Top 12 Mistakes to Avoid When Making a Consulting Slide Deck

Top 12 Mistakes to Avoid When Making a Consulting Slide Deck

Preparing for consulting interviews and looking for the secrets that will help you read consulting slides faster? Just found out you’ll be facing a written case in your next consulting interview? Or looking for tips to help you excel now that you’ve landed your dream consulting job?

Consultants are famous for their PowerPoint skills. There’s a reason PowerPoint is the currency of a great consultant – it combines qualitative and quantitative information, it’s punchier than prose, and it’s easier to iterate on and reorganize as needed.

So to ace your consulting interviews and then excel at the job, there’s no doubt that you’ll need to be able to quickly interpret consulting presentations, and learn to build great ones. Rest assured that the firm you join will spend a lot of time teaching you how they build presentations – we’re here to help you get ahead!

All of our consulting coaches were once junior consultants themselves – here’s your chance to learn from their mistakes as we share the top pitfalls they encountered when building their presentations.

(Tips with an asterisk * are especially relevant to Written Consulting Interviews).

Let’s get started!

Common Work Planning Mistakes

Top 12 Mistakes to Avoid When Making a Consulting Slide Deck​: Common Work Planning Mistakes

1 | Jumping in without a plan*

Before you start writing the recommendation, finding relevant information, or conducting any analysis, do you know what you are trying to accomplish? What is the key question at hand? What type of document are you going to write (e.g., go-to-market strategy or investment memo)? What is the hypothesis you will lead your analysis with? What information do you need to support your hypothesis? How will you obtain it?

Best practices for planning your document include:

  • Write a summary page (includes the hypothesis, supporting arguments, and next steps – a lot of consultants like to make this in Excel, but others prefer Word)
  • Write a skeleton document (i.e., create empty slides with titles that indicate what slides need to be built)
  • Highlight the information needed for each slide (e.g., a chart showing the market size for page 10)
  • Plan your execution (e.g., time to delivery and sources of information)

With this approach, you have a goal and a method to achieve it. Otherwise, you’ll compromise the quality of the content and speed of execution. You never want to run around like a headless chicken because this wastes precious time and creates needless stress for you and your team.

2 | Skipping the hypothesis

Management consulting is a hypothesis-driven profession. The first thing you want to start with is the hypothesis. What is the crux of our provisional recommendation?

For example, say you’re asked to evaluate international expansion strategies for a large consumer packaged goods (CPG) player. A hypothesis can be that they should pursue partnerships with local manufacturers and distributors to introduce the products in emerging markets (as opposed to, for example, a series of acquisitions).

The answer won’t be final, and can certainly change, but you must have one because the fastest path to a decision is proving/disproving a hypothesis. As you conduct your analysis and obtain more information, you’ll iterate on your document. This approach is favored in consulting because it focuses the attention on the analysis that is most critical to making a decision.

3 | Not aligning with your manager

As a junior consultant, you’ll receive a lot of guidance from a project manager (a more experienced consultant). You always want to get their feedback on your hypothesis and plan. They most likely worked with a similar client before and can guide you on whether you are heading in the right direction or identify any blind spots in your plan. Not to mention, this will give them comfort with your work and build your credibility. Consultants want to see interim products – they aren’t impressed when a team member shows up after a long period with their “final” version absent any input.

You’re probably noticing themes around focus (not “boiling the ocean”), efficiency (fastest approach to an answer), and quality (most logical story with the right input along the way). These are highly valued qualities in management consulting, whether you are in a case interview, a fit interview, or live on the job.

For more on what this all means in real life, make sure you check out our article “What Is Consulting & What Do Consultants Do?”.

[EXCLUSIVE FREE TRAINING]

Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 85% of our clients pass the case interview.

Common Document Structuring Mistakes

4 | Leading with the analysis, not the answer*

When writing a consulting document, you always want to start with the recommendation. You’ll be dealing with senior management who won’t have the time to go through every detail. You then move to your supporting arguments to explain why your recommendation makes sense.

This approach is also called the Pyramid Principle. It’s core to how consultants communicate. It was first introduced by Barbara Minto (a former McKinsey consultant – and their first female post-MBA hire) in the 1970s and became widely used in the industry. The Pyramid Principle is the most efficient and effective way to communicate complex ideas to senior management.

For additional information on the pyramid principle, make sure you check out our article The Pyramid Principle: What It Is & How to Use It + Example.

5 | Not structuring the document logically*

A consulting document needs to have a coherent, linear flow. At a high level, a typical deck will be laid out in the following order:

    1. Executive summary
    2. Sources of insight
    3. Recommendation
    4. Supporting arguments
    5. Next steps

A deep dive on supporting arguments: Let’s return to our above example that the client should partner with local manufacturers and distributors to expand their CPG business internationally. The recommendation will be followed with supporting arguments in the right logical order such as:

    • A partnership strategy is a strong option (case studies of how competitors expanded internationally including partnerships)
    • This strategy will generate the highest ROI for our client specifically vs. alternatives such as M&A (financial model)
    • Potential partners exist in client’s target markets (identify potential partners by country of interest)
    • But, there will be risks to mitigate (identify potential risks and mitigating strategies)

The document will conclude with suggested next steps such as:

    • Defining the partnership approach for each country (e.g., manufacturing agreements)
    • Defining the criteria for choosing a local partner
    • Identifying the right partner for each country

If your document doesn’t flow logically, it won’t see the light of day.

The right logical flow is critical to driving senior management to decisions. If the client knows the answer to their question and the reasoning behind it, they can more easily decide what to do next.

6 | Not organizing the document

A well-structured PowerPoint deck will be written like a book. You start with a table of contents and include dividers at the beginning of each chapter. This improves the clarity and the professional look of the document.

As you can see, consultants value communication styles that are top-down (i.e., start with what is important) and structured (i.e., divide a problem into the most essential parts for ease of analysis, communication, and decision-making).

Common Slide-Making Mistakes

Top 12 Mistakes to Avoid When Making a Consulting Slide Deck: Common Slide-Making Mistakes

7 | Cramming too much on each slide*

A very important rule is to include exactly one insight per slide. For example, if you’re recommending partnering with small companies to expand internationally, you can’t have one slide showing both the market size and potential partnership candidates. One page should show that “the market is growing at X%” while a separate page should show that “partnership candidates range in size from $X to $YM revenue.” This makes it easy for the client to absorb the information provided (and it also makes it easier to divide the work amongst the team, if needed!).

8 | Writing weak action titles*

 The action title or top tagline of the slide is very important because taken together, the action titles should tell the whole narrative of the project. Your manager, or a busy executive, should be able to flip through the deck reading only the action titles, and take away all of the key information behind your recommendation.

How to achieve this? A few guidelines:

    • Readers should be able to understand the page by reading the action title only. You want busy people to be able to grasp the essence of the page from the action title.
    • Titles should be action oriented – not simply captions – and their implication for the client, where applicable, should be clear.
    • Use language as efficiently as possible so that the tagline fits on one or two lines.

Here’s an example:

Weak title: International expansion strategies

Strong title: Competitors that have expanded successfully abroad have built strong partnership strategies

9 | Including irrelevant charts*

This sounds obvious, but it’s all too common to add a chart that doesn’t move the needle (i.e., help you answer the client’s question). Before designing a chart or conducting an analysis, ask yourself: What am I trying to prove? For what purpose? What is the highest-impact and easiest-to-read visual I can use to do that?

A simple, elegant slide that proves the point quickly is much more effective than a busy slide that shows irrelevant information, just to show you did a lot of work.

In summary, each slide should be insightful (i.e., what are we telling the client that they don’t know or is a key logical point in our analysis?), actionable (i.e., what does the client need to do with the insight?), and relevant (i.e., how is the insight relevant to the strategic challenge at hand?).

Common Formatting Mistakes

10 | Inconsistent formatting*

The whole document needs to follow the same formatting which means the following should be consistent:

    • PowerPoint template
    • Font
    • Font size
    • Chart color
    • Textbox color
    • Color palette
    • Client logo

11 | Missing details*

Every slide needs to include all the formatting details such as:

    • Chart title
    • Chart axis title
    • Chart legend
    • Sources
    • Footnotes (e.g., assumptions)
    • Page number
    • Client logo

12 | Adding unprofessional visuals

This also should be obvious, but you don’t want to put images that will compromise the credibility of your document (e.g., pictures of celebrities).

The main themes around formatting are consistency (i.e., similar formatting across the whole document), professional look (i.e., the document is “client ready” for a boardroom setting), and detail-orientation (i.e., work product is of the highest quality).

Maintaining a high standard for output signals a high commitment to client service and impact, which is part of the value proposition that consultants bring to clients.

– – – – –

And that’s all. 12 tips to write presentations like a management consulting professional. These will help you in improving your project management, problem-solving, executive-level communication, and PowerPoint skills, so no written case interview can stand in your way.

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • Common mistakes people make when building a consulting slide deck across planning, structuring, slide-making, and formatting – and how to avoid them.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about consulting slide decks, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people exploring how to make consulting slides found the following pages helpful:

Help with Case Study Interview Prep

Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for advice on case study interview prep. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 85% of the people we’ve worked with to get a job in management consulting. We want you to be successful in your consulting interviews too. For example, here is how Parth Bhatt was able to get his offer from BCG.

[EXCLUSIVE FREE TRAINING]

Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 85% of our clients pass the case interview.

Leave a Comment

3 Top Strategies to Master the Case Interview in Under a Week

We are sharing our powerful strategies to pass the case interview even if you have no business background, zero casing experience, or only have a week to prepare.

We are excited to invite you to the online event.

Where should we send you the calendar invite and login information?