edu.

9 thoughts on “The Power of the Automator

  1. I have several large batches of powerpoints to convert – is there any way to automate making sure each individual ppt has a certain number of slides? Each batch is to be printed at 4 slides/page and each presentation should begin on the page after the last one ended (a page break between ppts). In other words can I automate adding blank slides to the end of each ppt to give a slide count divisible by 4? Thanks!

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    1. Hi! Thanks for getting in touch! Yes, you should be able to do this with the Automator. If you open up Automator and click on the Actions button on the top left, you should see a menu with a bunch of different programs/applications that the Automator has tasks for. Type PowerPoint in the search bar, and you’ll see all the functions that you can automate in PPT. One is called “Insert new PowerPoint slides.” You can likely use this one to insert a set number of slides into each presentation so that it prints the way you’d like (i.e. in multiples of 4). I hope this helps!

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  2. Hi, How can I merge two different Presentations . I want all the sides from both the PPT to merge( For examples content of Slide 1 of the PPT1 should merge with Content of slide 1 of ppt2).Can you please help..

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    1. It doesn’t look like there is a task in the Automator that will do this kind of merging (you can only combine presentations, which will combine slides but not necessarily content). You might be able to merge some content using the “Review” tab and “Compare” function in PPT – see the section called “Merge the Documents” at this link: http://yourbusiness.azcentral.com/merge-two-powerpoint-presentations-together-maintain-format-6258.html. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s possible to merge content; rather, you can merge presentations and slides, and then edit the content as you would like.

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    1. The one issue I can think of is that perhaps you are trying to pull slides together from different locations on your computer (i.e. some might be in your “Documents” folder and others just on your desktop). If you haven’t already, try putting all materials you want to include in your PowerPoint into one folder in one location, so that the Automator only has one file path to follow. Hopefully this helps.

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  3. Hi Vickie,

    Thanks for the tutorial! Sorry if my question is too off topic – I’ve just used your technique, except I combined multiple word files rather than powerpoints – any chance you know if it is possible to also automate adding a page break between each word file as they are merged?

    Thanks for reading!

    Beth

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