What is this thing about consulting-style presentations?

Presentation styles

How are consulting-style presentations different from other types of business presentations, and why? Let’s talk about what’s unique about these consulting style presentations, and indeed, if you want to learn more about slide writing, about creating presentations in the style of leading consulting firms. We will address questions like, aren’t these slides far too full? Why is there so much text on these pages? Is this a great way of designing and giving layout to slides if you intend to present them in the end? So this is what I want to address today.

Presentation Styles

Let’s do that by looking into different business types of presentations. And I like to distinguish three different styles of presentations. For sure, you might be able to come up with more different ones. But these, from my perspective, are probably the most important, most relevant ones.

Steve Jobs style

And the first style is the style that I like to call the Steve Jobs style. These big keynote presentations, as you often find them for B2C product introductions, where people are standing on a huge stage, presenting to a large audience, for instance, about a new product that is being launched that is being introduced to the market.

So what is the thing about these presentations? Well, often, there only a couple of pictures on the slides, maybe only a couple of words. It’s really for a large stage. And what’s specific here is that these presentations are intended to be presented. They require that somebody stands in front of the screen, in front of the big canvas, and give some explanations, provide some soundtrack to the slides, explain what is shown here.

Or, in other words, if you would just send around the slide deck without anybody explaining it, probably in most cases for most people, it would be quite difficult to understand all the details about what this is supposed to be all about.

Of course, the Steve Jobs style has also become quite well known, quite well studied. So people assume that this is also the style of presentations that businesses should be conducted. But this is not the style that I’m talking about on my channel. And indeed, this is also not the way how consulting firms, at least in most cases, prepare their slide presentations.

One on one style

So let’s contrast this with a second use case of presentations. I often like to think about this as informal meetings. So imagine yourself preparing a one-on-one with your team lead, or maybe an informal session with some of your colleagues, where you want to do some brainstorming and just bounce back some ideas, prepare a couple of thoughts on a discussion basis. And here, of course, the objective is just to quickly create a short document without you now needing lots of time to create it. But enables you to have a good and fruitful discussion with your team. An important characteristic of this style of business presentations is that there’s no need to reuse these slides. These slides are really just for usually one or two interactions where you discuss topics.

So the question arises are do you really need to invest that much time into every single presentation that you do? Do you always need to create presentations in the style that meet these really high standards of slight writing, these high standards of presentations, how large consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain do it? And here, my answer would be, well, no, of course not.

Of course, this style is valid if you just quickly want to bounce back a couple of ideas, just have a meeting and interaction with your team. Don’t waste too much time on the perfect layout, on perfect communication on the slides. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Make adjustments in the way that enables you to have this discussion that you do want to have. So if this is clear to you, then you might ask yourself, then what is this style? What is this consulting style of creating presentations? How does this now differ from the other ones? And indeed, these presentations are often more formal ones.

Keynote Style

You create them for more formal audiences, for senior management, or for board-level members of a company. These are presentations that you create to report on the progress of your project. And indeed, what’s probably also very interesting is that these presentations are often not even presented. So often in these meetings, they’re not even projected to a wall, to a screen. But people just get a handout of the document that then they have in front of you. And indeed, what also frequently happens is that at least then after the meeting, these presentations are being sent around the organization. People just forward them to other people. And then others read these documents. We’re not sitting in the original meeting where maybe the document was initially presented.

And indeed, I very well remember an instance, I was working for a company, and at this company a couple of years ago, like two or three years ago, BCG, Boston Consulting Group, did a project with them. And as a final reside of this project, there was now a document that Boston Consulting Group created. This was also in the style of a big PowerPoint presentation. And up to this day, this document is still being referenced and sent around and called just the BCG Document. And from this anecdote alone, there are some really important learnings. So the first is that these documents, again, are not necessarily intended to be presented. It’s important that people can understand every message of these documents if they just read it for themselves. So every single slide, every single page in such a document, needs to be self-explanatory, needs to speak for itself. And this, of course, requires a higher level of detail, often a higher level of text, more text on the slides in order for these presentations to stand for themselves.

Reputation

Next, is the fact that your reputation as a consulting firm but also if you work in-house as a project lead for a big corporate, your reputation as the one that creates these documents is very much linked to the quality of this document, right? So because these documents can have a very high shelf life, if there are any errors in there, any inconsistencies, any imprecise statements, it will be known that this was the document created by BCG or by you.

And years later, potentially people still think about this look at this, and we’ll have this in their mind. Another important consideration is that, of course, the composition of teams changes over time. So if a document is looked at maybe a year from now, in most cases, the consulting firm they created will not be at the company anymore. Or maybe also the employees that work together with the consultants to create this document, maybe they move to a new job, to a new employer, to a new company. So there might not even be somebody who can be asked what was done at the time, what really happened, what numbers exactly to look at?

Conclusion

I do hope that this article cleared up some confusion on when exactly this style of creating presentations is to be used, and when also this is not necessary, not required to put that much effort into these presentations, and also especially why it is not to be confused with the Steve Jobs style, keynote style, of creating presentations, but why coinciding firms usually create the presentations and a bit of a different style, and why this, of course, is not only relevant and important for consulting firms but for you as well, if you work in corporate and banking one any other career where you are in a position to frequently create presentations for C-level, senior management type of audiences that you are talking to.

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