PowerPoint 2010: Working with Charts

Lesson 22: Working with Charts



Lesson 22

A chart is a tool you can use to communicate your data graphically. Displaying charts in PowerPoint allows your audience to see the meaning behind the numbers, and it makes showing comparisons and trends much easier. In this lesson, you will learn how to insert charts and modify them so they communicate information effectively.


In many ways, charts are an ideal way to present information in PowerPoint 2010. They give you an illustration of your data. A chart can help you show your audience what your data means and why it's important. Plus, they can add visual interest to slide shows that are otherwise filled with text. To use charts effectively, you'll need to know how to insert and modify them.

Optional: You can download this example for extra practice.

Types of charts

Click the arrows in the slideshow below to view examples of some of the types of charts available in PowerPoint.

  • Slide 1

    PowerPoint has a variety of chart types, each with its own advantages. Click the arrows to see some of the different types of charts available in PowerPoint.

  • Slide 1

    Column charts use vertical bars to represent data. They can work with many different types of data, but they're most frequently used for comparing information.

  • Slide 1

    Line charts are ideal for showing trends. The data points are connected with lines, making it easy to see whether values are increasing or decreasing over time.

  • Slide 1

    Pie charts make it easy to compare proportions. Each value is shown as a slice of the pie, so it's easy to see which values make up the percentage of a whole.

  • Slide 1

    Bar charts work just like column charts, but they use horizontal bars instead of vertical bars.

  • Slide 1

    Area charts are similar to line charts, except the areas under the lines are filled in.

  • Slide 1

    Surface charts allow you to display data across a 3-D landscape. They work best with large data sets, allowing you to see a variety of information at the same time.

  • Slide 1

Identifying the parts of a chart

Click the buttons in the interactive below to learn about the different parts of a chart.

labeled graphic

Horizontal Axis

The horizontal axis, also known as the x axis, is the horizontal part of the chart.

In this example, the horizontal axis identifies the categories in the chart, so it is also called the category axis. However, in a bar chart, the vertical axis would be the category axis.


The legend identifies which data series each color on the chart represents. For many charts it is crucial, but for some charts it may not be necessary and can be deleted.

In this example, the legend allows viewers to identify the different book genres in the chart.

Data Series

The data series consists of the related data points in a chart. If there are multiple data series in the chart, each will have a different color or style. Pie charts can only have one data series.

In this example, the green columns represent the Romance data series.


The title should clearly describe what the chart is illustrating.

Vertical Axis

The vertical axis, also known as the y axis, is the vertical part of the chart.

In this example, a column chart, the vertical axis measures the height—or value—of the columns, so it is also called the value axis. However, in a bar chart, the horizontal axis would be the value axis.

Inserting charts

PowerPoint uses an Excel worksheet as a placeholder for entering chart data. Therefore, when you insert or edit a chart in PowerPoint, an Excel window will automatically open. The process is user-friendly, but if you are totally unfamiliar with Excel, you might want to review our Cell Basics lesson from our Excel 2010 tutorial.

To insert a chart:

  1. Select the Insert tab.
  2. Click the Insert Chart command in the Illustrations Group. The Insert Chart dialog box will appear.
    Inserting a chartInserting a chart
  3. Select a category from the left pane of the dialog box, and review the charts that appear in the center. If you are unsure about which chart best fits your needs, review the interactive on the previous page.
    The Insert Chart dialog boxThe Insert Chart dialog box
  4. Select the desired chart.
  5. Click OK. An Excel window will open with a placeholder for your data.
    Excel opening automaticallyExcel window with the data placeholder

If a slide layout has a content placeholder, you can also click the Insert Chart command to insert a new chart.

Inserting a chart in the placeholderInserting a chart in the placeholder

To enter chart data:

The data that appears in the Excel spreadsheet is placeholder source data that you will replace with your own information. The Excel source data is used to create the PowerPoint chart.

The placeholder source data and the corresponding chartThe placeholder source data and the corresponding chart
  1. Enter your data into the Excel spreadsheet. If you are not sure how to enter data into an Excel spreadsheet, review our Cell Basics lesson from our Excel 2010 tutorial.
    Entering data into the spreadsheetEntering data into the spreadsheet
  2. If necessary, click and drag the lower-right corner of the blue line to increase or decrease the data range for rows and columns. Only the data enclosed by the blue lines will appear in the chart.
    Dragging the blue line to decrease the data rangeDragging the blue line to decrease the data range
  3. Close Excel. You do not need to save the spreadsheet. The PowerPoint chart will update to reflect the new source data.
    The completed chartThe completed chart

You can edit the chart data at any time by selecting your chart and clicking the Edit Data command in the Data group on the Chart Tools Design tab.

The Edit Data commandThe Edit Data command

Copying and pasting existing Excel data

If you already have an Excel worksheet with data you want to use for a PowerPoint chart, you can transfer the data by copying and pasting it. When the Excel window opens, open your existing worksheet, select and copy the data, and paste it into the worksheet in place of the placeholder data. Be sure to drag the blue line to surround all the data you want to include in the chart.

Importing a chart from Excel

If you have already created a chart in Excel, you can import and link it to your PowerPoint presentation. When you insert an Excel chart in PowerPoint, any updates you make to the original Excel chart will automatically update in your PowerPoint presentation, as long as the files remain in the same location. This can be a convenient and time-saving feature for presentations that require frequent updating.

  1. Click the Insert tab, and locate the Text group.
  2. Click the Insert Object command. A dialog box will appear.
    The Insert Object commandThe Insert Object command
  3. In the dialog box, select Create from file.
  4. Click Browse.
    The Insert Object dialog boxThe Insert Object dialog box
  5. Find and select the desired Excel chart, then click OK.
    Selecting and previewing the desired fileSelecting and previewing the desired file
  6. Click the Link check box if you want to link the data to the Excel chart. This will enable your PowerPoint chart to update itself when changes are made to the Excel chart.
    Linking the chart to the original Excel fileLinking the chart to the original Excel file
  7. Click OK. The chart will now appear in your PowerPoint presentation.
    The inserted chartThe inserted chart

To edit an imported chart, double-click it to open the Excel placeholder. After you have finished editing, be sure to save the chart in Excel.

Once you have imported a chart, be careful not to delete or move the original Excel file. If the location of either the PowerPoint presentation or the Excel file changes, you may have to insert the chart again in order for it to display correctly.

Modifying charts with chart tools

There are many ways to customize and organize your charts. For example, PowerPoint allows you to change the chart type, rearrange a chart's data, and even change the layout and style.

Once you insert a chart, a set of chart tools will appear on the Ribbon. These are only visible when the chart is selected. You can use the three tabs grouped under Chart Tools to modify your chart.

The Chart Tools tabThe Chart Tools tab

To change the chart type:

  1. From the Design tab, click the Change Chart Type command. A dialog box will appear.
    The Change Chart Type commandThe Change Chart Type command
  2. Select the desired chart type.
    Choosing a new chart typeChoosing a new chart type
  3. Click OK. The chart will update to reflect the new chart type.
    The modified chartThe modified chart

To switch row and column data:

Sometimes when you create a chart, the data may not be grouped the way you want it to. In the clustered column chart below on the left, the Book Genre Sales statistics are grouped by genre, with a column for each year. However, you could also switch the row and column data so the chart will group the statistics by year, with columns for each genre, as in the chart on the right. In both cases, the chart contains the same data; it's just organized differently.

ChartSales Chart before and after switching row and column data
  1. Select the chart.
  2. From the Chart Tools Design tab, select the Edit command in the Data group. The Excel placeholder will open.
  3. Return to your PowerPoint slide. Select the Switch Row/Column command in the Data group.
    The Switch Row/Column CommandThe Switch Row/Column Command
  4. The chart will adjust the data.

To change the chart layout:

  1. Select the Chart Tools Design tab.
  2. Click the More drop-down arrow in the Chart Layouts group to see all of the available layouts.
    The More Layouts drop-down arrowThe More Layouts drop-down arrow
  3. Select the desired layout.
    More chart layout choicesSelecting a new layout
  4. The chart will update to reflect the new layout.
    The modified chartThe modified chart

Some layouts include things like chart titles and legend labels. To change them, place the insertion point in the text and begin typing.

Changing the chart titleChanging the chart title

To change the chart style:

  1. Select the Chart Tools Design tab.
    The Chart Styles groupThe Chart Styles group
  2. Click the More drop-down arrow in the Chart Styles group to see all of the available styles.
  3. Select the desired style.
    Selecting a new chart styleSelecting a new chart style
  4. The chart will update to reflect the new style.
    The modified chartThe modified chart


  1. Open an existing PowerPoint presentation. If you want, you can use this example.
  2. Insert a new chart. If you are using the example, edit the data for the chart on slide 3 to delete the data from the months September through December.
  3. Change the chart layout.
  4. Apply a chart style. If the new style includes a chart title or any labels, edit them.
  5. Switch the row and column data.