Flowcharts? Are we discussing the graphic type that computer programming nerds used in the last century? Yes, the last century was just a decade or two back (not a hundred years ago)—and yes again, flowcharts continue being used these days. If they came into existence to represent workflows for computer programming routines, these days they are used for everything from adaptive recipes to complex employee induction programs.
The strongest advantage a flowchart has over other graphic types is that anyone with little graphic knowledge and plenty of logic can create them. Unfortunately, that's also their biggest disadvantage—most flowcharts look like they are still flashbacked into 1989! Yet, there's no reason why you cannot create stunning flowcharts that are more contemporary looking, as we will explore in this article.
Frankly, I am not too surprised about how frequently I am asked about flowcharting in PowerPoint slides—questions range from suggesting a book or resource that explains flowcharting in plain English to which flowcharting application can create something that can be easily inserted on a slide. The important part is that these questions exist!
Flowcharting has always been popular because it is so simple – yet if you still want a structured approach, look at my Flowcharts in Microsoft Office tutorial. About an answer to the second question: you do not need a separate flowcharting application – PowerPoint already has everything you need! Yes, under the hood PowerPoint has full featured flowcharting abilities.
Let us create a flowchart from scratch in PowerPoint—here is a flowchart that I created in one of my old notebooks when I was doing a Computer Basics course—I am sure this is from 20 years ago. The reason I am using this old flowchart is to show you how much more you can do using PowerPoint compared to the paper and pen days—even with the same content.
Look at my Pepsi or Coke flowchart again, and you will find that it contains three types of shapes (ovals, rectangles, and diamonds). It also contains lines that run between these shapes—these are called connectors. Technical and complex flowcharts have many more shape types but for most flowcharting graphics, these three shapes and connectors are all you need so let us explore them further:
- Ovals: The beginning and end of a flowchart sequence typically are ovals. In flowchart parlance, these are called Terminators. You usually have Start and Stop typed within these shapes, but there’s nothing stopping you from using more creative text captions.
- Rectangles: This is a Process, which means that you need to process a thought, an action, or anything similar. In our sample flowchart, something such as Ask for Pepsi, Ask for Coke, or Buy are all processes.
- Diamonds: These are the shapes that make you think. In flowchart terminology, these are called Decisions. These shapes also have more than one output branch emanating from them. Typically, you have two branches identified as Yes and No decisions. You choose just one of these decision options, unless you are indecisive—in that case branch out of both decisions to see where it takes you!
- Lines: These are called Connectors. They lead you from one flowchart shape to another, and an arrow on one end of the connector makes sure you proceed in the right direction.
The area highlighted in red contains all flowchart shapes, and includes the three basic shapes we discussed (Terminators, Processes, and Decisions). Refer to Indezine’s Flowchart Symbols: What They Represent? page to learn more about the other flowchart shapes.
Similarly, the area highlighted in blue contains lines. Many of these line variants can work as connectors but the second, fifth, and eighth line options from left (the ones that have an arrowhead at one end) work best.
Now that you know where you access your flowchart shapes and connectors from, it’s easy to create your own flowchart. Here are some best practices to help you get started:
- To create a flowchart shape, select the shape you need from the Shapes gallery. Your cursor will turn into a crosshair. Drag and draw on your slide to create an instance of that shape.
- To add text to your shape, just select your shape and start typing. To edit text, select your existing text, and type as required.
- To connect shapes, bring up the Shape gallery and choose the line options that have an arrowhead at one end. As soon as you get your cursor close to the shape you want to connect from, you will see 8 magnetic handles. Move your cursor closer and the line will snap to establish a start point. Now drag towards the other shape you want to connect and move close to the similar 8 magnetic handles. Let go your cursor close to the handle where you want to connect. Learn more in Indezine’s Using Flowchart and Connector Shapes Together tutorial.
- You can make your connectors thicker or thinner and add Yes or No captions to connectors that emanate from Decision shapes. Learn more in Indezine’s Formatting Connectors within Flowcharts tutorial.
- You can change fill colors of flowchart shapes in the same way as you change fills of any other shape in PowerPoint. However, do not go overboard. Restrict yourself to fills that complement the overall look of your slides.
Geetesh Bajaj is an awarded Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional) for over 12 years now. He has been designing and training with PowerPoint for 15 years and heads Indezine, a presentation design and content development organization based out of Hyderabad, India. An author of 6 books, Geetesh believes that any PowerPoint presentation is a sum of its elements—these elements include abstract elements like story, color, interactivity, and navigation—and also slide elements like shapes, graphics, charts, text, sound, video, and animation.