One colleague joked that he gets to the client sites, turns on the computer and just opens up PowerPoint – even before opening email or anything else. Like a baker who turns on the oven as soon as he enters the kitchen. It’s a large part of what we do.  Here are my 4 steps to create powerpoint that matter.

To be clear, it is more than just making fancy graphs. There is tons of hypothesis-based consulting, excel, interviews, benchmarking, industry research, and analysis. The presentation is just where it all together, like the finals of a tournament. It is “game day.”

Presentation development usually comes toward the end of the project (phase). In the diagram below, it is assumed that you have already collected the data, analyzed it, come up with some potential solutions, and really gotten smart on the topic. Now, you are putting those great ideas on paper so it can be communicated effectively. The presentation should be so good that your client can use it over and over again when they sell it internally to their peers and bosses.

How consultants make presentations1a.  Define the narrative. What is the story line? If you were trying to explain the project and recommendations to your teenage niece, or the waiter at your local restaurant, how would you tell the story? Would the punchline be at the front, or the back of the story? How important is the background?  What is the big take away?

1b. Define the presentation structure. Think of this like chapters in the a book. If you have a sense of the narrative, how many sections does the presentation have? Is it chronological? Is organized by geography?  Sorted by function? It all depends on what you are trying to say and how the audience thinks about the topic.

3 presentation structuresChronology: Larger projects typically follow this structure since it is easy to follow.  For example, a large project might have a separate deliverable for each phase (1,2,3) and the final deliverable would simply be the sum of the previous presentations. No surprise these tend to be very long, a bit boring, but demonstrate a lot of rigor. Good “thud” factor. (the sound of the dense stack of pages hitting the table, impressing your client)

Geographic: You see this type of presentation when the client it responsible for a geography (e.g., US sales, European manufacturing, Asia Pacific HR). This lens helps the client compare between regions and weight the pro/con of centralizing or de-centralizing activities and comparing across geographies.

As a corollary, it can also be a functional review when you are looking at the entire company or enterprise. For example, if it were cost reduction across the entire company, it would only make sense to review things methodically from one department to another.

Prioritization: Most executive presentations follow this format. They are shorter presentation which are very direct, and usually target a response from the audience. Consultants use the pyramid principle a lot with this type of approach. I believe 80% of my presentations follow this approach. Start with the conclusion on an executive summary  – which helps the executives fine tune their thinking as they hear the supporting data.

2. Draft the content of the slides. There are entire books written on this topic, but the key point is that you need to put meaningful stuff on the page. Don’t put crap on the page. If your content is obvious or blah-blah marketing talk – don’t bother putting it on the page. The question you need to constantly ask is “SO WHAT?“. If you don’t ask it, your boss will. The presentation must answer the key questions and scope of the project.

3. Refine the slides. During this time, a lot of slides get combined, thrown away or re-invented. A presentation is a living document, edit and refine as you go.

If the slides lack accuracy, logic or organization, you have some serious problems that need addressing. In the same vein, you want it to be persuasive, brief and professional.

It is a bit cathartic, but you actually develop a stronger point of view the longer you refine the slides. You cut away the fat that needs to be edited away.

This is where collaboration comes in. A partner, or senior manager will review because there are different ways to make the slides easier to understand. It might seem trivial, but clients pay $$$$$ for deliverables, and expectations are high. It pays to listen to feedback.

For collaboration, I believe you need 3 ingredients:

  • Diversity of skills: After all, what is the use if you have the exact same skills
  • Trust: If you don’t trust each other, any feedback will seem like nit-picking
  • Mutual understanding of the goal, their input will be useful.  Be open to the feedback

4. Socialize findings with key people. The last thing you want to do is go into a key meeting and surprise the client with an off-base recommendation. All good consultants pre-sell their recommendations with key people before the key meeting. Japan is the home of consensus-based decision making and the Japanese word for this pre-selling of the decision is called “nemawashi” which literally means “digging around the roots” to prepare a plant for transplant.

Executives are often very visual people. They have busy schedules and short attention spans. They want to see an executive summary of 10-15 pages in PowerPoint, not a 300 page novel full of words.  Sometimes, you only have 2 hours with a CXO (CEO, CFO, COO, COO, CIO, CMO) at the end of 4 month project – so you need to make sure that your presentation makes an impact.

Story telling. Consultants are good at a lot of different things, but in the end it always ends with a presentation that tells a story. There has to be a narrative. Sounds idealized, but it’s all about story-telling. Business development and sales professionals tells stories verbally. Marketers tell stories with public relations, branding and advertising.

There was a project where the team spent almost 2 days crafting a single slide that was notoriously named the “$10,000 slide” because that was the facetious estimation of how much consulting time was spent putting it together. (hat tip: LB, DD). Sometimes it is that important.

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