How I redesigned 3 McKinsey slides to be more effective

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By Paul Moss

Oct 7, 2022

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McKinsey slides typically sit atop the PowerPoint slide food chain, but that doesn’t mean they’re always perfect.

It’s not an easy task to fit a large amount of text and data on a PowerPoint slide, while keeping the slide easy to read and understand. So when top consulting firms like McKinsey are able to do it well, the slide itself feels almost like a work of art.

For this post I chose three McKinsey slides (AKA works of art) and took on the daunting task of trying to make them even better using the principles of structure, design, and logic.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to build your own high-quality consulting-style PowerPoint slides, make sure you check out our advanced courses.

Disclaimer: All of the slides that I use today are from publicly available sources, so if you’re interested in looking at the original McKinsey slides, make sure you check those out in the links at the bottom of this post.

Slide #1

This is a slide from McKinsey about the mining industry. The title says, “Successful implementation of technology could generate up to 22% of additional value from productivity improvement for all stakeholders”. And there’s enough content on the slide to support that message really well. But where the slide falls short is in the amount of visual distractions that make it hard for the audience to understand the slide’s key takeaways.

Mckinsey slide 1

“Technology’s role in mineral criticality” McKinsey, 2017

Step 1. Remove the background photo

The very first thing that needs to be removed is the background photo. It doesn’t contribute to the slide’s message; it just distracts the audience. With photos, sometimes they can make the slide look more visually appealing, and they do have their place on occasion, but in general, they more often just distract the audience. If it’s not contributing to your message, it should be removed.

Mckinsey slide 1

Step 2. Emphasize the title

Generally, people read your slides from top to bottom and then from left to right, so you want to set up your content in a way that supports that flow.

Related: How to design an effective PowerPoint slide in 5 minutes

You want your audience to read the title first so that they can grasp the overall message of your slide, putting the rest of the details in context. But the problem here is that the title doesn’t attract enough attention. So to solve this, I just made the font bigger and I bolded it.

Mckinsey slide 1

Another issue is that the area around the top is a little crowded, which takes attention away from the title (not a good thing). We can solve this by moving the chart title to its proper place, and by placing the category labels right next to the chart.

When you create a legend for your charts, what you’re doing is you’re asking the audience to look at the legend, then back to the chart, then back to the legend to try and understand each of the categories. It’s too much work for the brain, and it’s unnecessary.

Mckinsey slide 1

Step 3. Add clarity to the chart

One easy way to improve your charts is to call attention to what matters most. In this case you want the audience to notice the 22% figure that represents the total potential additional value, because that’s what is mentioned in the title. But in its original form all three numbers are the same size and weight. An easy fix for this is to make the less important numbers smaller, and the most important number bigger and bold.

Mckinsey slide 1

Step 4. Add icons to the category labels

The main content portion of the slide might be difficult for the audience to process due to the large amount of text. Text on a slide is not inherently bad, but if the presentation is given live it can be difficult for the audience to read through the content, listen to the speaker, and formulate a response. Visual components on the slide can help provide a cognitive boost to the audience that helps them perform each of these tasks simultaneously.

One pretty simple way to fix this is to introduce icons. So first I spaced out the slide a bit more, then just found icons that roughly matched each of the categories. The result is a small change that can really aide a live audience in grasping the insights you’re trying to communicate.

Mckinsey slide 1

And with just a few simple tweaks, the slide looks significantly better. It might not look like a lot of changes were made, especially if you’ve been looking at the slide for a few minutes. But if you were looking at this slide for the first time, you’d have a much easier time processing the information and understanding the key insights.

Mckinsey slide 1 before changes

Mckinsey slide 1 after changes

Slide #2

This McKinsey slide is about the flow of goods and data across the globe. And as you can tell, it’s a pretty straightforward slide from a content perspective. It’s just a list of recommendations, numbered from 1 to 10. No charts and no visuals.

Mckinsey slide 2

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

Step 1. Improve the title

On this slide the title is pretty good, but it could still use some work. It commands enough attention, but there’s plenty of space below it so there’s no harm in making it bigger. Secondly, the title feels a little wide (expanding beyond the margins), so it would look a little cleaner to bring it in.

Mckinsey slide 2

Step 2. Simplify the categorizations

Another thing to notice on this slide is the legend that calls out the recommendations that are “enablers for digitalization”. The issue is that it’s unclear which of the recommendations are enablers, which are kind of enablers, and which are not enablers at all. I think we’re better off simplifying this categorization to just highlight recommendations 5-8.

Mckinsey slide 2

But the obvious problem now is that the two orange colors make the slide really ugly. One way to improve this is by removing the fill color, then adding a thick dotted line. We can also simplify the design a bit by bringing the label down right next to the dotted line (instead of in a legend).

Making that change can also help us space out the slide better to make it easier to read.

Mckinsey slide 2

Step 3. Make the text easier to read

With so much text on the slide, it can be challenging to understand each of the recommendations (most people will just skim). This can be mitigated by removing unnecessary words and splitting the content into two separate columns.

Mckinsey slide 2

Step 4. Balance the focus of the slide

The slide is now spaced out in a way that makes it easier to read. But you may have noticed that there’s a bright orange takeaway box at the bottom that’s attracting most of the attention. To solve this we can add some color to the recommendations themselves. Ideally we want the audience to read the title first, the main content of the slide second, and the takeaway box last.

Related: Takeaway boxes: when to use them and when to avoid them

Mckinsey slide 2

Now not only is the slide a lot easier to process visually, but there’s a logical connection as well. The title mostly connects with the recommendations (they are both blue), and the “digital enablers” are called out in orange, which connects with the orange takeaway box at the bottom of the slide.

So compare this with our original slide that had that ugly orange gradient, and this slide looks a lot better. The text is easier to read, there are visual components drawing attention to the parts that matter, and there’s less focus on the takeaway box.

Mckinsey slide 2 before changes

Mckinsey slide 2 after changes

Slide #3

This McKinsey slide is also about the mining industry. The title says “Companies are planning for the future with technology in mind and expect revenues to keep growing at 4%”. So again, this slide is about technology and its impact on revenue.

Mckinsey slide 3

“Challenges in Mining: Scarcity or Opportunity?” McKinsey, 2015

Step 1. Remove the background photo

The main challenge with this slide is that there’s just too much going on. The components of the slide are all there and support the message really well, but the visual distractions on the slide make it hard for the audience to grasp the key insights quickly. Some low hanging fruit in this area is to just remove the unnecessary background photo.

Mckinsey slide 3

Step 2. Give the title breathing room

As was the case with the first McKinsey slide, the area at the top of this slide is too crowded. The title is the most important part of any slide, so making sure that it’s easily visible is important. One thing we can do to help with this is to remove the horizontal line and move the subtitles lower on the screen.

Step 3. Remove unnecessary lines and callouts

Another thing that needs to be done is to remove anything on the slide that doesn’t directly contribute to the message. On this slide there are a lot of lines, but not all of them are important. Removing many of the CAGR lines can help put emphasis on the part of the chart that really matters (the 4% growth section).

Mckinsey slide 3

Step 4. Remove the legend

Now we have the same problem we had from the earlier slide, which is that the legend is adding clutter to the slide without helping the audience. This can be solved by putting the labels next to the lines themselves. Changing the EBITDA line from dotted to solid and making the CAGR line a little easier to read can also help the slide’s readability.

Mckinsey slide 3

Related: How Bain & Co. builds beautiful charts

Step 5. Separate historical and projected data

Overall the chart is starting to look pretty good, but one more thing that’s missing is a line to distinguish between historical and projected data. The title talks about “planning for the future”, so it only makes sense to show the audience which part of the chart represents the “future”. This can be done easily with a vertical dotted line, though it’s important to make sure this line doesn’t command too much attention.

Mckinsey slide 3

Step 6. Clean up the slide

A few final tweaks can really help with the overall look and feel of the slide. The first is to space out the title to cover the width of the slide (now that we don’t have a legend to compete with).

Mckinsey slide 3

Then the next thing is to add more detail to the axis labels. It’s not immediately clear that the X axis refers to years, so adding an apostrophe next to each year can help. Likewise, adding percentage signs in each of the blue ovals can make comprehension that much easier for the audience.

Mckinsey slide 3

So by removing the clutter of this slide and making a few design changes, we’ve made it easier to see the key insights. It’s clear, well designed, and easy for the audience to understand.

Mckinsey slide 3 before changes

Mckinsey slide 3 after changes

If you’re looking to build your own high-quality, consulting-style slides, be sure to check out our advanced courses for individual learners and for teams.

Source Information:

“Technology’s role in mineral criticality” McKinsey, 2017

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

“Challenges in Mining: Scarcity or Opportunity?” McKinsey, 2015

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