The #1 tool of the trade for consultants is PowerPoint. Presentations—a.k.a., “decks”—are used in almost every consulting situation, including final reports (no massive Word docs here), formal presentations, and detailed analysis documents.
And after creating a few hundred (thousand?) of them in my day, I’ve learned a few pro tips for putting together presentations that are compelling, convincing, and seriously impressive. Try these strategies for your next PowerPoint to wow your clients—or your boss.
1. Use the Pyramid Principle
Before you even start building your presentation, it’s important to think about the structure. Since presentations are often delivered to busy people with a lot on their minds, crisp and concise communication is extremely important. And if you don’t plan out your overall structure beforehand, it’s unlikely that your presentation will tell the easy-to-understand story you want it to.
The Pyramid Principle is a methodology used by many consulting firms to guide structured communication. Essentially, a good presentation of information should flow from a top-level summary down to more detailed information—just like the shape of a pyramid. So, your deck should start with the answer or recommendation first, and then follow with supporting arguments and facts: “I recommend X and Y. Recommendation X is supported by facts 1, 2, and 3…”
Keeping this structure in mind is powerful for a few reasons. First, it allows you to state your points to your audience before they begin asking questions and helps them to focus on what’s important throughout the presentation. But it also makes your presentation creation easier, since you don’t need to reinvent the wheel and worry about how to best organize your message.
2. Get on the Tagline Train
You probably already use titles in your PowerPoint presentations, but did you know that you should be using taglines, too? Taglines are essentially “topic sentences” that summarize the key message for each slide in one sentence. Usually placed right after the title, they should help communicate your story throughout the presentation and ensure that readers can quickly digest the content of the slide.
What’s the difference between a title and a tagline, you ask? A title tells what’s on the slide, while a tagline explains what’s to be learned from the slide. So a title might be along the lines of “Executive Summary,” and a tagline might read, “After conducting a detailed analysis across the organization, we identified five key opportunities leading to a potential savings of approximately $100 million.”
Want to know if you’ve got them right? Scan through your slides, looking only at the taglines. They should combine into an effective story about the content you are presenting, leaving no confusing gaps.
3. Add Appendix Slides
You know (or at least I hope you do) that keeping your slides simple and uncluttered is critical to making a presentation that people can follow. But, especially if you’re explaining an analysis or know your audience will really want data to back up your claims, it can feel like you have to pack your slides with loads of information in order to be convincing.
Even if you know you need tons of supporting information for what you’re telling your audience or anticipate questions about your analysis or the project, don’t overload your main slides with all of this. I guarantee it will overwhelm your audience, and they won’t get the ultimate message you’re trying to convey.
Instead, incorporate appendix slides at the end of your deck with all of the supporting materials that don’t fit into the narrative of your presentation, but that may be useful to have. These can include all sorts of things—data, testimonials, process maps, additional charts—anything that could be useful in backing up what you’re saying, but that you don’t necessarily need to tell the story. By putting them in the appendix, you’ll have the information there to flip back to if questions arise, but your audience won’t get jumbled in the details and miss the big picture.
Combine these tips with Alex Cavoulacos’ advice for creatiing beautiful PowerPoint slides, and you'll have a knockout presentation in no time.