Customizing the Default Text Box in PowerPoint

PowerPoint Pro Moves S1E8

Dear Bullet Point: It’s been fun, but I’ve found someone new.

Creating highly visual slides often requires designers to ditch bullet points and insert custom text alongside images and graphics. Unfortunately, PowerPoint’s default settings can make this a time intensive process…that is, unless you know a few tricks. So, how can we train PowerPoint to give us the look we want when we insert a new TEXT BOX? In this post, I’ll show you how. 

Step 1. Insert a text box.

If you’re ready to move past bullet points and create a properly typeset slide. Let’s start with the basics. First, insert a text box. Here’s the process:

Insert > Text Box > Click and Drag on your slide to create a text box

Unless you’ve already customized your PowerPoint files Theme font (and 99% of you haven’t – see S1E3 of my PowerPoint Pro Moves YouTube playlist for more on that Pro Move), you’re going to get a big, fat, generic Calibri-burger of a text box that requires a whole lotta’ customization to be of any use.

Here’s the specs that you’ll most likely see when you insert that first text box.

  • Font family: Calibri
  • Font size: 18
  • Font color: Black
  • Alignment: Left
  • Text box margins and borders: Who knows? (Hint: I do. Keep reading.)

First, the bad news. Every time you insert a new text box, you’ll continue to receive this generic text box unless you do something about it. As you can already guess, making this text box something of real use over the course of a presentation seems pretty daunting, which is why I suspect so many people slink back to the bullet point and try to stuff all their text in one text box instead of typesetting their slides. We can make all of these troubles go away, so let’s move on to Step 2.

What is Typesetting?

Typesetting is a fancy way of saying that you are placing multiple text boxes on a slide to create a desired design and communication effect. Each text box may feature unique fonts, colors, weights, and sizing.) Nancy Duarte’s book Slide:Ology really opened my eyes to the payoff of typesetting years ago and I never looked back. It’s a great read.

Step 2. Fine tune your text box (one time).

Regardless of whether you’re looking to move to the typesetting level or place text over beautiful full-bleed images as a callout, you’re looking at a lot of one-off edits to make this generic text box usable. My advice here is to “go slow in order to go fast”. Take your time to get the look, feel, and formatting right on one single text box and then lock in that look as the default text box before you go into full slide production mode. I’ll show you how to lock in the look in a bit, but first, here are the items I’d recommend that you consider customizing for that very first default text box. 

Font Family

Listen, I’m sure that the Calibri font is really kind to animals and gives generously to its community, but as the generic font of Microsoft, I’ve grown to dislike it rather strongly. Even using it in the various images thus far has been difficult for me. Whether or not you share my font worldview, I’m guessing your default company font is NOT Calibri, right? So, you’re going to need to adjust the font family. I recommend that you do this the intelligent way, which is to adjust the Theme font for your body text, which will automagically adjust this for future text boxes. Again, see S1E3’s blog post or the YouTube for that maneuver. (Quick and Dirty Note: View > Slide Master > Theme Font > Pick your desired Theme font.) If that is too much hot saucefor you, then go ahead and use your manual tools to adjust the font. #FreeCountry.

Font Size

The default font size is waaaaaay too small for use in a presentation. My advice would be to consider the environment where your presentation will take place. If you have the luxury of being in your presentation space, then design your minimum slide font readability for the back of the house. Typically, I’d start with adjusting my default text box font size to a 36-point value, which is 100% larger than the standard default text box size. For perspective, the slide below shows you just how small a 36-point font is on a fully typeset slide (and yes, that is still Calibri font on the slide, gag).

Font Alignment

The default font alignment is Left (Keyboard shortcut: CTRL + L). If you are going to make your text box a callout label, I’d recommend adjusting to a Center-aligned box (Keyboard shortcut: CTRL + E). If you are feeling really sassy, you can try a right-aligned default text box (Keyboard shortcut: CTRL+R). I’m not saying I would, but you can.

Font Color
Your go-to font color is a key thing to choose. Pardon the pun, but there is a lot of gray area here. I typically will choose my default color based on the bulk of my usage within a presentation. If I am using a lot of dark backgrounds or featuring text over images, I’ll set white as my base color. If a light background is the predominate usage, I’ll adjust the color to black or a variant of it.
Text shadow (or not to text shadow)?

Here’s my take on text shadows: Over images, they enhance readability. And, if I’m setting type on a black slide background, the text shadow is invisible. Either way, I win. Because of this, I will often apply a text shadow to my default text box. However, if I know going into a project that the key background will be white (or lighter) and/or the brand identity specifically restricts the use of a text shadow, I’ll skip it. The main point is to make an intentional design decision early on to save yourself time and keep things consistent. Here are a few illustrations that, well, illustrate my point:

Text boxes with a text shadow are noticeable on a lighter background. This may or may not be desirable.

On a darker background, the text shadow is invisible.

Over an image, text shadows boost readability.

Text fill and transparency.
Text fill is a nuanced element of text box formatting that can take the look and feel of your default text box to the next level. The key elements you’ll want to factor in include the text color fill and the transparency of the text. Here’s an easy way to fine-tune these settings…

First, right-click the border of you’re the text box you are customizing as your default text box. Then select the Format Shape option near the bottom of the options that appear.

Next, select the Text Options tab on the top-right to focus on the Text Fill, Text Outline, Shadow, and Margins.

I’ve set the Text Fill to 34% transparency (as an example). If I like this, I can lock in this look.

Text box vertical alignment and margins.
If you are going to be featuring your text box with any type of border or as a “button style” callout label, it is a wise idea to customize the vertical alignment and inner margins while you’re still setting up that default text box. The third Text Options icon within the Format Shape pane allows you to make these changes very quickly.
I’ll typically set my Vertical alignment to the MIDDLE and add at least a 0.1” margin to my text box. This additional “padding” saves tremendous time if I apply a border to my text box. In effect, I’ve already pre-built in the look and feel of a button. 
Text box line.

If I want to add a color line border around my default text box, I’ll access the Shape Options section of the Format Shape pane. The Line drop-down section offers users the ability to activate the Solid line option, as well as fine tune the color, width, transparency, and a wide variety of other options. 

Text box fill.

Lastly, I may want to further boost readability by adding in a semi-transparent fill color to my default text box. If I do, here’s where I’d make it happen:

I’ve added an 85% transparent black fill to this text box. This slight fill will boost the legibility of my text box over images without significantly distracting from the featured image below.

Step 3. Set as Default Text Box.

OK, I’ve just shown you just about everything you can possibly want to customize on your default text box. I know it sounds like a lot; however, in motion, all of that pomp and circumstance only takes a few minutes but will save you hours of time and aggravation over the course of building out a visual presentation. Of course, there is one additional step that is absolutely essential: You’ve got to set this new formatting as your default text box! Here’s how…

Right-click the text box border > Scroll down and select Set as Default Text Box.

That’s it! Now, the next time you insert a new text box, all of your customized formatting will carry over! 

You got this! Now, go out there and dominate PowerPoint.

As you can see a customized default text box is a powerful thing. I encourage you to use your newfound powers for greater good and escape from text-heavy, bullet point-laden presentations for good. I promise you that your slide development process will be more enjoyable and your message will become more effective and powerful in the process. To your next great presentation!

About the Author

Michael Thiel is the Executive Vice President and lead Imaginator at automätik, an organization dedicated to “Eradicating boring training from the face of the Earth.” He is a passionate advocate for the development of engaging learners via effective presentation and instructional design. With over a decade of experience with the integration of educational technologies in the corporate learning and events space, Michael has been featured as a lead instructional designer, guest speaker, and Facilitator with some of the largest and most trusted brands in the world, including BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen, Kia, Honda, and the Sub-Zero group (to name a few). You can find more articles from Michael at automatik.com/resources/blog or visit the automätik YouTube channel to view the PowerPoint Pro Moves video playlist.