Microsoft-Compatible PowerPoint Templates – Best Practices

The vast majority of presentations are created using the default templates that comes with Microsoft PowerPoint. All Microsoft-compatible PowerPoint templates have a uniform structure, and the result is that you can copy and paste slides between any deck and the paste works as expected: the content comes across perfectly, and the formatting is updated.

But in almost all corporate presentations with custom templates, this no longer works. Slides pasted from Microsoft-based presentations always need to be reformatted manually, because the custom template haven’t been created to be Microsoft-compatible.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s how to create custom templates that will be both Microsoft-compatible and have a look and feel that is brand-compatible with the organization.

What’s in a Microsoft-Compatible PowerPoint Template?

Most designers create presentation templates incorrectly for the purpose of importing of slides created with Microsoft templates. Almost universal infractions include deleting or renaming the default slide layouts, and deleting or adding placeholders on whatever default slide layouts are left. Less common methods that designers use to wreck templates include deleting all placeholders on the master slide, and deleting all default layouts, then trying to replace them

To understand why these actions could cause problems, we need to understand the PowerPoint file structure. All new blank PowerPoint files contain the following:

  • 1 Master Slide (in Slide Master view, the larger slide at the very top of the left-hand thumbnail list). The parent to all the layouts, to which the slide layouts are children. All text formatting is inherited from this slide. Deleting placeholders here will cripple the template.
  • 11 default slide layouts, which inherit the formatting set in the master slide. These 11 comprise:
  • Title Slide, for the presentation title.
  • Title and Content, for the bulk of the presentation content.
  • Section Header, to divide the deck into relevant sections.
  • Two Content, with 2 content areas.
  • Comparison, similar to Two Content, but each content area also has a corresponding heading placeholder.
  • Title Only, displaying only a Title field, with the rest of the slide blank.
  • Blank, with not even a Title field.
  • Content with Caption, a little-used layout the includes a Title, Text and Content placeholder.
  • Picture with Caption, similar to Content with Caption, but with a Picture placeholder replacing the Content one.
  • Title and Vertical Text This layout is intended for Asian language use and is only displayed as a choice if your operating system has an Asian language set up.
  • Vertical Title and Text Similar to the previous layout, only visible on computers with Asian language input enabled in the operating system.
Mandatory default layouts (Asian-language-enabled system).
Microsoft-compatible PowerPoint Layouts

Each of these layouts has a specific layout type, set in XML and not alterable in the program interface. You can create the correct placeholder types by generating a new, blank PowerPoint file. Each of these layouts contains placeholders for the date and slide number, plus a footer field. All but 1 have a title placeholder.

Here’s the second line of a default Microsoft layout. In this example, obj is the XML type for a Title and Content layout:

<p:sldLayout xmlns:a=""
type="obj" preserve="1">

If a slide layout has been created by the user from the Insert Layout command, that layout will not have a type. Instead, the second line of the XML will include userDrawn=”1″:

<p:sldLayout xmlns:a=""
preserve="1" userDrawn="1">

PowerPoint reads the userDrawn property and will not treat your layout as a default layout no matter what you do to it. It will never be Microsoft-compatible.

If you have deleted a default slide layout, you can restore it by creating a new blank presentation, then copying and pasting the layout under the slide master of the deck to be repaired. You can also restore a default layout by running this VBA:

Sub RestoreLayout()
  With ActivePresentation.Slides
    .Add(.Count + 1, ppLayoutObject).Delete
  End With
End Sub

The example above restores a deleted Title and Content layout. Just change ppLayoutObject to the type you need from this list:

Layout Type VBA Parameter
Title Slide ppLayoutTitle
Title and Content ppLayoutObject
Section Header ppLayoutSectionHeader
Two Content ppLayoutTwoObjects
Comparison ppLayoutComparison
Title Only ppLayoutTitleOnly
Blank ppLayoutBlank
Content with Caption ppLayoutContentWithCaption
Picture with Caption ppLayoutPictureWithCaption
Title and Vertical Text ppLayoutVerticalText
Vertical Title and Text ppLayoutVerticalTitleAndText

Here are the recommendations that Microsoft should have published with the release of PowerPoint 2007: All new PowerPoint templates should include all default slide layouts and placeholders. That would have saved so much grief! Every file would be a Microsoft-compatible PowerPoint template or theme.

Please note, I am not suggesting that you restrict your design to only these layouts and placeholders. As long as you have the default layouts with the default placeholders, the rest of the master slide view can be filled with all kinds of special-purpose layouts with any number of placeholders. Just remember, whatever you create today must be supported in the future, if the slides are to remain paste-compatible. For more details, please see my article about best practices for reusing old (legacy) slides: Legacy Slides – Best Practices

I’m adding a plea for sanity on behalf of users everwhere: restraint in slide layout numbers is best for your client’s users. Too many layouts and they just don’t know which one to pick! Don’t confuse them more than they already are. Consider a limit of 25 layouts maximum.

We have years of expertise in this area and can assess your template for Microsoft compatibility, or create a template or theme for you that will work seamlessly with decks based on Microsoft templates. We’re here to help! Contact me at

10:17 am

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