How to Add Meaning and Logic to Your Timelines

Project visuals can be a highly potent way to communicate important data, display key achievements, or convince stakeholders, but many fall short of their potential either because they are too complex or too vague. The most effective PM graphics are simple, coherent and attention-grabbing, allowing the audience to quickly understand the information presented without requiring further clarification.

Using Office Timeline’s customization options and a touch of creativity, PMs can build clear and expressive visuals that successfully achieve their purpose. Here are a few tips to make the most out of the PowerPoint add-in and add meaning and logic to project presentations:

          Customizing Tasks

Office Timeline allows users to personalize task designs for more visually-appealing graphics, but this function, used wisely, can have greater potential than just improving aesthetics: it can enhance clarity and help project managers emphasize important data. Here are just a few ways smart task customization can improve project visuals.

          1. Portraying task hierarchy

Most project plans, whether big or small, are usually broken down into multiple tasks and subtasks. To make this hierarchy visible at first glance, PMs can not only customize the tasks’ colors, but also tweak their shape, size, spacing and other details, for an even stronger distinction. The image below can be a good example in this regard:

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When viewing the graphic, the audience can instantly see that Requirements specification, Request for information and Shortlist software are main tasks, while the rest of the items are subtasks. This was achieved by:

  • Using darker colors for the main categories and lighter shades for subcategories
  • Increasing the main tasks’ bar size
  • Using a left-right arrow for all the main tasks to further differentiate them from subtasks
  • Adding vertical task connectors and matching their colors to the main task bars to emphasize which activities belong to which main task

Finally, it can also be noticed that the titles describing the major tasks are bolded to make them even more prominent, but text customization will be discussed in more detail a little later.

          2. Adding Context

Task customization can also be used to add context, illustrate special circumstances, or differentiate particular tasks. As an example, the timeline below is, first of all, color-coded to show the status of the activities included in the project plan. In addition, it can also be noticed that some task bars are shaped differently from the rest – and there is a logic to this choice.

For instance, the QA check is displayed as a left-right arrow because it is a critical step that can either send the product back into development or move the project forward. Similarly, the Risk management step is shaped as a right arrow pointed towards Implementation 3 as it directly impacts this task, while Marketing points to Secure customer base because the latter depends on the success of the marketing campaign.

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          3. Highlighting selected groups

To add further meaning and logic to their project presentations, PMs can use colors to highlight selected items or mark them as “active” or “current”. However, in many cases, a project plan or schedule is not as simple as that. For instance, the schedule below is already color-coded, using orange to depict unavailable team members.

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If the PM or team leader were to change the colors to highlight the group working from 8 am to 12 am, the new marking color would hide the original semantics and Shay would lose his flagging as unavailable:

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Such issues can easily be avoided using a few simple tricks. First of all, simply darkening or brightening the original colors of the selected items can highlight the group without losing important information:

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In addition, as noticed in the image above, PMs can:

  • increase the respective task bars’ sizes
  • tweak the spacing between them
  • bold the text
  • slightly thicken task connectors for the specific group

to make the chosen elements stand out even better.

          4. Think outside the box

Although this is their original purpose in Office Timeline, task bars do not necessarily need to illustrate tasks or work hours. They can also be used to add related information or explanations. For example, the schedule below uses a task bar – colored and shaped clearly differently from the rest – to display the peak time on the graph. In addition, thick task connectors were used to help the audience quickly notice which team members will be on duty during the busiest hours.

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          Customizing Milestones

Just like tasks, milestones, too, can be personalized to create more viewer-friendly presentations. Here are just a few ways milestone customization can make project visuals more effective:

          1. Differentiating and highlighting events or deliverables

Using the same shape, color and size for all milestones on a timeline may create a harmonious effect, but, in many cases, it might not be a very practical choice. Project plans and schedules oftentimes contain many various types of events or deliverables that may also differ in importance, and the audience should be able to spot all the essential details and understand their meaning at a glance. This can be achieved by coding the milestones using color, size and shape to add logic to the graph. For example, the timeline below differentiates and highlights the various items presented as follows:

  • Milestones related to development are marked with Chevron arrows.
  • The wheels represent important reviews, and their yellow coloring suggests possible obstacles.
  • The Go No-Go Decision is of critical importance to the continuity of the project and is, therefore, highlighted through a red arrow.
  • Star-shaped milestones represent releases.
  • The Public Beta Out marker is larger to denote a higher importance compared to Alpha and Private Beta, while Final Release is even bigger and uses a distinct color, as it is a major milestone in the project’s life cycle.
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          2. Creating categories

The customization suggestions such as the ones above can be very effective in grouping similar items and creating categories, but they may not be enough in some cases. For instance, if there are many different milestone classes, illustrating them clearly may require more than just tweaking colors, shapes and sizes.

Let’s take the image below as an example. It can be noticed that the milestone markers are already grouped into two categories through colors, while selected deliverables are highlighted using distinct shapes. As a result, there are not many options left for further classifications that might be needed.

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However, there are answers to such scenarios as well. For example, if the presenter wishes to classify the milestones in the previous graphic into solution-related deliverables and PM-related items, grouping the former above the timeband and the latter below it can help the audience to distinguish them quickly:

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          Customizing Text

Diligent readers have surely noticed that slight text customization has already been used throughout the visuals exemplified here. Now it’s time to go into detail and see how tweaking texts can help projects managers create more meaningful timelines and Gantt charts.

          1. Sending the desired message

Font styles have their own personality. Research conducted by Washington State University has revealed that different fonts can have a different emotional impact on the audience, and project managers can use these findings to set a desired tone or strengthen the message they want to convey.

As an example, all images presented here up until now use the Calibri font, which is the standard font in PowerPoint and is familiar to everyone. According to the study, this typeface belongs to the category that suggests stability, trustworthiness, and comfort. Since Calibri is seen very often in PowerPoint presentations, PMs who don’t want to overuse the font can switch to a less common typeface belonging to the same category. Examples include:

  • Georgia
  • Verdana
  • Janson Text
  • Century (used in the graphic below). How to add meaning to your presentations 10

Presenters who wish to express solidity, masculinity, or strength can choose fonts with strong serifs, weightier lines, or harder corners and edges. Examples include:

  • Middle Ages
  • NewYorkDeco
  • Helvetica Bold
  • Impact
  • AR Julian
  • Adobe Garamond Pro (used in the image below). How to add meaning to your presentations 11

Finally, there may be cases that call for a more delicate or feminine tone, such as the family-oriented event plan below:

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The font style used here is Segoe Print, a curvier typeface with richer ornaments, evoking warmth, softness and harmony. Other options belonging to the same category include:

  • Mission Script
  • Lavanderia
  • Informal Roman
  • Brush Script
          2. Tweaking date formats to reveal the right details

Date formatting may not seem that important, but it can help project managers keep the timeline clean. For instance, if a project spans less than a year, using a date format that displays years all throughout the visual not only is unnecessary, but can also overcrowd the slide. With graphics that include many milestones or tasks, even a few extra characters can make a significant difference.

Date customization can also help PMs emphasize important details. To give an example, in the project plan below, the Beta Test 2.2 milestone is scheduled outside of work days. To ensure the audience is clear about this aspect right from the start, the milestone’s date was formatted to display the day of the week and its color was changed to red to make it stand out even better.

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Last but not least, presenters can also tweak date formats to conceal information. For instance, as detailed in our product roadmap presentation guide, showing specific dates may be hazardous in certain circumstances, as is the case with the Project close milestone in the timeline above. Because the exact day when the closing phase will be complete isn’t certain, the graphic displays only the month instead of a specific day.

          Connect them all

After personalizing tasks, milestones and texts to fit their purpose, presenters can further tweak the timeline to make it more cohesive. As seen in the graphic below, milestone markers and titles can be colored to match the tasks they are linked to, while adding vertical connectors where appropriate makes the correspondences between items even more visible.

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The tips presented here provide a good start for beginning PMs who wish to create more effective project visuals. With imagination and attention to detail, presenters can find their own tricks to add meaning, logic and clarity to their PowerPoint slides and ensure the audience quickly grasps the message they want to convey.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Plus free for 14 days.


The Psychology of Presentations: Getting Your Point Across

Have you ever attended a bad presentation? I have, and they seem to be endless and boring regardless of how interesting the subject may have been. I can think of several meetings where I was presented with eye-straining slides, or slides created from blocks of pasted text. In these types of presentations, I find it hard to stay focused on what the host is saying and, unfortunately, struggle to retain the information they were trying to communicate.

Any presenter’s primary goal is for their audience to pay attention, easily understand the data being communicated, and leave the room remembering the main points. Thanks to the extensive research available on human psychology, memory and attention, presenters can take advantage of scientifically based techniques to create more compelling and effective presentations.

From capturing the audience’s attention to raising retention levels, the following research-backed tips will help professionals deliver more effective presentations:

Here are a few tips to help beginner product managers ace their presentations:

          Cater to the different learning styles

Psychologists, teachers, trainers and leaders often use a theory of learning called the VAK model to help people concentrate on and process information more effectively. According to the VAK theory, an individual’s dominant learning style can be either visual, auditory or kinesthetic.

  • Auditory learners absorb information best through words and sounds. Varying vocal pitch, tone, volume and pace to avoid monotony or emphasize important ideas can be an effective approach when addressing this type of audiences. In addition, well-placed pauses can add tension, spark curiosity, or give the participants time to process new concepts.
  • Visual learners respond best to graphs, mind maps, charts, pictures and any other illustrations. Using facial expressions, gestures and other visual cues while speaking can also be effective.
  • Kinesthetic learners retain new concepts most effectively through experience – moving, doing, touching, sharing. Inviting them to share their opinions or integrating various activities into the presentation will help keep kinesthetic audiences focused and improve retention levels.

Since an audience usually comprises a mix of the different types of learners, the safest approach when planning a presentation is to cater to all learning styles. However, in some instances, it can be a good idea to favor one sensory channel over the others. For example, when presenting to a team of illustrators or designers, emphasizing visual communication will ensure a better response from the audience.

Power up your presentation

          Structure the content

Research shows that structured information is 40% easier to retain than data conveyed in a freeform manner. To ensure clarity and higher retention levels, professionals can rely on a variety of effective presentation structures, including:

  • Problem – Solution – Benefit: good for motivating or persuading the audience
  • Cause – Effect: recommended for helping the audience understand the logic behind the presenter’s position
  • Comparison (differences and similarities): effective in highlighting the relative advantages of a specific approach to a problem
  • Chronological: best for reporting or stepping the audience through a process.
          Use the law of three

What do the Three Little Pigs, the slogan of the French Republic, and the famous Latin phrase “Veni, vidi, vici” have in common? It’s that they all come in threes - and there may be a reason behind it.

The law of three is one of the oldest writing and rhetoric principles, dating back to Aristotle. It suggests that groups or lists of three items are more effective, more “satisfying”, and easier to remember than any other numbers. The rule is used extensively in literature (particularly fairytales), public speaking, marketing, music, theater, the movie industry, and even religion – it is all around us. But why is the number 3 so powerful?

The answer may lie in the way our brains are wired. Humans’ pattern recognition capability is superior to any other species’ and it is one of the most important features supporting information processing, language and imagination. The human brain loves patterns – the simpler they are, the easier they’ll be to process and remember. Three is the smallest number required to make a pattern, and this is why triads are so effective when it comes to data retention. Therefore, reducing a presentation to three main points or structuring ideas as triads will make it easier for the audience to focus and remember the information presented.

          State your most important points first

According to research, people tend to remember the first and last items in a series considerably better than those in the middle of the sequence. This cognitive bias is called “serial position effect” and can have quite an impact on the effectiveness of a presentation. Therefore, a good approach to ensure higher data retention is to:

  • Present the most important points first
  • Use the middle of the presentation to expand them
  • Restate the key points in the conclusion.
          Use effective visuals

Numerous studies have demonstrated that images, graphs and pictures are more likely to grab attention and be remembered than words. Adding visuals to a presentation can, therefore, be one of the most valuable ways for professionals to ensure they get their point across - as long as they are used wisely. Here are a few tips on how to use visuals for more impactful presentations:

          1. Use graphs, not tables

Moin Syed, PhD, psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, recommends converting words and numbers into graphs and diagrams rather than tables. Tables require detailed reading and focus, so they are not ideal for extracting essential data quickly. A well designed chart, on the other hand, can help the audience get the big picture much faster.

          2. Be bold with colors

Be bold with colors

A recent IEEE study has shown that images comprising 7 or more colors are more memorable than visuals with 2 to 6 colors. As a result, a colorful project plan such as the one above, for instance, can ensure the project team or stakeholders will find the information presented easy to grasp and remember. On the other hand, the image below may seem more businesslike, but will most likely not have the same impact on the audience.

Use more colors in presentations

          3. Avoid complex visuals

Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience has revealed that visual and auditory senses share a limited neural resource. This means that focusing on complex images can reduce the brain’s capacity to process sounds. Consequently, when a presentation includes particularly demanding visuals, the audience will not merely ignore the presenter’s voice - they will actually fail to hear it in the first place. Practicing simple designs in presentations will reduce the cognitive load on the audience and ensure both the visual data and the speaker’s voice can get through to the participants.

          4. Surprise

Psychological studies on human memory have shown that a notably different item in a series of otherwise similar items will be more easily recalled than the others. This cognitive bias is known as the von Restorff effect and can be used to deliver more effective presentations. When creating graphs, charts and other visuals, professionals can tweak colors, sizes and shapes to add an element of surprise and steer the audience’s focus to the most important details. For instance, in the image below, “Beta Test 2.2” clearly stands out and will most likely be recalled better than the other milestones on the timeline.

Surprise elements in presentations

          5. Spark Curiosity

There is a psychological phenomenon called the curiosity gap that has been used extensively in online marketing (e.g. clickbait titles) and can be very effective in PowerPoint presentations as well. According to research, people learn better when they are curious about an answer. In addition, the increased dopamine activity while in a state of curiosity also improves their long-term memory. Presenting seemingly incomplete visuals and revealing the missing data gradually will make the audience curious about the omitted details and, therefore, ensure a higher retention level. For example, in the schedule presented below, viewers can see that there are two events programmed after lunch, but, initially, there is no data about what they entail.

Spark curiosity in presentations

When the information is revealed, due to the curiosity gap created, the audience will be more likely to remember the Mobile strategy meeting and the guest speaker programmed in the afternoon.

Mobile strategy in presentations

The tips above are just some of the many techniques experienced presenters use to get their point across successfully. Understanding the way the human mind works, what grabs attention and what supports learning and memory can help professionals create more powerful presentations, regardless of topic or purpose.

          Key points to remember

  • Adapting a presentation to the audience’s dominant learning style can considerably improve information processing.
  • Structure, patterns, and the order in which ideas are presented play a big role in data retention.
  • Well thought-out visuals will make important data easily distinguishable and more memorable.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Plus free for 14 days.


How to Master Product Roadmap Presentations

Giving a product roadmap presentation isn’t easy. To achieve their goals, product managers must diplomatically convince an entire room of opinionated stakeholders to listen to them and support their vision. Oftentimes, it is not a flaw in the product strategy itself that leads to dismissals or pushbacks, but how that strategy is communicated to the audience. This is why PMs pay just as much attention to the way they deliver the roadmap presentation as to the actual information shared with the stakeholders.

Here are a few tips to help beginner product managers ace their presentations:

          1. Consider Your Audience

Understanding the audience and what approach would work best for them is one of the key steps to successful product roadmap presentations. For instance, when communicating the product strategy to executives, the main goal is to secure buy-in and maintain support throughout the development cycle. In this case, the presentation doesn’t need to include every single planned feature, but rather focus on high-level strategic concepts – such as new market penetration, driving growth, or customer satisfaction.

Product Roadmap Audience

On the other hand, the professionals working on product development will probably not be terribly interested in market penetration or the organization’s revenue potential. When presenting to such teams, product managers usually create more granular roadmaps and focus on features, milestones, sprints and releases. In addition, it may be a good choice to include relevant tasks and requirements of other departments, so that the developers understand the importance of certain deadlines or requests.

Granular Product Roadmap

          2. Keep it simple

It can be tempting to add as many details as possible to a roadmap, in an attempt to be thorough and cover all aspects that seem important. However, details such as UI designs or user stories, for instance, do not belong on a roadmap, but in the product backlog, and they can make the presentation too busy and difficult to follow. Excessive or irrelevant information is not likely to secure executive buy-in, and it will not be helpful in inspiring teams either.

          3. Tell a story and explain the “Why”

Persuasive presentations aren’t just statistics, Gantt charts and graphs. They are stories that connect the audience to the key data points and make the information communicated more accessible.

When presenting product roadmaps, adopting a casual, conversational style will allow PMs to draw the audience in while also conveying essential facts. Also, showing executives what the strategy proposed will mean for the organization or explaining how the product can solve a vital problem for the end users will have more impact than just listing features and numbers. When everyone in the room understands the larger strategic vision and reasons behind the product manager’s decisions, they will be much more likely to see the merits of the plan and get behind the project.

          4. Remember that appearance matters

The main purpose of a product roadmap is to visualize the strategy and make it crystal-clear to the audience, whether the presenter is aiming for stakeholder buy-in or communicating plans to the team. If the roadmap is dull, unclear, or, worse, it is just a long list of features displayed on a spreadsheet, it will not take long for the audience to lose interest.

Presenting the plan through a straightforward visual will draw attention and make it easy for everyone to quickly understand what the product manager is proposing. Also, visuals force PMs to be ruthless about which details to include in the roadmap and which to cut out, distilling the plan down to only the most essential points that serve the product’s strategic goals. Last but not least, a colorful, well-designed visual can help highlight key information and add meaning without overcrowding the roadmap.

Product Roadmap Appearance

          5. Know when to show dates

Some product managers never include dates when presenting a roadmap, while others recommend to always display them. The safest approach could lie somewhere in the middle:

  • When it comes to internal product roadmaps that coordinate the work carried out by various teams (development, support, marketing, etc.), showing dates or timeframes is necessary, indeed. It will let everyone know how to organize their time so as not to impede others’ work or miss key deadlines. Also, including dates can be of particular importance when it comes to seasonal or date-driven products, such as a travel app that needs to be released before summer, or smartphones that must be rolled out just in time for Christmas sales.
  • In the case of external-facing roadmaps – presented to customers or users, for example – it may be best to not show any specific timeframes unless the product’s availability date is absolutely certain. This will reduce the risks of over-commitment, rushed work, and disappointed stakeholders.

          6. Show confidence and enthusiasm

No matter how good a product strategy is and how compelling the facts, simply reciting the information presented on the roadmap will most likely not get the desired reaction from audiences. Speaking enthusiastically and showing confidence in their plan will help product managers be much more persuasive and transmit that enthusiasm to the everyone in the room, giving the product the best shot at success.

          7. Be prepared to handle objections
  • “How can we scope this down?”
  • “Can’t we move faster?”
  • “The costs are too high.”
  • “Why can’t we do this another way?”
  • “Why don’t we add X or Y to the product?”

These are just a few of the many questions and objections the audience might have, and PMs need to be prepared to answer them. To reduce the chances of being caught off guard, experienced product managers brainstorm all possible issues the audience may raise and look for the best way to handle them before meeting the stakeholders.

Some common objections can be worked directly into the presentation and addressed even before they occur. For others, PMs can prepare responses that address not only the questions raised, but also deeper, underlying ones. Finally, to reduce the possible objections to a minimum, it is recommended to back up all statements and information presented with hard facts – for instance, user analytics, market statistics, direct customer requests, etc. Evidence is always more compelling than opinion.

Preparing a product roadmap presentation requires thorough planning, a good understanding of the audience, and great attention to detail. However, once mastered, it can be one of the most powerful communication tools for product managers to present their vision - and make it happen.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Plus free for 14 days.


Build Timelines Scaled Down to Hours and Minutes

One of the most frequent feature requests we receive from the Office Timeline community is the capability to scale timelines into smaller time increments, so that even the most granular plans and projects can be presented in a stunningly impressive way. These professionals need PowerPoint timelines and Gantt charts that span minutes or hours rather than days, and they need milestones plotted to an exact point in time. As a customer driven company, the valuable work our teams are continually doing at Office Timeline is always 100% focused on needs such as this.

After months of planning, customer feedback and development, we’re excited to deliver a highly customizable Hours and Minutes enhancement that has been designed to work seamlessly in a simple and familiar way. With the latest update, Office Timeline Plus users can now easily create timelines, Gantt charts and other visuals, such as agendas and hourly schedules, using hours and minutes as time intervals.

Download the latest version of Office Timeline from here.

hours and minutes example

How to make hourly timelines in PowerPoint

Professionals who need to fast-start their timelines can use one of the built-in hourly templates Office Timeline Plus comes equipped with, such as the one above. Alternatively, they can choose one of the many free pre-formatted templates available online here. They are easily customizable and provide a quick starting point for building beautiful visuals. Creating a PowerPoint timeline or Gantt chart using the hours and minutes feature is effortless with the latest edition of Office Timeline. Here’s how:

1. From PowerPoint, click on the Office Timeline tab to open the timeline ribbon. Next, go to NEW to create a new timeline and select the Style you want. You will be automatically directed to the Milestone Wizard once you click on one of the Styles.

hours and minutes step one

2. On the Milestone Wizard, select the CLOCK icon in the upper right and then enter the description, date and color for each milestone item. Click or type in the time field to set the specific time for each milestone. You can also do this from the Time Setter, which allows you to set the length of your working day. Once done with milestones, hit the Next arrow and repeat these steps on the Task Wizard.

hours and minutes milestone

3. The final step is to style your timeline by making design choices for its appearance and layout.

hours and minutes style

Once done, select the Green check, and Office Timeline will automatically create your hours and minutes timeline in PowerPoint.

hours and minutes final step

Applications for Hours & Minutes

The hours & minutes enhancement can be used for an expanded range of planning and reporting needs, from project management and executive reporting, to engineering and litigation timelines. It can be used for any scenario that requires a granular breakdown of tasks and activities, or for the plotting and tracking of key events, including:

  • Planning, tracking and communicating granular project data or short-duration tasks
  • Creating legal timelines to structure case evidence and oral arguments into compelling visuals
  • Building graphical shift schedules for better staff organization and coverage plans
  • Printing visual agendas for important meetings, seminars or conferences
  • Preparing visual event plans that teams and vendors understand

For a more detailed tutorial on building hourly Gantt charts and timelines, please watch the video below:

About Office Timeline Plus

Professionals spend a lot of time creating timelines, Gantt charts and other visuals to communicate their data more effectively at important meetings. Office Timeline makes the process faster and simpler, allowing users to:

  • work right inside PowerPoint, providing an easy, familiar and seamless experience
  • create simple, elegant visuals that are easy for audiences to understand and remember
  • instantly update timelines when their milestone or task data changes
  • scale from years and decades down to hours and minutes
  • easily print and share the PowerPoint timelines for improved collaboration.

Quickly turn project data into professional timelines

Build stunning, uncomplicated timelines and Gantt charts that are easy to make and simple to communicate. Get the advanced features of Office Timeline Plus free for 14 days.


Linking timelines to files or web pages

Connect any object or text on your timeline to documents, images or web sites  

Linking images, files and web pages to the milestones or tasks on your timeline may be useful for sharing project details directly from your PowerPoint slide.

Step 1:  Open your timeline in PowerPoint and select the task, milestone or the object that you want link to a file or web page. 

Step 2:  With your task, milestone or object selected, navigate to PowerPoint’s Insert tab and select the Hyperlink in the Links Group. 

Step 3In the Edit Hyperlink click on Existing File or Web Page. Browse to the file you want your timeline to linked to and click OK.  If you would like to link to a website you can paste your web address or browse to it. You can also add a screen tip which will show on your slide in presentation mode when you hover over the object.