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Top consulting Firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG all build high-quality presentations, but not all their slides are created equal.
In this post I’m going to rate and review slides from the three major consulting firms: McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. I’ll explain what they do well, what they could have done better, and what you can do to improve your own slide making.
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Slide #1 BCG
This first slide comes from a BCG presentation called “True-Luxury Global Consumer Insight” (source).
What strikes me right away is just how nice and crisp the overall design is. There’s a great use of color, I really like the font that they used, and the chart itself just looks great. I also like the background because it doesn’t distract from the content, but they managed to include some stylization which fits with the theme of the deck.
The title of the slide says “54% of True-luxury consumers do not expect to resume international leisure travel before 6 months”, and I like this title because it’s descriptive, but it doesn’t try to explain all the data on the chart. Instead it focuses on the most important takeaway on the slide, which is the 54% that represents those unwilling to travel before 6 months (shown on the leftmost column).
“True-Luxury Global Consumer Insight” BCG, 2020
Then the main part of the slide of course is the chart, which shows survey results that explain when people are likely to begin traveling again after the pandemic, broken down by country. The chart itself is fine, but what I really like are the extra details below the chart that help explain and interpret the data.
These circles show the average timeframe for each of the countries, then the takeaway boxes summarize the findings from the chart: that Europeans and Russians are expected to resume international travel sooner than non-Europeans in places like China, Brazil, US, South Korea and Japan.
By including this information they make it easier for me to understand and sort through the data, without having to guess what the key takeaways are. Charts can be tricky for the audience when you leave them open for interpretation, so spelling it out like this is always a good idea.
So overall the slide is pretty good, but I do have a couple small gripes. The first is their choice to use a column chart instead of a bar chart. Typically but not always column charts are used for comparisons over time, but in this chart they just show a comparison between countries.
At first glance it’s confusing because the chart seems to be showing a trend over time. That’s because our brains naturally process visuals like this from left to right. If they would have used a bar chart instead, and then moved some of this information at the bottom to the right of the chart, I think the slide would have been more intuitive.
Another thing I think could have been improved is their choice of color. Specifically how they’ve ordered the colors. When you see what seems to be different shades of the same color, it’s natural to assign meaning to those different shades. Like maybe the darker the color the higher the number, or something like that.
In this case this lighter green shade represents 6 months or sooner, then the darker shade is 6 months to a year, but then it goes to a light shade of grey for more than a year, and then a darker shade of grey for not traveling ever again. The colors look nice, but logically it seems to be a bit random.
I think a better choice would have been to either color it from light to dark, or to color it different shades of grey, then make the category you want to emphasize green. For example they could have made the 6 months or sooner category green, then changed the title a bit to say something like, fewer than 50% of consumers expect to travel within the next 6 months.
Then finally, I wish there would have been a stronger visual emphasis on the 54% number, given how important it is to the slide’s main takeaway. You sort of have to look for it on the slide amidst a sea of numbers of visuals. Even just bolding it would have helped it pop just a little more.
Overall it’s a great slide, but it could be made better with some minor tweaks.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Slide #2 Bain
Next up is a slide from Bain. The title says “The buyout market outdid itself in 2021, roaring to new records in deal value and exits, while keeping the gas on fund-raising”, which essentially is just claiming the buyout market is really strong.
“The Private Equity Market in 2021: The Allure of Growth” Bain & Company, 2022
And if you look at the charts you can see each of the three categories: investments, exits, and fund-raising. They’re all combination charts, meaning they show two different charts on top of each other (typically a column chart and a line chart, which is what they have here). The challenge with these kinds of charts is that sometimes they can be confusing, especially if there’s a lot of data to sort through, but these are simple, clean, and easy to read.
One thing that Bain consistently does really well is to use standout colors to highlight their main point, while keeping the less important elements of the chart in neutral colors like gray or black. The red column shows what they want us to see, which in the case of this first chart is the total buyout deal value. Then the deal count is shown for context.
Another great thing they’ve done here is to separate the data into three different charts. Sometimes there’s a temptation to put all the data you have into a single chart, but that can make things even more confusing. What they could have done instead is put all of the data into a single clustered column chart, which still would have shown the message they wanted to show, but it would have been much harder to see the insights. Instead they’ve given each topic it’s own chart, and it makes it really easy to see what they’re trying to tell me, which is that investments, exits, and fund-raising are all going strong.
They’ve also done a good job of including footnotes and sources down at the bottom that explain what’s included in each category. It’s easy to overlook this, or to just put the sources, but they’ve done a good job of being thorough which is important when you’ve got a data heavy slide.
The only thing I can think of that would have made this chart just a little bit better would be to include small icons next to each of the subtitles. There’s a lot of text in that part of the slide that sort of blends together when you’re just skimming through the slide. So just a nice small black icon that matches each topic could have helped separate that text just a little, and make it a little easier to read quickly.
Overall this is a fantastic slide and Bain’s done a really good job.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
Slide #3 BCG
Next up is a slide from BCG. The title says “In face of nationwide transitional media slowdown, NYC has been growing and gaining substantial national share”. And right off the bat I can already tell that they’ve structured this slide really well. The title gives the overall takeaway of the slide, but then they’ve split that takeaway into two parts.
“Evaluating NYC media sector development and setting the stage for future growth” BCG, 2011
But not only that, the color, size, and bolding of the title means it’s going to get the most attention, with the underlined subtitles getting the second most attention. This is great because this is exactly how you want the audience to process the slide, from the highest level idea down to the lowest.
Then the table shows the percentage of jobs in each of the categories that were in New York versus the broader US, and they did it for 2002 and for 2011 so you can see the change. What’s good about this table is how well designed it is. Sometimes I see the default PowerPoint design used for tables and it just looks so tacky. Here they’ve added some color, lines, and bolding to help put emphasis on the important parts, which really helps me as a reader.
Another good thing they did here was to actually use a table instead of a chart. Charts are extremely common and are useful in the right settings, but tables definitely have their place too. In this case they’re trying to show different types of data – the percentage of jobs that come from New York, the growth in New York jobs, and then the salary figures at the bottom. Showing all that in a chart would have been pretty difficult.
But despite this being a pretty good table, they’ve made a critical mistake that I think really hurts the slide, and that is that there’s no real connection with the subtitle. There doesn’t seem to be any mention in the table of either of the 40k numbers from the subtitle. In fact, the only absolute numbers in the whole table are the salary numbers down at the bottom. I still think the topic of the table matches, but the numbers are a bit confusing to me and hurt the logical consistency of the slide.
Another complaint I have with the slide is the amount of bolding. They were off to a good start with the visual hierarchy of the title and the subtitles, but then the section on the right is just completely bolded. That makes it a lot harder for me to read and process all the information because it all just sort of blends together without any real attention getting put on the key takeaways.
So overall the slide starts off really great, and certainly has some nice initial structure and a good chart, but their lack of attention to detail really hurts the slide.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
Slide #4 McKinsey
The next slide is from a McKinsey presentation titled “Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation”. The title says “By 2030, automation has the potential to replace up to 47 percent of work hours in the US in the earliest adoption scenario”, which is a pretty good title. It’s descriptive and detailed, and seems to summarize the main takeaway from the slide.
“Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation” McKinsey & Company, 2017
Looking at the slide it’s primarily made up of just one chart, which is a stacked column chart that shows automation’s projected impact on different jobs by country, and broken down by different industries. And this format is actually really common in consulting decks – a main takeaway in the title supported by a single quantitative chart or sometimes multiple charts. So the overall structure of this chart is good, but unfortunately there’s a lot of other stuff here that just isn’t very good.
For one, there’s just way too much color on this slide, which makes it really hard for me to quickly make any conclusions about the data. I can understand the temptation to use all these colors, because they’re trying to show data from a broad range of industries, but the problem is the breakdown doesn’t really add to the message in any meaningful way.
The message of the slide is about how automation has the potential to replace 47 percent of work hours in the US, which is really just talking about the total of the US column. So everything else on the slide is just there for context. And visually speaking, the breakdown of industries is very distracting, which hurts the readability of the slide and makes it harder for the audience to understand the main message. In other words, it doesn’t provide a lot of useful information but it comes at a high cost.
They’ve also included all the other countries even though the message is just about the US, but this is a lot more appropriate because it provides context for the data. Using just one number by itself doesn’t provide a whole lot of meaning, but putting that number in the context of numbers in the same category (i.e. showing data from all these other countries not just the US), makes the data more meaningful.
And then just like with the BCG slide from earlier, I think a bar chart might have made a little more sense here. What this looks like is a trend increasing over time, but it’s not. These are categorical, so there’s no natural order to them. I can see why they chose a column chart, because a bar chart would probably have led to some white space on either side of the chart, but white space on a slide isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so in this case I think they should have done it.
So overall, I don’t think it’s that great of a slide. The biggest mistake is their decision to make this a stacked column chart and include all these different colors, which in my mind makes this slide a lot worse.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Slide #5 McKinsey
This one is a bit older but it’s an absolute classic. It’s from a presentation McKinsey did back in 2010 for the US Postal Service, who was facing some real tough losses at the time. This slide in particular talks about how their decline in mail volume is even worse than what they had predicted five years earlier.
“USPS Future Business Model” McKinsey & Company, 2010
Overall the design of the slide is a bit plain, and this was actually very common for McKinsey at the time. They’ve since done a nice rebrand, but for a long time McKinsey slides were really nothing special from a design perspective.
The structure of the slide is pretty good with a nice bold title that captures the main takeaway of the slide, but one thing I think they could have done better is to make the subtitles a little smaller and less eye-catching. When you’re building a slide you want to have “font hierarchy”, where the most important and broadest ideas command the most attention, then the next level down (in this case the two subtitles) attracts the second most attention. But here it looks like the subtitles and the main title are both the same size.
What I do really like about this slide though is the excellent line chart. First of all, they chose a line chart instead of a column chart which to me makes a lot of sense because it allows them to make these forecast comparisons much more easily. And they’ve made them look really nice and easy to understand. Where possible it’s a good idea to put your labels right next to the lines instead of in a legend, because with a legend you have to constantly look back and forth and it can get really confusing for the audience.
I also like the bold labeling they used to show that these were forecasts from 2005. The bolding sticks out without being obnoxious, and really helps drive home the point of the chart.
The text in the right side isn’t too bad. I like that they’ve used bullet points to make it a little easier to read, and even sub bullet points to help separate the different layers of the text. Bolding might have made the text a little easier to parse through, but it’s a minimal amount of text so I think it could go either way.
Overall it’s a really good slide. It could have been better with a more modern design and smaller subtitles, but the chart really brings it home.
Rating: 8 out of 10.
Slide #6 Bain
Just like some of the other consulting slides on this list, this Bain slide is just a title with a chart that emphasizes the message in that title. The title says “To date, most US hyperscaler M&A spending has benefited consumers or enriched market dynamics”. Then looking at the chart you can see that each bubble represents an acquisition, and those acquisitions are plotted along two axes.
“Regulate with Care: The Case for Big Tech M&A” Bain, 2021
The X axis shows the acquisitions effect on end consumers, ranging from less value to more value, then the Y axis shows the market dynamics after the acquisition, ranging from less competition and investment to more competition and investment. Overall the title seems to match with the message being shown in the chart. Most of the bubbles tend to be on the right side of the chart, and many of them are on the top right.
But unfortunately, that’s about where the good things on this slide end.
The main issue with the chart is that there’s just too much going on. The temptation with bubble charts like this is to introduce too many variables, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. The only really important part of this chart is to show that most of the acquisitions fall within the bottom and top right quadrants, whereas everything else is just noise.
In addition to the placement of the bubbles, they’ve also shown the size of the acquisition (bubble size), the company that made the acquisition (colors), whether or not the the acquisition was recent (red lines), and whether or not the acquisition has been divested or shut down (dotted lines).
I’ll admit that including one or two of these variables could provide important context, but to include all of them just makes the chart more confusing. If it were me I would have done away with the lines around the bubbles because they’re too hard to see anyway and really don’t add much value, and I would have probably also done away with the size of the bubble as well and maybe even the coloring to represent each company.
Now I know that might be controversial, but remember the main message of the slide, which is to show that M&A spending has benefited consumers or enriched market dynamics, which is reflected in the chart by where these bubbles are placed. The size of the bubbles, although relevant, is not the main focus and just clutters the chart without providing enough benefit.
If I did use colors though, I would have definitely chosen different colors than what they have here. What they’ve done is to use what’s called a diverging palette, where the colors are at two ends of the same spectrum. So it looks like Microsoft is on one end of the spectrum, and Amazon is on the other end of the spectrum. But in reality, these colors have absolutely no meaning whatsoever.
Anytime you use color on your chart you want to do it with intention, because the audience is going to naturally assign meaning to those colors. A better choice here would have been to use colors that match the branding of the companies, or just colors that were clearly distinct and not along any sort of spectrum. Instead, their choice to make their chart pretty hurts it’s readability.
Overall, it’s a slide that looks nice, but has a complicated visual that really makes things hard on the audience.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Top consulting firms (and really all consulting firms) go to great lengths to make their slides clear, persuasive, and engaging. They do this by guiding the audience through the slide with insightful charts, well-structured content, and a professional looking design. Sometimes these firms are effective at their goal, and sometimes it seems that too much effort takes away from the overall quality of the slide.