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

by | Mar 30, 2022

Takeaway boxes can be useful for helping draw attention to ‘second order’ insights on your slides, but they are commonly misused.

Consulting firms love to use takeaway boxes. That small rectangular box of text at the bottom of a slide sometimes also called a kicker. You see them all the time from nearly every major consulting firm. But what are they for? And when should you use them? Or maybe more importantly, when should you not use them? And what’s the difference between a title, subtitle, and a takeaway box? 

In this post I’m going to answer all these questions and walk through some examples. I’ll explain how to avoid the most common takeaway box mistakes, and how to properly use them to improve the quality and professionalism of your own presentations.

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Takeaway box examples:

Reshaping NYCHA support functions (BCG)
Loose dogs in Dallas: Strategic Recommendations to Improve Public Safety and Animal Welfare (BCG)
Melbourne as a Global Cultural Destination (BCG)
The Open Education Resources ecosystem (BCG)
Projecting US Mail volumes to 2020 (BCG)
Corporate Ventures in Sweden (2016) (BCG)
Investment and Industrial Policy: A Perspective on the Future (McKinsey)
Challenges in Mining: Scarcity or Opportunity? (McKinsey)
Addressing the Global Affordable Housing Challenge (2016) (McKinsey)
USPS Future Business Model (2010) (McKinsey)
Consumer privacy in retail (Deloitte)
Bain & UC Berkley Operational Excellence (2010) (Bain)
Rail industry cost and revenue sharing (2011) (LEK)
How fit is your allocation strategy? (EY)
The Future of Commercial Vehicle Powertrains (2012) (Kearney)
Covid-19 Special Edition Primer (Oliver Wyman)
Project Management: Improving performance, reducing risk (PwC)

When to use a takeaway box

A takeaway box attracts a lot of attention on a slide. For one, our eyes are naturally drawn to the top and bottom parts of a slide. But another reason is that the formatting of the box tends to make it stand out from the rest of the content. Look at this McKinsey slide for example. It’s hard not to notice the takeaway box, and you can’t help but read what it says:

McKinsey takeaway box example

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

So what that means is anytime you add a takeaway box to the slide, you’re taking attention away from other parts of the slide. So if you’re going to add one, you want to do it when the benefit outweighs the cost. 

Generally speaking, there are two situations where you might need a takeaway box: 

  1. When you need to call out something that isn’t immediately obvious.
  2. When you need something to help you transition into the next slide.

Let’s take each of these one at a time. Starting with the easier one.

Transition to a future slide

Here is a really simple example of a slide about healthcare wearables. The title says, “The healthcare wearables market is expected to reach $850M in 2023 driven by new technology and institutional adoption”. Then in the body of the slide, there’s a chart that indicates the market size by year, and additional text on the right that talks about the drivers of that growth. 

takeaway box example

Then the takeaway box says, “Is this an attractive market for Wiz Technologies?” So then the next slide could be a slide that addresses that question directly: 

takeaway box example with red line around takeaway box

By setting up the slide like this, you sort of prime the audience for what’s coming. In some cases, you’re probably asking a question the audience is already asking themselves. But in this way you can better control the narrative of the presentation. 

Calling attention to non-obvious insights

The second reason you might want to use a takeaway box: to call out something that isn’t immediately obvious. And, this one’s a little more tricky. With content-heavy presentations, like what you see in consulting, strategy, and finance, it can be difficult to pick up on all the nuances of a slide. Even if you put the main takeaway in the title, which you should be doing, you can’t always expect the audience to pick up on every little detail of the slide – especially if that slide has lots of text or numbers. So this is where the takeaway box comes into play. It helps show the audience insights they might not have picked up right away, but that you want them to know. 

Here is a slide from BCG showing what happens to stray dogs that enter Dallas Animal Services (or DAS). For example, in 2016 37% were euthanized, 34% were adopted, 17% were transferred, and 9% were returned to their owners. 

BCG takeaway box example

“Loose dogs in Dallas” BCG, August 2016

The main message of the slide is that 60% of dogs in Dallas Animal Services achieve positive outcomes. So everything on the slide, including the takeaway box, should support that message. The chart shows the number of dogs coming into DAS by year, further broken down by outcome type (notice by the way how all the positive outcomes are green or blue, while the negative outcome is red).

Then the takeaway box down at the bottom says “Each year DAS has increased live outcomes”. In other words, it’s calling attention to the fact that the green section has increased as a percentage of total outcomes every year. In 2011 it’s about 30%, but in 2016 it’s closer to 60%. You can see it visually in the chart itself, but you also get a sense for the change with the section on the right that shows growth rates since 2011. Euthanized is going down, while all the others are going up. 

BCG takeaway box example with red boxes around chart segments

The takeaway box is calling attention to something that’s already there but not immediately obvious. You could argue that it is obvious, but not everyone is going to think of that right away. Especially because the title is telling you to focus on the 60% positive outcomes. So the takeaway box is just there to make sure the audience gets all the insights you want them to. 

An easy way to think about the takeaway box is to imagine you’re giving the presentation live. What sort of information would you want to express orally? If I was showing this slide to a client I might add something like, “So as you can see live outcomes have actually been increasing over the last 5 years.” But by instead adding that in a takeaway box, you make sure the audience sees it, and, it’s there for people who don’t hear the presentation live. 

Important takeaway box considerations

There are a few other really important things to call out. The first is that the takeaway box isn’t adding any new information. That’s a common mistake. You don’t want to call out insights that aren’t supported by the slide content because it’s confusing for the audience. 

BCG example with red box around takeaway box

The second thing is you don’t want to just repeat what’s in the title. Despite its name, the takeaway box shouldn’t actually be the main takeaway of the slide – that should be in the title. Instead, the takeaway box should provide what’s sometimes referred to as a second order inference. You could think of it as a second, less important takeaway, but one that still supports the overall message of the slide. This can be tricky of course because you don’t want to confuse your audience by having multiple messages on your slide. 

Notice how the title and takeaway box provide separate pieces of information, yet they both support the overall message of the slide about the growth in positive outcomes. Is it perfect? definitely not, but BCG does a pretty good job here of stating a message, supporting that message, then calling attention to other important information the audience might not have noticed. 

BCG example with red arrow pointing to title and to takeaway box

When to use a subtitle

You might be wondering what the subtitle is all about. You don’t see them all the time but BCG likes to use them a lot. In short, they’re just to help direct the audience a little bit more, especially for data-heavy slides. They’re usually more specific than the title and they tell us where to look to better understand the main message of the slide.

BCG example with red box around subtitle

In this example, it’s drawing attention to the two growth rates, which are pretty important parts of the slide. 

BCG example with red arrows pointing to CAGR callouts

Summary

So to summarize, the title provides the main message, the subtitle supports that message with more specifics to help direct the audience, and the takeaway box calls attention to a less important but still related insight that might not be as obvious. 

BCG example that shows purpose of title, subtitle, and takeaway box

If you couldn’t tell, takeaway boxes are really easy to use incorrectly. My advice would be to only use them if you’re sure it’ll improve your slide. A general rule of thumb is to use them less than 20% of the time, if you even use them at all. And when you do use them, make sure it’s to transition into the next slide, or to call out a non-obvious insight that still supports the message of the slide. 

You can watch a video version of this article on YouTube.

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