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As a consultant, manager, or business leader, you often give presentations to inform, convince, or inspire others. These presentations are likely supported by slides to organize information and visualize important concepts. The slide deck can help to deliver your message more effectively, because the human brain processes visual cues better than verbal communication (1). Using appropriate slides will benefit understanding, retention, and persuasion. However, most trainings in professional communication only focus on writing, body language, and rhetoric. Creating effective slides is often overlooked but equally important. Therefore, this article will give you a complete overview of all components of a good slide presentation. By using the principles and design methods described here, you can dramatically improve the impact of your presentations and achieve the results you want.

Creating an effective slide deck for consultancy or other business presentations can be reduced to a seven-step process: You start by considering the audience and goal of the presentation. Subsequently, you determine the optimal way to deliver your message in order to achieve this objective. It is essential to have a clear storyline, effective headings, an appropriate layout, and visuals that support decision making and help the audience to understand your message. Finally, you have to deliver the presentation in a professional manner. This article explains each step in more detail. At the end of the article, there will also be some free resources that can help you to improve your slide decks.

1: Consider the audience

When preparing a presentation for a certain audience, the first and most crucial step is to understand the individuals attending the presentation (2). This involves identifying who the attendees of the presentation are and what their previous knowledge, background, culture and experience is. Understanding their needs, knowledge levels, and what they hope to gain from the presentation is crucial to successfully giving a presentation which they will remember. Furthermore, it is crucial to tailor the content to address the specific interests of the audience. This can be done by addressing interests, mitigating industry jargon, and ensuring engagement during the presentation. 

2: Determine the objective

Clearly defining the objective of your presentation is essential for crafting a focused and effective message. Try asking yourself: What is the primary goal of this presentation? Are you aiming to inform, educate, persuade, activate, inspire or entertain your audience? Maybe you are seeking approval for a project, aiming to clarify complex data, or introducing a new corporate strategy. By pinpointing your main objective, you can structure your presentation to lead your audience toward a clear understanding and, ideally a specific action. This clarity not only helps in organizing the content but also ensures that every slide contributes towards achieving your desired outcome. For that reason it is important to focus on one of 6 different types of objectives for your presentation. The objectives with recommendations are listed below.

  1. To Inform: Present clear, factual content directly related to the topic. Use concise language and structured points to ensure understanding. Focus on delivering the essential data and updates without overloading your audience with information.
  2. To Educate: Go beyond basic facts to deepen understanding. Employ teaching techniques such as examples, demonstrations, and interactive elements like quizzes to engage and enhance learning. Ensure the content is thorough and well-explained.
  3. To Persuade or Convince: Build a compelling argument using logical reasoning, credible evidence, and emotional appeals. Clearly define the problem and present your solution persuasively. The goal is to sway opinions or drive decision-making in your favor.
  4. To Activate: Create a sense of urgency and include a clear call to action. Use motivational language and compelling facts to spur the audience into taking specific, immediate actions. This is often used in settings like fundraising or advocacy.
  5. To Inspire or Motivate: Share inspiring stories or visions that trigger emotional responses. Utilize personal anecdotes or powerful visions of what could be to motivate the audience towards personal or collective goals. The focus is on energizing and moving the audience emotionally.
  6. To Entertain: Keep the tone light and enjoyable, integrating humor, anecdotes, or captivating stories to engage the audience. The aim is to entertain and create a memorable experience, making sure the content is relatable and fun for everyone involved.

And remember! “There’s no way you can give a good talk unless you have something worth talking about”

3: Choose a clear storyline

The storyline of the presentation is key in order to keep the attention of the audience. This means that subjects and slides should be in a logical order. For example, an introduction comes at the beginning of the presentation, whereas the conclusion comes at the end. The actual content should be presented at the beginning of the presentation, so that the audience knows what to expect from the presentation. Also keep in mind that people tend to remember the first and last parts of a document or presentation the best, so make sure that you include your most important insights and action points there.

Furthermore, it is important to pick a storyline which is not only ‘sending’ information, but also to make people think about the content. This can be done by either engaging the audience by asking questions, setting up a (small) quiz or to simply ask for confirmation on a certain presented topic. An example of this setup is visualized below (5):

4: Write effective headings

Effective headings can trigger curiosity in the audience. This makes for a more engaging audience, which is more interested in the presented topic. The headings must therefore be carefully chosen. LinkedIn has dedicated a specific soft skill to this and created a page on how to do this properly. They have come up with six steps to write effective headings. They are as follows (6):

  1. Understand the purpose of slide titles and headings;
  2. Use the headline test to evaluate your slide titles and headings;
  3. Apply the 4 C’s of effective slide titles and headings;
  4. Use parallel structure for slide titles and headings;
  5. Use keywords and phrases for slide titles and headings;
  6. Other things to consider.

Step 1: understand the purpose of slide titles and headings

The titles and headings of the presentation should be seen as specific functions and goals that should be considered before creating the slides. They must summarize the main goal and/or idea, which captures the audience’s interest and curiosity, as mentioned above. A logical flow should be present to present transitions in a well-organized manner. The key message for each slide should lead to a call to action, if possible. Of course, this cannot be done for each slide.

Step 2: use the headline test to evaluate the slide titles and headings

The headline test is a technique which involves imagining that the created slide titles and headings are headlines in a newspaper or a website. Asking yourself if the audience would want to read more or click on the headline, helps with creating the ideal titles for the headings. With this technique, ambiguous headlines will be avoided, the tone will be evaluated to match the overall tone of the presentation and any possible (technical) jargon will be avoided.

Step 3: apply the 4 C’s of effective slide titles and headings

The 4 C’s are clarity, conciseness, consistency, and creativity. Clarity can be achieved by using simple and direct language which expresses the main point or idea. Conciseness can be achieved by using only a few words; less is more. Consistency is all about using the same format throughout the entire presentation, as well as the overall style. Creativity is always good to add to presentations; by using catchy and memorable words or phrases, the audience will be more interested.

Step 4: use parallel structure for slide titles and headings

Parallel structure is a technique which involves repeating the same grammatical form or pattern for similar or related words or phrases. It helps with creating balance, rhythm, and coherence in the slide titles and headings. Examples include using nouns (“the problem”, “the results”), verbs (“analyze”, “design”), and adjectives (“simple”, “effective”), and questions (“what is the challenge?”). To use parallel structure effectively, one should identify the main elements of the slide or section and pick the appropriate form or pattern to express them. Finally, it is also important to avoid mixing different forms or patterns.

Step 5: use keywords and phrases for slide titles and headings

Keywords and phrases are essential to focus on the core message and value. They are also very important for search engines, social media and SEO in general. Keywords and phrases should identify the main words that describe the topic, audience and objective. Doing research on popular keywords can help with this. Be careful with not overusing the keywords and phrases. This can make them sound spammy, unnatural or even misleading. 

Step 6: other things to consider

Finally, there is space to share examples, stories or insights that don’t fit into any of the previous steps. By adding these parts, the presentation can become more creative and personal. This will add a layer of interest to the presentation. 

A good test to determine the quality of your headings is to check whether the reader would be able to understand the key points based on the headings alone. In consulting specifically, it is common practice to use headings that tell a story. For instance, consider using “GDP in Eastern European countries has been steadily increasing since 1990” instead of “Development of GDP in Eastern Europe”. However, the optimal approach is again dependent on the objective and audience of your presentation.

5: Pick an appropriate layout for the slides

Picking an appropriate layout for your slides can be very important in order to convey the story to your audience. There are some best practices for creating an appropriate layout for your presentation to make the slides understandable and appealing to your audience. 

Things to consider when picking/creating your layout:

  • Type of audience:

Different types of audience may require a different layout of presentation. With the type of audience, you need to consider things such as age, your relation to them, and their information needs from this presentation. A younger audience that you have worked with before and know quite well could ask for a little more informal and ‘flashy’ presentation in contrast to an older audience. This section comes mostly from ‘gut-feeling’. 

  • Duration of the presentation:

Time is an important factor to consider when preparing and presenting your presentation. Time is money, but also the average attention span must be considered and the fact that your message may lose its ‘power’ when it takes too long to convey. Therefore, a shorter presentation is overall a better presentation. Try to combine and condense the information into a minimum timeframe.

  • Content of the presentation:

The content of the presentation must also be taken into account when picking the layout. As a consultant, you will likely be dealing with similar types of content that you need to present to your audience, namely facts, findings, and advice. Try to present the content in a way that matters and is interesting to your audience.

  • Knowledge of audience on topic:

Prior knowledge of your audience on the topic you’re presenting is an important factor to consider when creating your presentation. If you’re confident that your audience has sufficient prior knowledge on the context of your topic, you can consider skipping or shortening the time on these parts in order to save time.

  • Objective of the presentation:

Last but definitely not least is the objective of your presentation. What are you trying to achieve with your presentation? This affects the layout in such a way that different objectives may require different layouts in order to support that objective.

6: Include visuals that support understanding and decision-making

Sometimes an image tells more than a thousand words, which is a common phrase and very true when it comes to consulting. Showing visuals like graphs, charts, or images to your audience can help them better understand what you’re talking about and what you’re trying to make clear. Make sure the images are complimentary to your story and/or substitutes the need for extensive texts in your presentation. Including visuals can do more good than bad in general, so always considering including as much as possible. 

7: Deliver the presentation in a professional way

When it comes to a presentation, in the end the delivery of the presentation will make or break the message you are trying to deliver. So when it comes to delivering a presentation there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, as spoken word is something that can be easily forgotten, it is important to know what your key takeaways are from the presentation and repeat these multiple times throughout the presentation. Furthermore, one’s body language can also have an important effect on the delivery of the presentation. Studies have shown that certain behavior such as playing with jewelry or standing in place for too long can have a negative effect on the audience. The presenter should be aware of their body language and how this can affect the audience and lastly, the intonation of a person’s voice can influence the delivery of the presentation. One of the skills of a presenter is to use their voice (speed and volume) according to the parts of the presentation. Slowing down for the important parts, increasing speed of speech to build momentum, this all helps to keep the audience engaged. 


This article introduced a seven-step process to create powerpoint slides for consulting that enable you to achieve your goals by informing, convincing, or persuading your audience. The main points are as follows:

  • Understanding your audience and tailoring the content to their backgrounds is paramount when preparing a presentation.
  • Defining your presentation’s objective is crucial for creating a focused message and ensuring every slide contributes to achieving the desired outcome.
  • Crafting a coherent storyline for your presentation ensures logical progression from introduction to conclusion and retains the attention of your audience.
  • Effective headings are vital for audience engagement and curiosity, with clarity, conciseness, consistency, creativity, parallel structure, and keywords as the most important characteristics.
  • Choosing an appropriate slide layout is crucial for effectively conveying your story to the audience, considering factors such as the audience type, presentation duration, content, audience knowledge, and presentation objective.
  • Including visuals can have a significant impact on how your presentation is understood and remembered.
  • You should consider how you will deliver your presentation and what the role of the slides will be.


The following resources can be valuable in improving your slide presentations:

1: How to create slide presentations like leading consulting firms, by Firm Learning

This YouTube playlist of 19 videos is created by an experienced former consultant at top firms who recently attained a c-level position in a large corporation. The videos cover many of the topics discussed above in great detail and provide visual examples.

2: Slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte is principal of one of the largest design agencies in Silicon Valley. Her book, “Slide:ology” describes her accumulated experience in designing slide decks for Fortune 500 companies. The book is considered a leading guide on designing effective slides.

3: Free powerpoint templates

There are numerous websites available that offer free resources you can use in creating an appealing visual design for your presentation. These templates will immediately give you a structured lay-out that captures the attention of your audience. For example, consider the following sites:

4: Storytelling with data, by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

This book is one the best guides to creating effective data visualizations. It shows how you can use data to support your story and inform or persuade your audience.

Other references







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