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Recently one of my colleagues, who comes from a technology background, was asked to work on a deck (PowerPoint Document, in consulting lingo) for some senior stakeholders on the client side. Although he is well versed in Information Technology and has extensive expertise in the area, he is relatively new to Management Consulting. As a result, he has had relatively little exposure in working with PowerPoint, or any documents meant to communicate ideas.

I was put in the fortunate position of his PowerPoint advisor, tasked broadly with guiding his brush strokes as he painted the deck. But increasingly, I noticed that instead of teaching him to create effective documents, I was simply telling him what needed to be done on each slide – and the results were often less than par. Unfortunately for him, he was receiving similar “coaching” from others, never truly learning how to create powerful and effective decks.

So we ended up in a frustrating loop where he would create something, I would tell him what to change, he would make the changes, the I would tell him what to change further, and he would make the appropriate changes (annoying just to read that sentence, imagine living it day after day). After about two weeks of this, I thought about the famous saying “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime” and decided to change my approach.

No one is born a master deck painter, and there is always room for improvement. I recall when I was an analyst I struggled with many of the same issues and reflected on what had I changed. So today I sent my colleague a lengthy email explaining what I have dubbed “The Art of Deck Creation”, summarized for your reading pleasure below. By the way, the graphic below was created in PowerPoint.

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Comments (15)

  • dkmikey's picture

    Wow, this is pretty cool. Thank you!

  • kobalt's picture

    I don't understand... why do people use PowerPoint to make a document? If you are making a document use Word. PowerPoint is for presentations.

  • Ppandey's picture

    Kobalt, in powerpoint it is easier to organize material in more visually creative ways. it is also easier to convey summarized messages than in word. In general, powerpoint is used to communicate ideas or snapshot views. that is why although you can include a lot of detail in powerpoint, your goal should be to allow the reader to quickly glance through the document by flipping through the slides. One thing i did not mention in original post is that i always try to create titles and a 1-2 setence tag line for each slide. a reader should be able to read just the slide titles and the tag lines and grasp the general message of the document.

    Word on the other hand is meant to connvey a lot more detail and is best reserved for people who will actually take the time to read everything. of course you can create table of contents, summary sections, etc in word, generally Word documents are meant to be read cover to cover to truly understand the purpose of the doc.

    ultimately it boils down to audience. powerpoint is for managers/executives who need to understand the situation and what needs to be done. Word is for people who will actually be carrying actions or doing detailed analysis on your content.

    Below are some examples of different uses for the different tools:

    PPT:
    - proposals (summary)
    - status reports
    - assessment results

    Word:
    - detailed proposals
    - process maps
    - research findings and recommendations

  • In reply to kobalt
    devildog2067's picture

    kobalt wrote:
    I don't understand... why do people use PowerPoint to make a document? If you are making a document use Word. PowerPoint is for presentations.

    In MBB (at least at my firm) the ratio of powerpoint documents generated to word documents generated is probably 100:1. Powerpoint is almost never used for presentations; it's used to create documents which are intended to be flipped through. The idea is that you can skim a deck and get the idea of it in 30 seconds, but it's difficult/impossible to do that with a 30 page written text document.

    I've only ever used Word for interview guides and notes. Not even my resume (I'm an ADC, I used LaTeX)

  • Bismarck's picture

    Only time I've ever used word is to write formal business plans. Everything else is in ppt....much simply for quickly transmitting an idea in a way that can be easily understood by the most senior people at your client.

    Most clients don't have the time or inclination to read massive blocks of texts, so you need a format that can use plenty of graphs, tables, images and graphics to communicate your point.

  • kobalt's picture

    Interesting - thanks for the perspectives, devildog and Ppandey. How often do in-person presentations occur? And are the slides for in-person presentations the same used in readable/emailable PowerPoints (poor audience!) or are the slides more visual with supplemental handouts for additional data and information? In other words, do Garr Reynolds' and Nancy Duarte's presentation principals apply to consulting (if you are familiar with their work)?

  • CountryUnderdog's picture

    stupid question. new user - sorry! but how do you view attachments? where is the link? thank you and sorry for dumb question.

    "They are all former investment bankers that were laid off in the economic collapse that Nancy Pelosi caused. They have no marketable skills, but by God they work hard."

  • In reply to kobalt
    Ppandey's picture

    kobalt wrote:
    Interesting - thanks for the perspectives, devildog and Ppandey. How often do in-person presentations occur? And are the slides for in-person presentations the same used in readable/emailable PowerPoints (poor audience!) or are the slides more visual with supplemental handouts for additional data and information? In other words, do Garr Reynolds' and Nancy Duarte's presentation principals apply to consulting (if you are familiar with their work)?

    i am not familiar with their work but i just opened up some of my decks i have used to give formal persentations and i see on average 3-4 bullets while most of the rest is graphics/charts. details are also included but put in an appendix. this sort of formal presentation is more rare and usually only occurs at crucial points of the project (beginning, major milestones, and end).

    keep in mind tho, almost every time i create a deck i have to do some sort of presentation. by that i mean lets say i create a risk model deck (or market analysis or gap assessment, whatever) with a lot of meaty content, i am rarely just emailing it out. usually i am presenting a summary of the deck and then emailing it out. this is why, as i said, i will try and create tag lines which give the overall message of the slide in a sentence or 2.

  • Xepa's picture

    Each consulting firm (should) have its own deck guidelines.

    We have several basic guidelines we follow by, from font type to image sizes. We have taglines in headers and one sentence summaries underneath.

    Sometimes I have two versions of a deck: one for presenting and one as a leave-behind (if client is too busy to take the meeting, they just read the detailed version of the deck).

    Sometimes we never even present the deck. Sometimes I'm surprised and I have to speak to a slide further than what is anticipated because the client spends the whole hour on a slide instead of the overall presentation.

    It really depends.

    I wouldn't sweat it; it's not rocket science. Just know basic things...

    *turning off gridlines and using the arrow button to move objects
    *switching to any slide while in-presentation (it's magic)
    *gradient coloring
    *white space (not PPT, but general design principles)
    *font contrast with serifs/sans serif balance (not PPT, but general design principles)
    *slide masters (I hate these, but many of my colleagues swear by them)
    *curved lines (very useful)
    *custom autoshapes (very useful, you can make magic with this)
    *image cropping (saves time vs. photoshop)

    I've also screen captured and recorded sessions before to show clients (I use Camtasia). It's stuff like this that puts you over-the-top.

  • In reply to Xepa
    Ppandey's picture

    Xepa wrote:
    Each consulting firm (should) have its own deck guidelines.

    We have several basic guidelines we follow by, from font type to image sizes. We have taglines in headers and one sentence summaries underneath.

    Sometimes I have two versions of a deck: one for presenting and one as a leave-behind (if client is too busy to take the meeting, they just read the detailed version of the deck).

    ...

    I've also screen captured and recorded sessions before to show clients (I use Camtasia). It's stuff like this that puts you over-the-top.

    what do you use camtasia for? are you recording the presentation then sending it to the meeting attendees?

  • In reply to Ppandey
    Xepa's picture

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  • In reply to Xepa
    Ppandey's picture