The consulting slide deck is a management consultant’s best friend. Through a great presentation, a skilled consultant can consolidate months of research, analysis, and data into a concise and easy-to-action recommendation for a client.
But how do you build a deck that influences clients and builds consensus around your recommendation? In this article, we’ll explore how top consultants craft their presentation decks, understand key dos and don’ts for building PowerPoints, and learn how you can leverage the style of a management consulting slide deck for clear and effective communication.
How Should a Consulting Slide Deck Be Structured?
A great slide deck structure is key to effective storytelling. Much like how a strong framework at the top of a case interview paves the way for a successful case, a great deck structure makes a presentation coherent, clear, and persuasive.
Keys To Good PowerPoint Deck Structure:
An effective slide deck structure follows The Pyramid Principle® – a McKinsey-developed framework for clear communication – and incorporates a top-down approach.
What is a top-down approach? Taking a top-down approach means that your deck starts with your key takeaway, followed by the supporting rationale and evidence for why that key takeaway is the proper one to be actioned by that group of stakeholders at that specific point in time.
Why are great decks structured this way? Consultants frequently present to senior leadership and C-Suite executives. Often, these folks are impatient! Starting with the most important information – the recommendation – means that you are guaranteed to get the crux of your message across quickly and clearly.
No great recommendation is truly great without supporting analysis. After starting with the recommendation, decks should follow with two to three key pieces of supporting rationale supporting that recommendation. These pieces of rationale become chapters of the story, and inside of each chapter, on the individual slide level, you share the data that supports that piece of rationale.
Read our full breakdown of The Pyramid Principle here.
What does this look like in practice? MBB-standard decks typically have five components:
- title slide
- executive summary
- several slides of content and analysis
- a conclusion slide
- structured appendix
The title slide introduces the question the team is answering that day. The executive summary lays out the recommendation (the “answer” to the question) and summarizes the rationale that will later be used to support the recommendation. The content and analysis slides lay out the key supporting evidence for the recommendation. The conclusion slide wraps up the presentation by restating the recommendation and outlining clear next steps, while the appendix holds additional supporting information and visuals for each chapter of the story.
We train teams at consulting firms and across the Fortune 500 on how to structure great decks. Learn more about our Storytelling Training program.
Keys to Great Slides
What are the keys to great slides? Well, MBB-level decks have several crucial slide deck components.
Great slides have standalone sentence titles. Standalone sentence titles, or SAS titles for short, are titles that convey the slide’s key takeaway in full-sentence format at the top. What does this look like in practice? On an analysis slide for an airline study, for example, an ineffective title might read “Supporting Evidence” or “Relevant Survey Information.” An SAS title would read “Survey Results Show Price Is Driving Factor in Airline Ticket Selection.” SAS titles ensure that a client can understand much of the presentation just by skimming through slides.
Economy of Words
Great slides are concise. What does this mean? While slides can be packed with information, graphs, and text, each slide should contain only one key insight. This ensures that clients can effectively navigate the deck without missing vital information, or worse, misinterpreting your story! Additionally, great decks have no room for irrelevant information, analysis, or charts. Ensure every piece of your deck works toward the ultimate goal – communicating your recommendation clearly and effectively!
Great slides are perfectly formatted. Consultants and clients alike spend hours crafting and flipping through dozens of slide decks. This means that everyone in the profession has an eagle eye! Deck readers will notice if images and text are not perfectly aligned, if font sizes are slightly different, and if colors or themes vary. Simple formatting mistakes can dramatically undermine the credibility of a recommendation, so ensure that your deck is perfectly formatted.
Data & Sourcing
Great slides have all the relevant logistical information. Every MBB-level deck must include clearly formatted logistical information on every slide. This includes dates, relevant sourcing, footnotes, page numbers, chart axis labels and legends, and the client logo. Similar to perfect formatting, including all of these details maintains the credibility of the deck.
Data, Charts, and Other Graphics Slides
Graphs, data, and charts are a crucial piece of every MBB-level deck. Why? Because management consulting is all about consolidating, interpreting, and presenting data-driven insights. Clearly communicating the relevant data is key!
There are few better ways to communicate bulk data than with an effective chart or graphic. Nobody has time to read through an Excel screenshot within a slide deck! Here are some keys to effective chart creation.
Graphics should be simple, but not simplistic. Graphs and charts should be straightforward to understand – well-formatted, with easy-to-see takeaways and no irrelevant information – but packed with insight. The best graphics are both easy to understand and powerfully informative.
Charts should be clearly labeled. Clear labeling is crucial to creating readable graphics. Make sure that each of your visualizations includes a chart title, titles for the X- and Y-axes, component labels, and bubbles or callouts where appropriate. Consistency is key too – charts will ideally be in the same position on each slide, be labeled in the same way and place, and be the same size from slide to slide.
Charts should include key takeaways. While great graphics should speak for themselves, skilled consultants include a summary, or key takeaway, from the chart on the slide. Often, this looks like placing the chart and its relevant axis titles and labels on one side of the slide, then including the key insight that the chart represents on the other.
Consulting Slide Deck Examples
A picture is worth a thousand words. Now that you understand the keys to creating effective slide decks, peruse these consulting slide deck examples from top firms like McKinsey and BCG.
McKinsey Consulting Slide Deck Example
This presentation deck from McKinsey includes great examples of effective graphics. The presentation focuses on the challenges faced in technology adoption and includes examples of how to convey survey information effectively and concisely.
Bain Consulting Slide Deck Example
This Bain study, conducted to improve operational efficiency for the University of California at Berkeley, provides a great example of how to clearly structure a long presentation deck. An effective executive summary and agenda slide ensure that readers can clearly understand the key takeaways without digesting the entire 140-page deck.
BCG Consulting Slide Deck Example
This BCG presentation includes an effective executive summary, excellent formatting, and examples of how to support an initial argument with data-driven analysis and graphics.
Mistakes to Avoid
Eliminate these common consulting slide deck mistakes to ensure that your presentations communicate effectively.
No Top-Down Approach
Not utilizing a top-down approach. Putting your most important takeaways and recommendations at the end of the presentation, instead of at the top where they belong, can make it hard for distracted clients to understand what they’re supposed to do.
No Powerful Graphics
Not including powerful graphics. Leaving out the data and making your deck overly qualitative can detract from credibility. Including well-crafted graphics and charts ensures people interpret your recommendations as fact-driven and not simply informed by opinion.
No Ghost Deck
Not writing a ghost deck. A ghost deck, or barebones outline, is the deck-writer’s best friend! By designing the structure and outline of your deck before filling in the analysis and information, you can ensure that your presentation is coherent – and that you only build the slides you’ll present!
No Executive Summary
Not including an executive summary. All great presentations include an executive summary – an explanation of the recommendation, key arguments and evidence, and the most important takeaways – at the beginning of the presentation. Leaving this out can make even the best decks difficult to follow.
No Consistent Formatting
Not using consistent formatting. Consistent font size, color scheme, chart and text location, titles, and logistical information are absolutely vital to a successful deck.
Should You Use AI To Create Your Slide Deck?
With the rise of AI-driven tools like Chat GPT, professionals are wondering – should we use AI to create our slide decks? The answer is no – for two reasons. First, most AI tools are far from foolproof. AI tools designed to create PowerPoints from written prompts frequently produce subpar results with inconsistent formatting and visually inferior slides. Second, inputting client or firm information or proprietary intelligence into AI tools can constitute a confidentiality breach!
One important caveat – some major consulting firms are developing AI tools to assist their consultants with research, data consolidation, and deck creation. One example is McKinsey’s new Lilli AI tool. If your firm utilizes or has access to these sorts of tools, check with leadership to see what is acceptable.
Consulting Slide Deck Template
Now that you understand the structure and components of a successful consulting slide deck – as well as critical errors to avoid – you’re prepared to deliver exceptionally clear, persuasive decks to clients and internal leadership. For a well-structured consulting slide deck template, check out this free Management Consulted storyboard template.
A common problem professionals face is a difficulty communicating research and analysis in a clear, easily comprehensible way. These communication struggles can derail client interaction, decrease lead conversion, make team meetings difficult, and hinder professional growth. Often, professionals lose influence and personal agency due to communication difficulties.
If this sounds like you or your team, you’re not alone! Millions of high-powered professionals wish they could communicate more effectively and persuasively. We’re here to help. Management Consulted’s Executive Communication training takes insights from senior consulting professionals – some of the best communicators in the world – and applies them to your team’s professional development. Sound interesting? Work with us to improve your team’s communication, level up client interaction, and improve efficiency.
Clear communication is a vital soft skill and the consultant’s best friend. Well-crafted decks are the ultimate communication aid – they support an oral presentation, stand alone effectively, and serve as the ultimate reference and research guide for future analysis. Great decks are structured efficiently, contain insightful analysis and simple (but not simplistic) graphics, and lead from the top with key takeaways. Embrace the power of a well-crafted consulting slide deck and start communicating like a consultant today!