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How to Make a Timeline in PowerPoint (A Template is Inside)

9 minutes
How to Make a Timeline in PowerPoint

Table of Contents

A timeline is a list of events arranged in the order in which they happened. It can be used in history, paleontology, and any other study that requires displaying sequential events. A common timeline looks like a horizontal line with segments of time progressing from left to right.

In this article, we’ll explain how to create a timeline in PowerPoint in two different ways. Check them both and choose the one you like most. 

  1. How to make a timeline in PowerPoint with SmartArt
  2. How to create a timeline faster and easier with a PowerPoint add-in
How to make a timeline in PowerPoint

How to make a Timeline in PowerPoint with SmartArt

PowerPoint has a great tool, SmartArt, that allows you to communicate information with graphics instead of just using text. This is a great way you can let a viewer grasp temporal relationships quickly.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to build a timeline in PPT with SmartArt. Let’s use the example of the Phanerozoic Eon for a paleontology class.

1. Create a timeline chart

  1. Create a new PowerPoint presentation or open an existing one. You can apply a custom Theme that reflects your style right away via the DESIGN tab.
    PowerPoint Themes menu in PowerPoint 2013 for creating a timeline
  2. Then go to the INSERT tab and click on SmartArt.
    Smart Art button in PowerPoint 2013
  3. Select Process on the left and pick the design of the timeline you like in the central pane. Then click OK.
    Smart Art Graphics window for creating a timeline.
  4. The timeline will include three elements by default. If you need to add more sections to your timeline, click Add Shape on the top panel.Timeline element in PowerPoint

2. Add the text

Now you need to add all the data to your timeline.

  1. Start by giving names to your timeline elements according to your topic.Timeline in PowerPoint 2013 that consists of 3 elements.
  2. Fill in additional text under each section. You can arrange it with bullet points so it looks better.
    Add Shape button in Smart Art FORMAT PowerPoint 2013 window.Familiarize yourself with the use of the Text Pane to fill in the text of your timeline more conveniently. Text pane in PowerPoint 2013 for Smart Art, Timeline interaction.

3. Customize your timeline

Once you add all the necessary details, customize your chart. Set the fonts, resize elements, and change the colors of shapes (FORMAT tab > Shape Fill).

A screenshot of a slide in PowerPoint that contains a timeline.

Awesome! Your timeline already looks pretty good in PowerPoint. We just have to make it interactive by adding some links and animations.

4. Add links and animations 

Here is an important point: we’ll have to break up our SmartArt into shapes to prepare it for conversion, fine-tune links, and set custom animations. Therefore, we recommend that you make a copy of your original SmartArt, in case you need to change it or create another timeline like this (using convenient SmartArt tools).

  1. To copy your SmartArt, just manually drag it by its border while holding the Ctrl key on your keyboard. Drag and drop the copy of the original Smart Art outside the slide.
    Duplicate SmartArt in PowerPoint 2013.
  2. Then right-click on the border of the SmartArt that’s on the slide and select Convert to Shapes from the dropdown menu.
    Convert to Shapes right mouse click menu in PowerPoint 2013.
  3. Right-click on the border of this shape and go Group > Ungroup.
    Group > Ungroup right-mouse click menu in PowerPoint 2013 for a compound shape.
  4. Select each form individually and apply the Wipe animation. Set Start: With Previous for the first animation and After Previous for all the rest. Set effect options From Left for the horizontal timeline bar and From Top for the bullets.
    Animation effects for timeline in PowerPoint 2013. After you apply all the elements, the Animation Pane should look like this:
    Animations for timeline in PowerPoint 2013.
  5. Create slides for all milestones, e.g., this slide is about the Cenozoic Era.
    Slide of the timeline in PowerPoint 2013.
  6. Create an action button by going to INSERT > Shapes > Action Buttons.
    Action buttons in PowerPoint 2013.
  7. Draw it on the slide and set Hyperlink to: 2. Eras of Phanerozoic, which will open the slide with the timeline again.
    Action Settings window in PowerPoint 2013.
  8. Copy this action button to every slide so a learner can go back to the timeline from any descriptive slide.

After everything is done, the presentation will look like this in Slide Sorter VIEW.

Slide Sorter View in PowerPoint 2013.

Don’t want to set up hyperlinks and animations on your own? Just download our template below. 

Download our free Timeline template (.pptx, 0.7 Mb)

How to Create a Timeline Faster and Easier with a PowerPoint Add-in

Creating your timeline using PowerPoint provides many benefits. You can create custom element shapes, colors, animations, etc. … You can literally make any design you want using only PowerPoint’s functionality. However, as you can see from this article, it’s a pretty creative, complex, and therefore time-consuming process. There is a much simpler way of doing it (though with less freedom of customization) with iSpring Suite.

iSpring Suite is a complete eLearning content authoring toolkit that works as a PowerPoint add-in. 

iSpring Suite tab

One of its tools lets you create various interactive interactions, including a timeline, quickly and effortlessly. Here’s what an interactive timeline created with iSpring Suite looks like:

To make a similar timeline, follow this brief guide:

  1. Download the iSpring Suite free trial and install it on your computer.
  2. Open iSpring Suite and select the Interaction tab on the toolbar.Interaction tab
  3. You’ll see the menu with 14 types of interactions. Choose Timeline.Timeline interaction in PowerPoint
  4. To add a new milestone, click on Add Period / Add Event on the toolbar.Add Period
  5. Add an introduction/summary to your timeline by selecting the relevant box.Add an introduction yo a timeline
  6. Choose a slide in your presentation and click Insert on the upper panel. Enter your event description and choose the type of multimedia you’d like to add.Add an event description
  7. Click Format text to change fonts and text size.Format text
  8. Customize the slide in Properties. Here you can adjust the color scheme.Properties
  9. Once your interaction is ready, click on PublishPublish a timeline
  10. Decide where you want to allocate your timeline. You can save it on your computer in HTML5 format and then send it online via email or upload it via FTP.Publish
  11. If you want to upload it to your LMS, choose LMS and select the format you need from the drop-down list – SCORM 2004, for example.

Congratulations! Your interactive timeline is ready to go. 

How to Add a Timeline From Another Software Into Microsoft PowerPoint

Another way to complement your slide deck with a timeline is to create it in another software, copy it, and paste it on your slide. Simply export it from a tool like Microsoft Project or Excel as a JPG or PNG, and insert the timeline in your PowerPoint presentation as an ordinary image. 

Check out a comprehensive list of the best timeline makers that you might want to use to build a timeline for presentations. 

FAQ on Making Timelines 

✓ What is the best way to display a timeline?

This totally depends on what you prefer. But if you want your viewers to perceive and retain the information displayed in the timeline better, it would be best to opt for an interactive timeline. Besides, with tools like iSpring Suite, creating timelines is a breeze. 

✓ What is the best Microsoft program for creating a timeline?

If you need to create a timeline for your presentation, it would, of course, be better to do this right in PowerPoint – either manually with SmartArt, or with a specific add-in. But you can also build a timeline in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. The principle is the same as with PowerPoint — you should use SmartArt graphics. The tools allow you to select from dozens of timeline layouts and change colors to fit your project.

✓ How do you create a timeline with dates in PowerPoint?

To make the timeline in PowerPoint with dates, you just need to name the periods with dates and add the sequence of years to your timeline. 

Create a timeline with dates

✓ Are there timeline templates in PowerPoint?

There are no ready-made templates integrated right into PowerPoint. However, you can use the one we’ve made for you or go to the Microsoft library of templates and download one there. But keep in mind that you need to have a paid subscription to Microsoft 365 if you want to get access to premium templates. 

Final Thoughts

Timelines are an easy and effective way to illustrate sequential events and explain how things changed over time. As you can see, you don’t need to have any specific tech knowledge to create them. However, if you’d like to save time and effort, and make an interactive timeline that looks really great, opt for iSpring Suite. Download its 14-day free trial

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