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How to Build Presentations
like a Consultant
Learning how to craft, build and deliver effective business presentations is a skill you need to learn, and continually improve upon, to be successful in the business world.
So once you’ve problem solved like a consultant and developed your solution, next you need to focus on crafting your data into a persuasive and visual presentation. And this is where many professional presentations go wrong.
No one understands this better than consultants, for whom the crafting and delivery of presentations is a lifeblood and even art form.
As management consultant JK of ConsultantsMind.com says, PowerPoint presentations are “the currency of our work. If you cannot put together a well-structured, persuasive, and visual presentation… well, you won’t be a management consultant for long.”
So here are four actionable consulting tips you can use the next time you are taking your hard data and crafting it into an effective business presentation:
1- Structuring Your Presentation: Start with Your Point First
A clear and logical structure is critical to the effectiveness of your presentation. Not only do you need to walk someone from point A to point B but, along the way, you need to convince them with a data-backed argument.
And although there are countless theories for how to best craft an argument, consultants typically find the most effective approach is to start with the main point first and then back it up, step-by-step, with hard data and evidence. They call it the Pyramid Principle.
The Minto Pyramid Principle
Coined by Barbara Minto from McKinsey, the Minto Pyramid Principle argues that “your thinking will be easy for a reader to grasp if you present the ideas organized as a pyramid under a single point.”
It offers a system for structuring your material so that your message is best received and best absorbed by your audience.
It’s a fairly sophisticated and elaborate system but, in short, it states that to present your solution you should:
- Start with the answer first.
- Group and summarize your supporting arguments.
- Logically order your supporting ideas.
And the reason the Pyramid Principle is so effective is that, by first establishing your point, you immediately give context to everything else within your presentation allowing your audience to evaluate your reasoning and logic along the way, instead of having to wait until the end to figure out what your point was.
Let’s take an example everyone can relate to. If someone was going to break up with you, they could either:
Method #1: Start by listing all of their reasons for breaking up with you, which will seem vague and confusing to you until they finally announce that the relationship is over - at which point you will want to revisit all of their complaints.
Method #2: Announce that the relationship is over and then list all of their reasons, which immediately gives you the context to understand all of their subsequent points.
Neither method is pleasant for the end receiver but, at least with the second one, you know where the conversation is going.
2 - Focus on Highlighting Your Data Visually
Once you’ve structured your argument, you will need to back it up with evidence.
As discussed in the previous post, Problem Solving like a Consultant, using hard data as evidence is critical for bridging the credibility gap with your audience, and for effectively selling your idea or solution.
That said, you cannot simply dump your data onto a slide and expect it to sell itself. Instead, you need take your data and craft it into effective visuals that will back up your point.
In this YouTube PowerPoint tutorial called Highlighting Your Point Visually, I point out that any dataset can be highlighted in a number of different ways depending on what your point is. Because data is neutral in and of itself, it’s up to you to choose what parts of the data you want to highlight in order to present a clear point to support your argument.
3 - K.I.S.S. Your Fancy Graphics Goodbye
When developing your visuals, remember that your goal is to create clear and effective visuals that convince and persuade; not fancy graphics and animations that try to impress and entertain.
Consultants often use the KISS concept, an acronym for “keep it simple stupid,” to avoid making their graphics overly elaborate. The logic is that the simpler something is, the easier it will be to understand and deliver.
Ethan Ramsey states in his book, The McKinsey Way, that when building charts McKinsey consultants:
- Print their charts in black and white – Avoid any and all distracting colors
- Never use three-dimensional graphics unless absolutely necessary – Avoid deceptive perspectives
- Follow the cardinal rule of one message per chart – Avoid mixing your messages
The last rule may seem hard to follow but, as a consultant, you need to be ruthless about it. If there are multiple points to be made from a single chart, simply include the chart twice within your presentation and highlight one point per chart - see tip 2 on Highlighting Your Data Visually.
4 - Be Able to Deliver Your Presentation in 30 Seconds
Know your presentation so well that you can deliver it in the time it takes to ride the elevator, approximately 30 seconds.
Famously known as the elevator test and used across a wide variety of industries, consultants use the test not only to force themselves to hone in on their key message, but also as a means to prepare themselves for any eventuality.
The Elevator Test Scenario
You’ve spent months agonizing over sales data and research, and have now crafted it into the perfect sales presentation.
On the day of your big pitch, the CEO walks into the room and says, "I have something urgent I need to deal with and won't be able to attend the presentation".
She then asks you to join her in the elevator so you can give her the gist of what you are proposing. The question is, in 30 seconds or less, can you pitch your solution?
So regardless of whether you’re presenting to a busy CEO or holding a ‘once in a lifetime’ pitch, use the Elevator Test to train yourself to sell your idea like a pro.
Crafting, building and delivering a persuasive business presentation is no small task and is something you will get better at the more often you do it.
Although there are countless resources out there, these four tips from the consulting industry will help you to start thinking about how to best take your hard data and craft it into a persuasive presentation.
About the Author
Taylor Croonquist is the co-founder of Nuts & Bolts Speed Training which delivers actionable PowerPoint training courses for working professionals who spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours a year using the program.