McKinsey Slide Breakdown

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By Paul Moss

May 28, 2021

When creating a slide attention to detail and proper structure can make all the difference.

In this post I’ll be reviewing a slide from McKinsey’s 2018 presentation, “Investment and Industrial Policy: A Perspective on the Future” from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (source info below). 

If you’re new to this blog, make sure you check out our other consulting slide breakdowns. And when you’re ready, take a look at our advanced PowerPoint and presentation building courses where you can learn to create presentations like a top-tier consultant. 

The very first thing to notice about this slide is the title: “Global flows account for approximately 10 percent of global GDP output; data flows account for a large (arguably largest) chunk of that contribution”. And right away I’m already impressed. The title is a complete sentence and not only that but it summarizes everything on the slide, which is exactly what you want.

McKinsey & Company slide

“Investment and Industrial Policy: A Perspective on the Future” McKinsey, October 2018

There are many reasons why you should do this but probably the biggest reason is that it helps the audience interpret the rest of the slide. When you’re making a slide, your main goal is to make it as easy as possible for the audience to understand your main message, and there’s no better way to do that then to spell it out.

The underlying concept for all of this is the Pyramid Principle (covered in detail here). The ke idea is that you want to start by communicating your key point first, then communicate the details. And that is exactly what McKinsey has done here by putting a summary of the slide at the top, then the details below it.

McKinsey & Company slide message

The next thing they’ve done really well is to use color contrast to highlight the most important parts of the slide. Notice how they use a bright orange color to highlight the section on data flows, which clearly connects to segments of the title.

Then they use it again for the takeaway box (bottom of the slide) to highlight how the data flows impact the other flows. These are arguably the two most important parts of the slide. But then in other, less important parts of the slide, they use black and grey.

McKinsey & Company highlights

The reason why you want the important stuff on your slide to pop is because it’s going to make it so much easier for the audience to connect the data on the slide with the main takeaway in the title. Remember that by the time you finish building your slide you will have been looking at it for a long time, and you’ll already know where the insights are.

But the audience will be looking at it for the first time. And not only that, but they’ll probably also be trying to listen to the speaker and prepare to make their own comments. Even for smart people this can be cognitive overload, so you’ll want to do whatever you can to make your slide simple and easy to follow.

Then along those lines, another thing I like about this slide is the use of icons. They’re not the best looking icons but they do serve a functional purpose, which is to lighten the load on your brain. In other words, it’s much quicker for me to understand the chart and the labels on the axis when I have nice little pictures that give me an idea for what each label means.

McKinsey & Company use of icons

It might not seem like it makes much of a difference, but with the icons I can skim through the labels and understand what they mean without having to read through each one individually. The effect is small, but when the audience only has a few seconds to read through your slide, it can really make a difference.

Now let’s move on to the data part of this slide – specifically their choice of chart. By choosing a waterfall chart over a common bar chart, they’ve made it easy for us to see both the total of all flows, but also how those flows are broken down and where data flows fits into the picture in terms of size (before accounting for its secondary effects that is).

Another chart they could have chosen by the way is a pie chart, but I’m really glad they didn’t because a pie chart makes it much harder to compare each of the categories against each other, plus you wouldn’t really be able to single out the total as they’ve done here, or add  callouts quite as cleanly.

McKinsey & Company slide in pie chart

Generally speaking, a pie chart is actually a terrible chart to use in most circumstances so usually it’s best to avoid them all together. See our video explanation about it here

Another thing we have to talk about is the overall alignment throughout the slide. It’s absolutely perfect. Everything on the slide is perfectly aligned and everything seems to be in place. It might seem like a small detail to consider, but this is something consulting firms obsess over because for them, the presentation is the final product. 

McKinsey & Company slide perfect alignment

Then the last thing to mention is the overall attention to detail throughout the slide. Not just in terms of formatting, but also with how exhaustive they are with notes and sources. They’ve included stuff that isn’t obvious like the first footnote that shows how the chart represents data from 139 countries, and stuff that needs a further explanation like the second footnote about migration.

Plus they’ve also included detail that’s obvious but still helpful, like the note on the bottom about numbers not summing due to rounding. Chances are that anyone who reads this slide probably knows that sometimes the numbers in a chart won’t completely add up due to rounding issues, but McKinsey wants to be thorough here so they include it anyway. And this is exactly the type of thing that makes McKinsey McKinsey: attention to detail in everything they do.

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