Consultants are famous for their magical abilities with PowerPoint. You won’t find a consultant who has worked at the Big 4 or MBB who is not adept at making slides and presenting with Microsoft’s software.
But why are their slides so good?
The obvious reason is that consultants’ PowerPoints have to be. Consultants earn their fees on their project delivery. This is typically done by presentation of a solution. As opposed to other industries, where this is done by implementation. Some consulting firms like McKinsey even “hang their fees” on the success of this final presentation stage.
Consulting firms achieve success at presenting in four key ways. The storytelling, the “so what”, the style and the review.
When most people make a PowerPoint slide, they choose an a title that describes the content. Consultants don’t do this.
Consultants title each slide to form a consecutive story between slides. The idea is that if you only read the titles and ignore all the data and content, a client can still get a clear understanding. It also provides a sort of storyboard and easily followable outline and direction in the planning stage.
For example, instead of titling a slide “the market”, a consultant would simply title the slide, “the market is growing at 3% per annum”. For more on this specific part of slide writing, check out Heinrich’s easy to consume video below.
This part of PowerPoints is often known as the horizontal flow – the path of the story. It is the narrative or the message, as opposed to the purpose or solution contained in the PowerPoint, which comes next.
The So What
As you might know from our article on communicating like a consultant, and how to use the Pyramid Principle, consultants begin everything by answering “so what”. They do this when solving a case, when making an argument and especially when they are presenting a PowerPoint. This is broadly what they refer to as “top-down communication”.
The “So What” of a consulting project translates to slides in the following way. Typically, a solution will be offered towards the beginning of the slide deck. Subsequent slides will then explain this in carefully segmented subgroups. For example, if the “So What” is a liquidity problem, the slides might be grouped between cashflow created by investment, financing and operations. This is also exactly what you would do in a case study, or when dealing with any issue in consulting.
One thing that people often get wrong about consultants’ presentations is the style. People tend to imagine that they are fancy and animated – a “ballroom” presentation.
In truth, consultants’ slides are quite plain. Sure, their colours are sharp and the formatting is crystal clear, but they don’t have many flourishes. They are designed purely to communicate as opposed to entertain. Remember, CEOs are short on time and they are born b******t detectors. You may only have a couple hours with them after a very long project. Don’t waste it.
The style of consulting PowerPoints is also very concise. In the words of Consultant’s Mind:
There is no glory in showing the client all the gory details. You need to really boil it down to its essence. Apply the 80/20 principle, and give the client only the good stuff. Harvard Business School essays have a limit of 400 words, which is damn tough to do.
The key thing to remember is that the client sort of already knows the details and the data. They would have handed it over to the consultants at the start of the project. Therefore, reciting it back to them isn’t that productive. They want to hear how the consultants found a solution from the data.
When a consultants’ slides get close to completion, they will start to be reviewed by different members of the team. Typically, the first draft will be written by an analyst before it is reviewed by an associate and so on, sometimes up to partner level.
After that, it is likely to go through many many more check throughs by people with different levels of expertise and seniority. They will check the numbers, the charts, graphs and wording hundreds of times over.
One of the reasons that consulting presentations work so well is simply that they go through so many checks and balances.
Remember, clients pay an extortionate amount for consultants’ time. Bearing in mind how much of that time they spending building and presenting PowerPoints, it makes sense that they want to make them perfect!
For more specific tips and tricks on how to create the perfect PowerPoints, have a look at some guidance here or watch this!