How MBB consultants make PowerPoint slides
In consulting, every day is about spreadsheet and presentation slides. Also known as “deliverables”, this electronic visual document is used to deliver information to customers while pitching, providing project updates, or sharing the end results, in a clear, compelling, and engaging way.
The article is going to analyse what makes an MBB-standard slide deck, including its structure, fundamental elements, and formatting tips.
What is the structure of an MBB slide deck?
An MBB-standard slide deck consists of 5 sections: title page, executive summary, contents and exhibits, key takeaways, and appendices.
Section 1: Title page
Title page is the first slide, representing the purpose of the whole deck. It consists of a title, a headline, name of company, date and time. The title is usually less than 10 words long. It answers the question “What is the presentation about?”. A headline is an optional second description line, used for further elaboration.
Name of company depends on the owner of the slide deck, not who made it. If it belongs to the consulting firm’s authority, the slide will have that company’s name and use its signature colour-font scheme. Vice versa, if it is made for clients, the slide is owned by that organisation, using its logo and own design. Normally, the in-house designer will have a template in advance, the consulting firm only needs to insert data. When finished, the slide deck will be forwarded to the VGI centre for the final touch.
Section 2: Executive summary (or At a glance)
Executive Summary, or also called At A Glance, briefly summarises the presenting “story” with key points of the slide deck. Based on the purpose of the presentation, the content in the Executive Summary varies. Normally, it gives a snapshot of key initiatives in the strategic plan, company capabilities in the business proposal, customer profile, business updates in review meetings, or merely a project summary. This helps readers, who have no time to read them all, be able to scan only the Executive Summary for overview and take away the most important insights. Due to its nature, usually, the Executive Summary takes the most time to write.
Section 3: Contents and exhibits
The primary purpose of slide deck is to visualise data in a clear and compelling style. Typically, there are 2 types of data in a presentation:
Specifically, to quantitative content, there are 6 chart families: bar/column family, line chart family, percentage family, Mekko family, scatter plot family, and waterfall family.
Content and Exhibits is the central section of the whole deck, where it decides if the presentation is well-qualified or not. There are 2 approaches that help keep the flow in a structured but engaging fashion: (1) Vertical Flow, which focuses on the key takeaway of each slide by applying Pyramid principle and MECE fashion, and (2) Horizontal Flow, which concentrates the storyline of the slide deck by connecting all titles to a meaningful story.
Section 4: Take action or recommendations
Take Action, or Recommendation, is a conclusion with proper solutions for addressing issues, usually containing more than one slide with supporting quantitative and qualitative data. In consulting culture, result-oriented is the fundamental mindset, of which every decision must clearly show the outcome/ impact. So do the MBB slides.
Section 5: Appendices (optional)
Appendices section is supplemental material added at the end of the deck, composed of additional slides and information that do not include during a pitch. This section is optional, some decks have it but some don’t. They are usually detailed and back up such as data, process clarifications, additional charts or testimonials for further researching. Packing slides with loads of information only get audiences jumbled in details and miss the big picture. Therefore, incorporating appendix slides at the end of deck will keep the slides clean but still have backups to flip back if questions arise.
What are the key components of an MBB slide?
Top of slide – Title
Middle of slide – Chart
Bottom of slide – Additional information
Managing the flow of contents within a slide
It is important to keep a smooth flow within each slide and throughout the deck, making it easier and more enchanting to follow the slides. There are 2 main flows:
Vertical flow is applied for the slide itself. This approach focuses on the purpose of each slide: “Why is the data meaningful to the situation?”, “What is the takeaway?”.
To fully and efficiently deliver the information, besides the basic elements mentioned above, each slide must consist of 3 main parts: (1) KEY MESSAGE as headings; (2) MAIN ARGUMENTS as subheadings; and (3) SUB-ARGUMENTS with SUPPORTING DATA for deeper analysis in form of charts.
The structure of each slide can be drafted based on the Pyramid principle in a MECE fashion. The Pyramid Principle is an approach for creating a logical and structured storyline, backed up by data. Quite similar to Issue Tree, a Pyramid starts with an introduction mentioning the issue and answer, and the rest are arguments to support the answer. Meanwhile, MECE means “mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive” – breaking down items into small pieces without overlapping and no gap.
Besides, try to avoid clotheslines. It is a long list of bullets with no illustration, which is usually assumed as not structured but rather displayed in a random style. A solution is to group these bullets into big categories, with sub-arguments if needed, to show a MECE and strategic structure.
Horizontal flow is a story-based approach that concentrates on the slide deck as a whole. It helps connect all slides to make a meaningful flow and grab the audience’s attention. There are 2 basic steps:
Tips on how to read MBB slides
Consultants have to read mountains of decks at a time. Literal mountains. Hundreds of slides. On Friday nights. However, way too little time they have to read them all. Therefore, a smart approach is extremely necessary, to digest the most knowledge from those slides in the shortest time. Here is how a typical consultant will do:
After being assigned to a project, the very first thing to do is to find all materials. Normally, consultants will go straight to the company content library. At McKinsey people call it PD – Practice Development, which contains all documents of internal research and findings from previous client work.
Usually, these materials are in form of slides, which are organised in a structured and MECE fashion, which helps the reading process easier and faster. However, to read them efficiently, skim and scan in a top-down fashion. The order is to read the Executive Summary first, then Index, Titles, and Leads. This approach helps cover the fundamentals of the topic and easily spot out the right position of one specific
During the researching process, there are parts that consultants need to turn back the source and do some deeper research. With that previous skim-scan, consultants can easily spot the exact position of that section immediately.
Sometimes, when information from PD sources is rare, consultants can get additional information from the internal network, This will help find out similar projects that have done elsewhere in the world and contact the key personnel in charge of them. One significant point about the MBB network is that either that colleague already left the firm or still working, they are all super supportive and willing to help at their best. Consultants can have a call with the authors who made those slides to ask for more information. Normally, they will provide additional raw data files, or simply explain via phone.
Tips on how to write MBB slides
#1. Have a top-down mindset. It is an analysis approach, found across the consulting industry, that goes from general to specific, focusing on identifying the big picture and all of its components. Especially in making slides, this helps structure the content systematically to communicate effectively and drive decision-making.
#2. Do Ghost Deck first. This is an early draft of a PowerPoint deck, planning only titles and headlines to create a meaningful storyline in advance. In addition, there can be some quick sketches of exhibits such as tables or graphs in this draft. Ghost Deck is used as a work plan, aligning on the approach and direction to get to the final version while minimising wasted work. Once the team or client agrees with the storyline, the rest of deck then continues to develop.
#3. Ensure writing concisely and wording professionally. As consultants have so little time to read all the material, a to-the-point consulting writing style will help ease this process. Besides, the use of words in slides are extremely important. Therefore, make sure to use the right consulting terms in the right place.
#4. Keep the Vertical Flow in each slide and Horizontal Flow in the whole deck. This ensures each slide defines the key issues clearly and persuasively, as well as organises a meaningful storyline and keeps a logical but engaging flow throughout the deck.
#5. Every content exhibited on slides must be data-supported. An argument is regarded as gibberish when it is not proven by credible evidence. Evidence can be hypothetical, anecdotal, testimonial, or statistical, visualised in forms charts, diagrams or tables.
#6. Every title must be specific and detail-oriented. Titles are the key takeaways of the slide itself and the whole deck, where consultants pay their foremost attention to quickly skim-scan the content before reaching deeper. Therefore, they must be clear and straightforward to deliver the right message in the shortest time.
#7. Every chart must have measurement units and source citation as it makes the visualised data meaningful and gives credibility to the chart itself. Unit is usually noted below the title of charts, while the source is cited at the end of the slide. Also, in case readers want to do further research, a citation of source will help them trace back to the original version much easier and faster.
Tips on how to format MBB slides
Terminology & Recap
Management consulting is an industry providing expensive and professional advice to organizations to improve their overall performance, through better “management”, which includes strategy, governance, operation, organization, finance, and marketing. The three most prestigious management consulting firms are McKinsey, BCG, and Bain (the Big Three).