A Comprehensive Guide to PowerPoint for Consultants

Adam Smith

1. Introduction

In the world of consulting and professional presentations, success hinges not just on the quality of your insights but on how effectively you convey them. From the layout of each slide to the overall aesthetic of a presentation, every element plays a crucial role in engaging, educating, and persuading your audience. Whether you’re presenting findings to a client, collaborating with team members, or navigating feedback from higher-ups, mastering the art of creating presentations is paramount. In this guide, we go over the essential things you need to know in order to build compelling slides and presentations in PowerPoint.

2. Before You Start

A well-laid foundation ensures that the rest of the process is smoother and more efficient. With these steps in mind before beginning, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a compelling, impactful presentation.

Understanding Your Audience

Every presentation begins with understanding who you’re speaking to. Catering your content, tone, and delivery to your audience ensures resonance and engagement.

  • Clients: Focus on persuasive, clear insights that address their pain points.
  • Team Members: Aim for clarity, collaboration, and actionable steps.
  • Managers & Partners: Highlight key findings, be concise, and anticipate questions.

Defining The Objective

Before you touch any tool or start crafting content, clarify the objective of your presentation. Are you informing? Persuading? Instructing? Your purpose shapes every subsequent choice.

Storyboarding: Your Blueprint

Think of your presentation as a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Sketching a rough storyboard helps in:

  • Ensuring flow and coherence
  • Identifying key turning points or moments of emphasis
  • Avoiding redundant or overlapping content

Time Management

Never underestimate the time required to create a polished presentation.

  • Drafting: Allocate ample time for your first draft.
  • Reviewing: Factor in multiple review cycles, including self-review and feedback from peers or supervisors.
  • Revising: Tweaks, adjustments, and overhauls can be time-consuming. Ensure you’re not rushed.

Sourcing Graphics & Visual Elements

Remember, visuals can elevate your presentation, but sourcing can be time-consuming.

  • Bookmark trusted resources like NounProject.com or Unsplash.com
  • Ensure visuals align with your presentation’s theme and tone
  • Always respect copyright and licensing agreements

Setting Up Templates & Styles

Before beginning, decide on:

  • Color schemes (consistent with audience or brand guidelines)
  • Fonts (readable, professional)
  • Header and footer elements (logo, page number, date, etc.)
  • Standard slide layouts

3. Speed

Efficiency is vital for consultants, especially when crafting visually impactful presentations. This section focuses on maximizing your proficiency with PowerPoint to save time and produce high-quality content.

Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar

The customizability of PowerPoint allows for swift access to regularly used functions.

How to Customize:

  • Navigate to File → Options
    • For the Ribbon: Customize Ribbon
    • For the Quick Access Toolbar: Quick Access Toolbar
  • Here, functions can be added, removed, or repositioned.
  • Both sections allow for the import/export of customization files.

Pro Tips:

  1. Position the Quick Access Toolbar below the ribbon for convenience.
  2. Arrange frequently used functions at the start of your toolbar and use the combination Alt+# for instant access.

Slide Master

Every presentation is governed by three primary masters: Slide, Handout, and Notes. Modifications to a master apply globally to associated slides, ensuring consistency and efficiency.

Accessing and Using the Slide Master:

  • Accessible through the View ribbon.
  • The Slide Master defines formats for titles, text, including the title slide.
  • Proper usage of placeholders in the Master is essential for easy future edits and global adjustments to font properties and positioning.

Typical Elements on a Slide Master:

  • Breadcrumb Placeholder
  • Title Placeholder
  • Client/Firm Logo
  • Page Number
  • Copyright/Confidentiality Notice
  • Guides

Working with Shapes

Uses of Shapes

Shapes, in their myriad forms, offer both functional and aesthetic benefits to a presentation. Understanding their potential and varied uses can significantly elevate the quality of your slides, making them both engaging and informative.
1. Page Setup
Shapes play a fundamental role in structuring the layout of your slides. By using various shapes, you can create clear and organized sections, headers, or dividers on a page.

  • Backgrounds: Use large rectangles or other shapes to define a distinct background, especially for title slides or section dividers.
  • Borders & Frames: Accentuate important parts of your slide, like images or quotes, with shaped borders.
  • Guides: Employ lines or arrows to guide the viewer’s attention or indicate flow.


  • Stick to a consistent style or theme throughout your presentation for a professional look.
  • Adjust shape transparency to create layered effects without overwhelming the content.

2. Text and Comment Boxes
Shapes aren’t just for design; they can be functional, too. Rectangles, rounded rectangles, and callout shapes serve as excellent containers for text or comments.

  • Highlighting Quotes: Use a distinct shape to differentiate a quote or testimonial from other text.
  • Annotations: Callout shapes can help provide clarifications or additional information without cluttering the main content.


  • Ensure there’s ample margin inside the shape so the text isn’t cramped.
  • Use contrasting colors between text and shape fill for readability.

3. Visual Graphics
Shapes can be instrumental in creating visual representations, icons, or infographics to simplify complex ideas.

  • Charts & Diagrams: Combine shapes to illustrate processes, cycles, or hierarchies.
  • Custom Icons: When standard icons aren’t available, shapes can be merged and formatted to create custom graphics.
  • Illustrative Symbols: Use basic shapes like circles, triangles, or arrows to symbolize ideas like caution, direction, or emphasis.


  • When creating a diagram, maintain uniformity in shape size, color, and style for a coherent look.
  • Use alignment and distribution tools to ensure your graphics are symmetrical and spaced evenly.

4. Trackers
Shapes, especially linear ones like lines or progress bars, can visually represent progress, timelines, or sequences.

  • Timelines: Use lines combined with other shapes to denote milestones or events over time.
  • Progress Bars: Rectangles or other shapes can illustrate project completion stages or percentages.
  • Sequencing: Numbered circles or arrows can guide viewers through step-by-step processes.


  • For trackers like progress bars, use gradient fills to represent progression visually.
  • Keep trackers simple and clear to avoid confusion.

Manipulating Shapes

1. Grouping
Grouping multiple shapes lets you manage them as a single unit. This is particularly useful when you have a precise arrangement of shapes that you’d like to preserve.

  • Advantages:
    • Maintains Margin/Dimensions: When resizing a group of shapes, the relative positioning and dimensions between the shapes are preserved.
    • Unified Movement: Moving a grouped set ensures that the relative positions of individual shapes remain unchanged.
    • Consistent Styling: Apply color, effects, or other styles to all shapes in the group simultaneously.


  • Use the CTRL (or CMD on Mac) key to select multiple shapes before choosing the ‘Group’ option.
  • Remember that after grouping, actions like resizing or rotation affect the entire group.

2. Formatting
Formatting allows you to modify the appearance of your shapes to suit your presentation’s aesthetic.

  • Fill & Line: Choose from solid colors, gradients, or even image fills for your shape’s interior and border.
  • Effects: Apply shadows, reflections, glows, and 3D effects to add depth or emphasis.
  • Size & Rotation: Adjust the size of your shape or rotate it to the desired angle for the perfect fit in your slide.

3. Alignment and Distribution
When you’re dealing with multiple shapes on a slide, alignment and distribution are crucial for a professional look.

  • Alignment: Ensures that shapes line up perfectly along a specified axis (horizontal or vertical).
    • For example, “Align Middle” will align multiple shapes to the same middle horizontal line.
  • Distribution: Ensures equal spacing between three or more shapes.
    • For instance, if you have three circles and want them to have equal space between them horizontally, you’d use “Distribute Horizontally”.

4. Merge
The ‘Merge Shapes’ feature allows you to create custom designs by combining two or more shapes.

  • Union: Combines multiple overlapping shapes into one.
  • Combine: Removes the overlapping portion of shapes, leaving the unique parts of each shape.
  • Fragment: Breaks the shapes into individual parts wherever they intersect.
  • Intersect: Only the overlapping portion of the shapes remains.
  • Subtract: The top shape is used to cut out from the bottom shape.


  • Experiment with different merge functions to understand their effects.
  • This feature is handy when standard shapes don’t fit your design needs, allowing for creativity and customization.

Manipulating shapes effectively can add depth, structure, and sophistication to your slides. As with any design tool, the key is to find a balance that enhances, rather than overcomplicates, your core message.

Sample Shapes:

Building a Chart in PowerPoint

Charts, if constructed well, can be effortlessly adjusted post-creation.

Charting Tips

  • Insert charts via ThinkCell.
  • Opt for the most fitting chart type.
  • Use existing data wisely.
  • Ensure thorough labeling.
  • Incorporate formulas for seamless Excel data integration.

Pro Tips

  1. Avoid embedding Excel sheets to circumvent linking complications.
  2. For data updates: First, paste the format, then the data, and manually adjust numbers.

Sample Chart

Keyboard Shortcuts

Mastering keyboard shortcuts will provide the single biggest improvement to your speed in PowerPoint.

Formatting/Editing Shortcuts

  • Copy / Paste: Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V
  • Copy Paste Formatting: Ctrl+Shift+C / Ctrl+Shift+V
  • Duplicate: Ctrl+D
  • Grouping: Ctrl+G
  • Ungroup: Ctrl+Shift+G
  • Shrinking Objects: Shift+Arrows
  • Shrinking Objects by Pixel: Ctrl+Shift+Arrows
  • Enlarging / Shrinking Fonts: Ctrl+Shift+> / <
  • Subscript / Superscript: Ctrl+Shift+”+”
  • Moving text to the next line: Shift+Enter
  • Moving cursor by word: Ctrl+Arrow
  • Highlighting cursor by word: Ctrl+Shift+Arrow
  • Highlighting a line: Ctrl+Home / Ctrl + End
  • Eyedropper
  • Hotkeys: Alt+…

Document Manipulation Shortcuts

  • Save as: Ctrl+Shift+S
  • Presentation Mode: F5 for start; Shift + F5 for current slide
  • Slide Sorter View: Access through Ribbon (View -> Slide Sorter View)
  • Sections: Right click in between slide thumbnails in the left hand column and click add section
  • New Window: View -> New Window allows you to open another window for the same presentation (can be useful to split screen on different slides in the same presentation)

4. Clarity

Crafting presentations that communicate succinctly and clearly is essential for consultants. This section sheds light on the principles and tools necessary for ensuring that your message is both compelling and unambiguous.

Presenting Information Effectively

For consultants, the power of persuasion rests in the presentation. Whether aiming to convince a client or set a clear standalone deliverable:

  • The content must accentuate the primary message, not sidetrack it.
  • The upcoming sections elucidate the best practices and pitfalls to avoid for clarity.

Identifying Ambiguous Slides

How can you tell if a slide lacks clarity?

Common Indicators:

  • A lack of focal point or a message that doesn’t stand out immediately.
  • Reading the slide is time-consuming and doesn’t lead to an instant grasp of its content.
  • The slide disrupts the narrative’s flow or doesn’t align with adjacent slides.
  • Overcrowding with multiple key insights or excessive whitespace.
  • Lack of connection or transition from one slide to another.

Displaying Data Beyond Graphs

Often, data can be represented without the use of typical graphs. Understanding and choosing the right method is crucial for clarity.


  • Best for extensive or small data sets requiring precision.
  • Ensure clarity and avoid over-complication.


  • Ideal for illustrative purposes, such as process flows or models.
  • Use titles and legends for additional clarity.


  • Great for organizing qualitative data.
  • Provides a structured view for clear takeaways.

Advanced Methods for Non-Graph Data Display

Process Flows:

  • Showcase the sequence and logic of processes.
  • Emphasize logical progression from the top-left to bottom-right.
  • Use swim lanes for denoting functional changes.

Heat Maps:

  • Visualize information through changing graphical elements.
  • Provide cues but avoid drawing data-specific conclusions.

Harvey Balls:

  • Represent subjective findings for comparisons.
  • Serve as a textual substitute for comparisons.

Tips for Enhancing Clarity

Engage Your Team Early

  • Solicit feedback during the creation phase; presentations evolve.
  • Always seek input before refining further.
  • Ensure there’s ample time for review cycles; never presume instant feedback availability.

Utilize Available Resources

  • Collaborate with peers and discuss potential slide structures.
  • Refer to previous presentations or internal sources.
  • If uncertain, research online.

Team-Centric Updates

  • Make your work accessible and easy to modify by others.
  • Stay ready for revisions; presentations evolve with time.

Adopt Flexibility

  • Every project or manager might have unique preferences.
  • Understand your team’s style and adapt accordingly.
  • Continuously seek and apply feedback to improve.

5. Aesthetics

Captivating presentations demand more than just meaningful content. How it is presented – the aesthetics – plays a significant role in capturing and retaining attention.

Core Elements of a Slide

A slide isn’t just a blank canvas; it’s structured art. Common elements on a slide include:

  • Breadcrumb
  • Title (which may serve dual purposes based on slide intent and team preference)
  • Caption or kicker
  • Main content

Determining Slide Purpose

Understanding the intention behind the slide helps in crafting its design and content.

1. Factpack
Often referred to as a “Standalone Document” or “Appendix”, it usually has:

  • Detailed information
  • Font size typically 11 or smaller
  • Comprehensive sentences
  • A declarative tone
  • Relevant references

2. Business Case
Also known as “Quantitative Proof”, this slide is characterized by:

  • Detailed content
  • Font size typically 11 or smaller
  • Highlighted key takeaways
  • An observational tone
  • Necessary footnotes and references

3. Facilitation Document
Whether you call it a “Workshop Document”, “Activity Instructions Page”, or “Presentation”, this slide:

  • Is concise and visually appealing
  • Uses a font size of 12 or larger
  • Has brief sentences
  • Maintains an instructive or conversational tone

Enhancing Aesthetic Appeal

Fonts That Elevate Your Slide:
While Segoe UI is a personal favorite, other fonts known for their readability include Sans Serif, Frutiger, Arial, Calibri, GillSans, and more.

Color Selection Techniques:

  • Choose three primary shades with varied tints.
  • Designate one as the dominant shade.
  • Consider grey as a neutral, harmonious choice.
  • Utilize transparency to add depth.

Working with Whitespace:

  • For Slides Rich in Whitespace: Utilize ample fill, integrate icons or visuals, and consider larger fonts. Don’t be afraid to make things bigger!
  • For Slides Lacking Whitespace: Prioritize structure, use visual markers, and incorporate colored headers to break monotony.

Harnessing PowerPoint’s Advanced Features

Beyond the basics, PowerPoint offers a multitude of advanced tools:

Key Functionalities:

  • Customize bullet points for better distinction.
  • Advanced fills:
    • Add gradients for depth.
    • Use shadows and glow for standout elements.
  • Precise alignments without unintended shifts.
  • Smart grouping:
    • Group logically and use it to center content effectively.
  • Before making radical changes, duplicate slides for backup.

Examples of these functionalities in practice

6. Things You Should Know

The subtle dynamics of presentation building can set apart a competent consultant from an exceptional one. Navigate these waters with the following insights.

Making Your Work Partner and Manager-Friendly

Navigating professional hierarchies often requires astute awareness. Here’s how you can enhance your interactions with partners or managers:

  1. Live Comments: Utilize shapes to highlight real-time feedback when projecting content.
  2. File Sharing: Find out whether they prefer being sent files over Teams or via Email.
    • Protip: If you think the content will be viewed on a mobile device, send it as a PDF.
  3. Be Clear: Always clarify next steps and determine who is accountable for them.
  4. Quality Assurance: As a new consultant, avoid making direct changes when you’re asked to QA a deck.
    • Protip: Propose edits using comments or red text
  5. Grouping Logic: Use smart grouping. Remember, groupings create an extra step when editing individual objects.
  6. Sectioning: Regular sections include the Storyboard (where you outline the story you are telling throughout the deck), Appendix (where more detailed information is usually placed), and the Graveyard (a temporary section where you keep slides during the editing process).
  7. Sticker Drafts & Selective Hiding: Use these features to earmark and prioritize content effectively.

Slide Blunders to Avoid

Ensure your slides are polished by avoiding these common missteps:

  1. Text boxes on top of a shape: You should always place the text directly in a shape whenever possible)
  2. Title / Header Inconsistencies: Make sure the positioning and formatting of your title/header are consistent throughout the presentation)
  3. Using spaces to indent / create margins: Indentations and margins should always be created using the built-in functionality)
  4. Having multiple Slide Masters: Your presentation should only have one slide master, so you need to be careful when pasting slides from other presentations, as their slide masters are imported simultaneously)
  5. Detaching titles from their associated text: Titles of subsections of a slide should be located near their associated text to ensure viewers are able to link the two and understand the content of a slide with just a glance.
  6. Double spacing: Your spacing needs to be consitent throughout all text blocks – always be on the lookout for additional spacing between rows.
  7. Selecting anything else besides “Do Not Autofit” Boxes: This setting should be enabled by default on textboxes to avoid unintentional sizing behavior.
  8. Iconography type / use: Icons should be related to the content placed nearby, and should be from the same set of icons.
  9. Animations: You should never use animiations for your presentation in a work related setting.

Vital Knowledge for Effective Presentation

The devil’s in the details, they say. Here are things you just need to know:

  1. Naming Conventions: Follow standard naming conventions such as Project Name_WorkshopName/DocumentPurpose_mmddyy_version#_initials
  2. Dual Screen Set-up: Screen real estate is extremely helpful when working on PowerPoint and Excel, so try to work with a dual screen set-up whenever possible.
  3. Useful Resources: There are a variety of free and paid resources you can use to speed up your workflow, some of which are mentioned below.
    • Iconography Deck: If your firm doesn’t already have one, you should create a deck with a bunch of icons from the same set for consistency and quick access when creating presentations.
    • PowerPoint Add-Ins: Think-Cell and PowerTools can greatly speed up your efficiency when creating slides in PowerPoint.
    • NounProject.com: Great online resource for icons.
    • Unsplash.com: Great online resource for royalty free imagery.
  4. Do not embed your Excel workbook into Powerpoint: This can cause a lot of issues ranging from performance when you’re presenting to compatibility issues when sharing the file.

7. Conclusion

Effective communication is the bedrock of impactful consulting. As we’ve explored, the nuances of presenting information, whether through aesthetics, clarity, or basic essentials, can make a significant difference in your professional endeavors. By avoiding common pitfalls, leveraging the right tools, and continuously refining your approach, you’re not just presenting data or findings; you’re telling a story that resonates. As you move forward, let this guide serve as a compass, helping you navigate the challenges and intricacies of the presentation landscape. Remember, it’s the subtle details and unwavering commitment to excellence