How to create a great management consulting presentation in practice?

With poetry, you can win the heart of a beautiful woman. With a novel, you can earn the respect of your colleagues and peers or even earn a buck or two on the side. With a presentation, you can bore a crowd of executives to death or win millions of dollars. Everything depends on how you structure the presentation and whether you make yourself clear. A bit of humor is also valuable

Today I will talk about this unique skill of being clear and precise in your presentation. Thanks to this, you will not earn the attention of any girl or get a Ph.D. but you may actually get instead a shitload of money from consulting projects 🙂 . With this post, I will start a series of posts where I will show you how to do different things in management consulting.

Before we get to the main topic bear in mind that most people think that the value of the presentation depends on what you do during the delivery in front of the audience, but actually, it more depends on how you prepare and whether you have done all the analyses required.

Creating presentations is probably the most important aspect of the management consulting project due to two things:

  • Presentation is the only tangible product of your work that will live long beyond your project and will be gradually consumed or brutally rejected by the company
  • Presentation is the tool that the consultants use to set priorities for the analytical part of the project.

I will show you below step by step how to create efficiently the presentation. This can be done in 11 steps. In the end, you will create the final presentation – an end-product of a consulting project. Below is the overview:Steps to create a presentationAs you can see a lot of things you can (and should) do before the project starts.

  1. Write down the issue tree.

Consultants are smart guys that with good judgment will make a lot of educated guesses. They do not know the problem or the solution but they are quite good at making educated guesses in a structured manner. This saves a lot of time and helps consultants do in 3 months what would take regular employees 3 years. The best tool for enlisting educated guesses is the so-called issue tree and this is what you should start with. Use the issue tree to enlist all potential problems you think there are in the company. Have a look at an issue tree in logistics

  1. Create a structure for the presentation

On the basis of the issues tree that you have created, you can get down to creating the structure of the presentation. You should start with a clean piece of paper. In the end, you usually have to have a document that has 100-300 slides filled with conclusions and supporting analyses. Not to produce too many slides that don’t make sense or are not connected with each other you have to start by creating the structure of the presentation: what you want to talk about in general and how you want to organize the content. As always you start with the general overview, and structure and slowly but surely go deeper. In other words group, the problems from the issue tree into logical units and on the basis of this create the structure of the presentation (sections, chapters, etc.) Below is an example of creating a structure for one presentation

  1. Write down the messages you want to convey

Once you have the structure and the name of the chapters you can start writing down the messages you want to convey to the customer. The messages we put at the top of the slides. This will be the first thing that the customer will see and read. Why do we start with the messages? Shouldn’t we first do the analyses? Nope! In management consulting, especially if you want to be a badass consultant you have to live and die by the 80/20 rule. It is much more efficient to guess the message and to do analyses that will support it or demolish it rather than analyze everything regardless of whether it makes sense or not. Obviously, messages should be aligned with your issue tree and the structure. I recommend putting only 1 message per slide. In this way, the presentations are easier to read for non-consultants. Here you have an example of such a presentation on Low-Cost Business models. Below we continue the example and I will show you what kind of messages I came up with

  1. Sketch the slides

We have the structure and we have the messages. Now it is time to sketch each and every slide. The best way to do this is to use a pen or pencil and clean sheets of paper. For this, you use the structure and the messages from previous steps. Take a piece of paper, divide it into 4 parts (every part will be one slide), and put with a pen or pencil the messages on the slides, preserving the structure. After you put the message try to put down a picture/graph that should prove your message – again in pen or pencil and without getting into details, just the rough sketch. Below is again an example showing you how I have done it for our example

  1. Create a template in PowerPoint

We are done with sketching. Now you should have a big pile of sketches on paper slides. Remember we still have not started the project. We are still in the preparation phase. If you want to survive the first few weeks of consulting project I would still recommend going one step further and on the basis of the sketches creating slides in PowerPoint. Thanks, to this you will enter the project with the end-product half done. This step brings clarity and creates a tool that you will use to manage the whole consulting project.

  1. For every slide create the underlying analysis or gather needed info

Once the project starts you will start getting data that you can put to good use. As you may remember we said that for every slide there will be one message that you will have to prove or disprove using the available data. Therefore, for every slide create an analysis in Excel that will help you fill in the slides with data and conclusions. Every slide compels you to do certain analyses and also helps you define what data you need to perform the analyses. I recommend sticking to analyzing only the things that the presentation compels you to do. Don’t waste time analyzing issues that are not required by the presentations because you are running the risk of not delivering on deadlines. Once you are done with obligatory slides you can go back to analyzing the whole universe or wasting your time on Facebook 😉 Below is an example of such an analysis and how it is later on turned into a slide in PowerPoint.

  1. Fill in the slides with data and charts

After the Excel filess are done you can start filling in the slides with data and modifying the conclusion. This part is pretty automatic. Still, remember that if you change the data or the analysis you also have to modify the slides connected with those analyses. The minute you have data and you managed to analyze them put them on the proper slides. In this way, you will see what things you are still missing (empty slides will give you the clue). During this stage you can also alter the slides – maybe change the conclusion in the message (the educated guess might be wrong) or change the way in which you wanted to present the subject/message. Below we use 5 types of slides that you will be using extensively.

Apart from that on performance improvement projects, you will be using animations to show the potential improvements. Let’s look at 3 short examples:
Sometimes you even animate the charts to explain more complex things.

  1. Check the flow of the whole presentation and modify if needed slides or the structure

When you fill in all the slides it is time to check whether the presentation still makes sense. You will see all slides filled in and you may decide that the flow is a bit weird. Usually, 10-20% of the slides are shifted to another place in the presentation. During this stage, you may also modify the structure of the presentations.

  1. Create Executive Summary

When you are ready with the presentation it is time to create the Executive Summary. Most CEO, and COO are lazy so they don’t want to go through 300 slides. Therefore, smart consultants prepare for them an Executive Summary that consists of 20-30 slides with the most important conclusions and sometimes analyses. The Board will read the Executive Summary and only after that decide which parts of the main presentation to go through. That’s why in the Executive Summary you want to show them the main results and intrigue them enough so that they decide to read the main presentations. Remember that in consulting presentations we will use the top-down communication principle.

  1. Write the beginning and the end of the presentation

It may be a bit surprising to you but the end and the beginning of the presentation are best written at the very end of the process. You usually have a look at the Executive Summary and distill the most important things from it. This will be the backbone of your short introduction and the ending. Quite often the beginning and the ending look very similar. Repetition builds understanding. Make the beginning and the end appealing to the audience as they will most often read slides.

  1. Check for errors, mistakes, and omissions

The most boring step is stepping no 11. Here you look for all sorts of errors, mistakes, and contradictions that you have created. Most presentations are created by more than 1 person so you are bound to have some inconsistency. Therefore, before sending the presentation to the customer check it 5-10x before sending. The best practice is to use different people for proofreading so you can find the problems. Still, the customer will most likely be able to spot something that you have missed. It is a good practice to at least once print the presentations and go through the printouts. Most presentations looked different when printed out and your eye can spot things previously missed 🙂

Let’s look at an example of a simple presentation for the Kick-off meeting:

Since the delivery matters a lot below we have a prepared for you a short movie with some practical tips:

That’s in short. Below is a presentation that has a bit more details, which you should find interesting. For templates and ready-made slides, examples of presentations from projects check my online course Management Consulting Presentations.

Below are examples of presentations, slide decks from different consulting firms:

Stay tuned for more useful stuff 🙂


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