The Beginner’s Guide to Using Google Slides

For those who frequently generate slide presentations, having easy-to-use software to create and play the presentation is a life-saver. If the software for creating slides is too complex or doesn’t offer useful templates to help spark the imagination, you might be better off with the old transparent sheets and overhead projector from the 1980s.

Fortunately, software like Google Slides provides everything required to make amazing presentations without having to spend days learning to use it. Novices can start using Slides immediately to create a useful presentation, while the software offers plenty of advanced features for those who need them.

Best of all, it’s available for free. Learn everything you need to know about this presentation software with our tips for how to use Google Slides.

How to Get Access to Google Slides

Google Slides is available for free as part of a Google account. You’ll have access to it through your Google Workspace account subscription as well. (Google recently announced a name change for G Suite, now calling it Google Workspace.)

You’ll run Google Slides through a web browser, or you can access Slides through a mobile app for Android or iOS devices.

Slides runs from the cloud, meaning you do not have a copy of the software on your device. Slides also saves your presentation to the cloud automatically every few seconds, greatly reducing the possibility of losing your work.

How to Use Google Slides in G Suite (Google Workspace)

G Suite/Google Workspace is a subscription model that helps employees in small and large business environments work together more efficiently. It facilitates video meetings, provides large amounts of cloud storage for users, adds security features, and includes all of the Google apps, including Google Slides.

You do not have to add on to your Google Workspace subscription to gain access to Slides. It’s included as part of all tiers of the subscription service. Subscriptions start at $6 per month per user in your enterprise with the Starter, Standard, Plus, and Enterprise tiers. Sign up for a subscription at the Google Workspace home page and follow the prompts.

How to Use Google Slides for Free With a Google Account

To gain access to Google Slides for free without being a G Suite/Google Workspace subscriber, just sign up for a personal Google account. (If you have a Gmail account, you’ve already created a Google account.)

To sign up for an account, visit the Google Accounts home page. Click on Create Account and follow the prompts. You’ll need to pick a username that will serve as your Gmail address as well.

If you only want to learn how to use Google Slides, and you don’t want to use any of the other Google features, such as Gmail, you can do this. Just ignore the other features after signing up for your Google account.

Opening Google Slides

Go to the Google home page and, if you hadn’t signed in earlier, click the Sign In button to sign into your Google account.

Click the 3×3 grid of squares near the upper right corner to see your Google apps. Click on Drive.

In the Drive window, click the New button in the upper left corner. In the drop down menu, click Google Slides to open this app.

Creating Your First Google Slide

Once you have the Slides app open, you’re ready to learn how to use Google Slides. The first time you see the opening page in Slides, it automatically starts a new presentation for you.

Start by giving the presentation a name. Click in the text box in the upper left corner of the Google Slides page. Replace “Untitled Presentation” with the name of your presentation.

In the default view, the Slides page will have three vertical panes where you will do your work. We will briefly describe the key components of each pane, so you can build your first presentation in Google Slides.

Left Pane: Navigating Your Slides

As you create slides in your presentation, each slide will have a representative thumbnail in the left pane of the Google Slides window. A number associated with each thumbnail shows you the ordering of the slides.

To add a new slide, right-click in the left pane. In the popup menu, left-click on New Slide. You’ll see the new slide represented as a thumbnail in the left pane. To work on any individual slide in your presentation, just click on its thumbnail in this left pane, and its information will appear in the middle pane on the Google Slides page.

Right Pane: Themes

Along the right pane of the window, you’ll see a variety of themes. These give you a head start on creating your presentation, allowing you to select pre-created color schemes, fonts, and layout options.

You can ignore themes and build your own slide layouts and colors from scratch, if desired. Just click on the X in the upper right area of the right pane to close the themes, which leaves more room to see the middle pane when you’re working. For beginners, though, or for those who want to save a bit of time, using themes is a helpful feature.

To select a theme, click on it in the right pane. If you pick a theme, its color and layout schemes will carry through to all of the slides in your presentation, so you may want to pick a theme early in the process.

Middle Pane: Working Area

When you’re ready to add text, images, and other items to your slides, you’ll do this in the middle pane. After selecting the theme you want to use in the right pane, click on the thumbnail for the first slide in the left pane. You’re now ready to begin working on that slide.

For the first slide, click on the Click to Add Title section in the middle pane. Then type the title for your presentation. If you want to add a subtitle, click the Click to Add Subtitle section and enter the text. If you don’t want a subtitle, just ignore this section. Any preset sections in which you do not enter your own text will not show up in your final presentation.

To move to a new slide, click on its thumbnail in the left pane. Then enter the text you want to use in the appropriate section of the new slide.

Use the ribbon menu across the top of the window to apply formatting to the text, such as creating a bullet list or changing the font. Use the ribbon menu to add images or new text boxes as well.

Special Features in Google Slides

You may be wondering how Slides compares to some other presentation software. Here are some of the differences in Slides versus Microsoft PowerPoint and Keynote.

Google Slides Vs. PowerPoint

The largest difference between Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint is the cost for PowerPoint. To be able to use PowerPoint, you will need a subscription to Microsoft 365, which starts at $6.99 per month. (You also can purchase PowerPoint as a standalone product for a one-time cost.)

Google Slides is free to anyone with a Google account. Some of other the differences between Slides and PowerPoint include:

  • Collaboration: Both Slides and PowerPoint have good collaborative features, allowing multiple people to work together on a presentation. Google Slides makes the sharing of the file, as well as working together on the file in real time, easier than PowerPoint. However, PowerPoint has shown improvement in this area recently.
  • Animation: PowerPoint offers significantly more animation options and control than Slides offers.
  • Media files: Both Slides and PowerPoint allow embedding of video and audio files in the presentation. PowerPoint also offers an ability to add social media posts and information, though, while Slides doesn’t have this capability yet.
  • Themes: PowerPoint offers more themes than Slides as part of the software. However, you can pay to add more themes to your Slides app.

Google Slides Vs. Keynote

Keynote is the presentation software from Apple that’s part of its office suite. Although it now is free, it isn’t as well known or widely used as Slides or PowerPoint. Some of the key differences between Slides and Keynote include:

  • Collaboration: Slides gives users far more collaboration features than Keynote users receive, including the ability to track revisions and to go back to an older version. You can share presentations with others in Keynote through iCloud, but it will not offer the same level of collaboration through team editing and real-time comments as Slides.
  • Animation: Keynote provides text, object, and chart animations to give your presentation extra pizazz versus the basic animation tools found in Slides.
  • Media files: Until recently, Slides only allowed for embedding of YouTube video files into the presentation. However, it now allows the embedding of both audio and video files from Internet sources and from your own hard drive. Keynote provides access to a slightly larger range of media files.
  • Flexibility: With Keynote, you must follow Apple’s template without much freedom. Google Slides also provides templates, but users have the opportunity to create a presentation from scratch too.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Google Slides

Here are some tips for making the most out of your presentations when you’re learning how to use Google Slides.

Saving As Multiple File Types

With Google Slides, save the presentation as any of several file types, including .ppt and .pdf. This feature ensures you can create your presentation in the format that best fits the projected use case for it.

Collaborating With Others

Because Slides runs entirely in the cloud, sharing your presentation with others for collaboration and comments is a piece of cake. As with other aspects of Google apps, such as Google Docs and Google Sheets, you can track revisions to the presentation, noting exactly who added which components.

Copying Formatting

To save time and to maintain a consistent theme and look throughout your slides, use the Paint Format tool to copy the formatting on one slide to other slides quickly. Just highlight the item with the formatting you want to copy and click on the Paint Format button (which looks like a paint roller).

Move the area where you want to copy the formatting. The cursor should look like the Paint Format icon. Click the area where you want to add the formatting and start typing. The text will carry the same formatting it had on the previous slide.

Add a Built-in Laser Pointer

Google Slides has the ability to simulate a laser pointer that you can use while giving a presentation. After starting the presentation, click the Pointer button in the presentation menu bar in the lower left corner of the screen. The cursor will change to a red dot that creates a trail as you move the cursor, looking like a laser pointer.

To turn off the laser pointer feature, move the cursor toward the lower left corner of the screen to see the presentation menu bar. Click Pointer again.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira