The Art of Reading a PowerPoint Slide (lessons from consulting)

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By Paul Moss

Nov 21, 2023

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In the world of consulting and finance, PowerPoint presentations are a staple. But have you ever found yourself staring at a dense, data-packed slide, unsure of where to start or what to focus on? Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate and understand these complex slides effectively.


Step 1: Start with the Title

It might seem like a no-brainer, but the title of the slide is your starting point. Often, we jump directly to the graphs, numbers, or bullet points that catch our eye first. However, the title holds the essence of what the slide is about. It’s the compass that points you towards the slide’s key message.


Why the Title Matters: The title gives you the highest level idea of what the slide is about. It sets the stage for the information that follows. By understanding the title, you lay the foundation for comprehending the slide’s details without getting lost or overwhelmed.

Step 2: Contextualize the Slide

Every slide is a piece of a larger puzzle. To fully grasp its significance, ask yourself how this slide fits into the overall presentation or project. Contextualizing the slide helps in filtering what’s essential from what’s supplementary.

Understanding the Bigger Picture: Think about the slide in relation to what came before it and what might come after. This perspective helps you focus on the core aspects and makes it easier to connect the dots.

Step 3: Look for Supporting Data

Now, dive into the details. Examine the data, graphs, and bullet points. How do these elements support the key takeaway of the slide? This step is about identifying the evidence that backs up the main message.


Spotting Key Insights: By analyzing the supporting data, you can identify the crucial insights the slide offers. Ask yourself what stands out and why it’s important. This approach prevents you from getting bogged down by less relevant details.

Step 4: Be Critical

With a clear understanding of the slide’s purpose, context, and supporting data, it’s time to critically assess the slide. Look for areas where the support might be weak, or details that are irrelevant to the main message.

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Evaluating Slide Effectiveness: This step is about refining your understanding and identifying any gaps or flaws in the slide. It’s a skill that gets better with practice and makes you more adept at analyzing complex information.


Reading dense PowerPoint slides in consulting and finance can be daunting, but by following these steps, you’ll develop a systematic approach to extract the most important information. Remember, it’s not just about understanding each slide in isolation but seeing how it fits into the larger narrative. With practice, you’ll become proficient at quickly deciphering even the most complex slides.

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