How to create effective consulting slides using Minto Principles

Consulting Toolkit  

If you are a consultant (or aspire to be one!), you know how important it is to create clear and persuasive slides that communicate your ideas and recommendations to your clients.

But how do you design slides that are not only visually appealing, but also logical and structured? One of the most widely used frameworks for creating consulting slides is the Minto Principles, developed by Barbara Minto, a former McKinsey consultant and author of The Pyramid Principle.

The Minto Principles are based on the idea that any presentation should be organized as a pyramid, with a single main message/takeaway at the top, supported by a few key points below, each of which is further supported by evidence and analysis. Structuring information like this allows you to instantly convey the takeaway that your readers are looking for and then prove its value throughout the rest of the presentation.

image of Minto principle pyramid
What is the Minto Principle?

Why use the Minto Pyramid Principle?

The Pyramid Principle helps your audience comprehend your message quickly because of the order in which it presents the key points;

  • Top level: The Key message/Answer you need to communicate. 
  • Second level: The key points supporting the the Top level/Key message
  • Third level: Data that supports second-level points.

The principal intentionally begins with the answer first. When you take this approach, the reader has time to absorb it and can easily see how your later points support it, which strengthens your argument. 

The third level data supports the second level points, answering any questions that might be raised and further strengthening your argument. Each piece of information in your pyramid supports the level above it.

The Minto Pyramid Principle can help you create slides that are:

MECE: Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive. This means that each slide should cover one main topic without overlapping with other slides, and that all the relevant aspects of the topic should be addressed (when you hear consultants saying "Is it mee-cee" this is what they're talking about!)

SCQA: Situation, Complication, Question, Answer. This is a simple way to structure your story and capture the attention of your audience. Start by describing the current situation and the problem or challenge that arises from it. Then pose a question that reflects the main issue or decision that needs to be resolved. Finally, provide your answer or recommendation, along with the rationale and benefits. I'll explain this principle a little more later in the article.

Top-down: This means that you start with the most important and general information and then drill down into the details as needed. This helps your audience follow your logic and understand your main points quickly.

How do you use the Minto Pyramid Principles?

The Minto principles consist of four elements: situation, complication, question, and answer (SCQA). These elements form the basis of your main message and your slide titles. Let's look at each element in more detail:

  • Situation: This is the context or background of your presentation. It describes what is happening or what has happened in the past that is relevant to your topic.
  • Complication: This is the problem or challenge that your client is facing or will face in the future. It explains why the situation is not satisfactory or stable and why action is needed.
  • Question: This is the main question that your presentation aims to answer. It should be clear, specific, and relevant to your client's goals and needs.
  • Answer: This is your main recommendation or solution to the question. It should be concise, actionable, and supported by evidence.

Using the SCQA framework, you can craft a powerful main message that summarizes your presentation and captures your audience's attention.

This main message can also serve as the title of your executive summary slide, which should be the first slide of your presentation. The executive summary slide should provide an overview of your key findings and recommendations, as well as the benefits and risks of implementing them.

The rest of your slides should follow the same pyramid structure as your main message, with each slide having a clear title that reflects a key point or sub-point of your argument. Each slide title should also follow the SCQA format, with a situation, complication, question, and answer.

The Minto Pyramid Principle explained

Tips on how to apply Minto principles to your consulting slides:

  • Use headlines that summarize your main message. Avoid vague or generic headlines that do not convey any information or insight. For example, instead of "Market Analysis", you could use "Market is growing but fragmented and competitive".
  • Use bullet points to break down your message into sub-points. Each bullet point should be a complete sentence that supports your headline. Avoid using more than four bullet points per slide, as this can make your slide look cluttered and confusing (consultants love groups of three!!)
  • Use charts, graphs, tables, or diagrams to illustrate your data and evidence. Choose the right type of visual aid for your purpose and audience. For example, use a pie chart to show proportions, a bar chart to compare values, or a line chart to show trends. Make sure visuals are clear, simple, and consistent with your message.
  • Use colors, fonts, and icons to enhance slide design. Use colors to highlight key points or differences, fonts to emphasize headings or labels, and icons to add visual interest or clarity. Avoid using too many colors or fonts - it can distract from your message or make your slide look unprofessional.
  • Review and edit slides for clarity, accuracy, and impact. Check your slides for spelling, grammar, and formatting errors. Make sure your slides are consistent in style and tone. Ask for feedback from your colleagues or clients and revise your slides accordingly.

By using the Minto principles, you can create effective consulting slides that are logical, structured, and persuasive. You can also ensure that your slides are consistent with each other and aligned with your main message. Remember to keep your slides simple, clear, and focused on the most important information for your audience.

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