If you're a consultant or a business analyst, you usually have to produce a LOT of PowerPoint slides. These could be used for anything from updating project status, to delivering a sales pitch for a new proposal.
Whatever your objectives, it's clear that PowerPoint skills are imperative for a consultant or business analyst.
In this article, I want to show you five PowerPoint tips for consultants. Consultants I speak to swear by these tips and agree that they are critical to developing good and persuasive PowerPoint slides.
If you're not a consultant, you can apply these tips as well - anyone from a business analyst, project manager or even a C-Level executive - can always apply one or more of these tips.
Powerpoint skills are important for business analysts and consultants
Ok, first tip. Many, many PowerPoint slides I see simply use "text". The person developing the PowerPoint may have seven key points to bring across about a project.
So he or she simply thinks through them, types them out straight onto PowerPoint, as though it's Microsoft Word!
To me, those kind of slides are some of the WORST in terms of presentation quality.
Please, always, AVOID using just text. Make sure you introduce some element of visual interest or structure to encapsulate your points.
Here's an example. Instead of doing this:
Using text alone in a PowerPoint slide is boring
You should do this:
A mixture of objects and text is better looks much better
Colors are another culprit leading to bad PowerPoint slides. Some of the worst slides I've seen make use of "stock" PowerPoint templates with all their garish color schemes. Those are bound to be dismissed as "amateurish" by a trained consultant or manager's eye.
My suggestion is always to work in two to three colors consistently throughout your slide packs. And these colors need to "work together" - meaning they need to blend in nicely.
For example, I wouldn't pair green with black or bright purple. Those are garish to the eye.
Here's the color scheme for PowerPoint slides used by one of my clients.
Here's another color scheme I see in another company.
Try to use colors that blend in with one another as far as possible. You'll be surprised at how much better your slides look after a color adjustment.
I've seen a lot of slides that look like this.
Too much white space in a slide isn't too appealing
That's terrible! White space gives an impression that you don't have much to talk about. That you lack "content". And that's bad for a consultant or a BA trying to convince senior management of a business case.
Compare that with a slide that has a lot of content packed in.
Am I saying that slides that are more busy are better? Or that slides with more words are more persuasive?
Not necessarily. Look at Steve Job's slides. Some of his slides only showed a percentage number (e.g. probably the revenue growth year-on-year for Apple). That's really stripped down and certainly breaks my "white space" rule.
But here's the thing. I'm not saying you can't use slides like Steve Jobs. You can! You can use slides with lots of white space - provided they drive home a single, focused point and brings out your story.
Repeat - slides with a lot of white space should be used sparingly, and when used - they should prove a single, solid point. Most of your deck should be meaty slides with lots of content. Blend in a couple of "white space" slides if appropriate.
I'm a stickler for this point. Logos, text and other objects in your PowerPoint slides should stay in the same spot from slide to slide.
And not just positions. Colors and alignment of objects should also stay the same from slide to slide.
Why? Because the human eye likes to see consistency. If you have objects moving from place to place when you transition across slides, it disturbs the viewer.
I'm serious! I once had a Partner in my firm comment that my slides were a mess because things couldn't stop moving! It was one of my earliest lessons in slide production and to this day I remember that consistency is key.
Case Study: One of my junior associates (fresh out of school) had lots of ideas for a strategy project we were doing for a banking client. He put down some solid recommendations into our standard slide templates.
On one slide he'd put down his points and objects - but on the next slide, these items would move off position. And on a third slide, they'd move slightly to yet another position.
In consulting terms, this "drifting" of objects from slide to slide is not good practice. If you have an object in Slide 1, then when you move to Slide 2, it should remain in the EXACT same position.
I told my associate to always remember this tip. He's obviously learnt it well, because today, he's one of our best slide creators.
In my firm, one of the tips that consultants are taught very early on is this "What's The Message?"
This actually applies to EVERYTHING they do - not just PowerPoint.
For example, if an Associate tells me:
"The collateral management system cannot perform mark-to-market for equities on a real-time basis. As a result, collateral value is not up-to-date and many operations folks struggle when validating client credit positions. The same goes for fixed income. For funds, it's ok because the fund price only comes in once a day from the fund manager."
I'd tell him or her: "What's the message?"
In this example, what my Associate is trying to say is that "the collateral management system cannot mark certain asset classes to market in real-time".
That's it! But the message is clouded by the elaboration on details.
In creating PowerPoint slides, it's the same thing. You need to focus on delivering one succinct and extremely clear message to the reader.
If you cannot articulate that message, then you don't actually know what you're talking about in that slide.
This point is SO important that in most consulting firms, a clear, single line message starts off every single slide in presentations. An example is shown below.
This single message helps consultants focus their thoughts on what they're trying to communicate.
I find that many folks doing PowerPoint like to embed photographs of people or landscapes into their PowerPoint decks.
To me, as a consulting professional, I find the use of photographs quite distracting. If you have a person's photograph embedded into an otherwise textual slide (see an example below) - well, I think that is just being lazy.
In general, photographs weaken the impact of a slide
More often than not, you've no idea how to embellish the slide with good structure or content, so you use a photograph as "filler".
Please don't do that.
The only place where I think photographs are a good bet in PowerPoint slides are in the cover pages. Most of our proposals to clients have a solid photograph (e.g. usually a landscape or teams of people) slapped onto the cover.
If printed out in color and bound, this makes for a very professional looking proposal package.
Also, photographs can be used in "section dividers" - meaning if you need a logical break between sections of your deck, you can slap in a photograph too.
Other than that, limit the use of photographs.
To me, a PowerPoint slide deck - especially a long one with more than twenty slides - must have a Agenda.
Usually, this slide will be introduced very early in the pack. And there would usually be some sort of navigational guide to tell the reader where they are in the deck.
An example of an agenda slide is shown below.
A sample agenda slide
As you can see, there's a placeholder to show the reader that they're in the "Project Background" section.
This visual navigational guide is great for orientating the reader and I always include something like this in my slides.
Great! I've just shown you the top 5 PowerPoint tips for consultants - which you can apply to a wide variety of slide production scenarios. Note that the above tips are things which I've used repeatedly over the course of my career to great success - I'm sure they'll benefit you too.
Also, remember that you need not be a consultant to apply these tips. Project managers, business analysts and senior executives can all apply these tips to help improve their PowerPoint skills.
I hope to cover more PowerPoint tips in the future. Until next time, continue producing great looking slides!
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