The power of a Powerpoint checklist
Creating deliciously color-coordinated Powerpoint presentations is one of the first tasks you will be set to do as a junior banker.
And there better not be any mistakes when you hand them in at 2 AM.
This is the Powerpoint checklist you need to go through every time before you hit print.
Why is perfection important?
Why do we care so much? First of all, the feeling of sitting in a meeting, eyeing a horrible spelling mistake on slide 4, or a missing graph on slide 23, just doesn’t feel good. If you’re responsible for putting a senior in that position, they won’t be happy about it.
Shouldn’t we be able to laugh it off and apologize to the client? Oh, never. All valuation and modeling work in finance is based on excruciating attention to detail.
If you can’t even get a presentation right, then how can anything you deliver be trusted? This is how people think, and I can understand why.
Tiny mistakes are expensive. You don’t want someone in charge if they aren’t able to spot those before getting materials to you.
This is especially important if you’re printing a pitchbook. You’re there to impress the client. Not to underwhelm them.
But I don’t need a checklist to remember
How do we find our own mistakes if we don’t know which ones to look for? It’s often hard, especially when it’s late. The safest bet is to have a long checklist and never deviate from it.
A Powerpoint checklist may seem like something only a child would need, but that’s not true at all. Simple checklists turn out to improve anything from death rates at hospitals to flight crashes. If you don’t believe me, read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. He’ll explain it to you.
Are you too good for checklists? I don’t think so. And I know I’m not. Even after several years in banking, I still pick up mistakes like that.
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1. Print your drafts first
The first thing you need to do before printing the actual presentation is to print the draft. It’s much easier to spot things like spelling mistakes or wrong number formatting.
Take a break before going through the slides, and sit down with a red pen. Highlight anything that doesn’t look right to you, and then go back and fix it.
Best practice is to ask someone else to read through as well. Two pairs of eyes are better than one.
The printing itself can also be a source of error. Make sure all colors and graphs look the same as they do on screen.
Sometimes, text and graphs can disappear if you’re not careful enough. One trick is to create a pdf which you then print as a picture. This will usually give you the least amount of missing materials in the slide deck.
2. Get the spelling right
There are two parts of this. The first is obvious. Never spell a word wrong.
You need to check that every word is spelled correctly. If you pitch in English, Grammarly is invaluable. It doesn’t work with Powerpoint, but you can copy the text into Word and get the spell-check there.
The built-in programs aren’t enough.
The second part is to make sure you use the preferred spelling methods within your firm.
Several words can have different spellings that are all correct. For example advisor vs. adviser.
Your bank probably has a policy telling you exactly what to use. Ask someone where you can find the list.
If there isn’t a specified style, check that you’re consistent through the entire presentation. Never use two different versions of the same word.
Since I’m not a native English speaker, I make this mistake way too often. Luckily, I have some great analysts who usually spot those things quickly.
3. Consistent number formats and units
Always use the same number formatting. The same goes for dates. And units.
As with spelling, your bank should have a preferred standard. If not, do as always and stick to the same standard for all graphs, numbers, and units.
Maybe you can get away with having different styles on graphs that are on two different pages, but never if they’re on the same slide. It looks ridiculous.
Here is an example where an analyst didn’t adjust the frequency of dates shown on the x-axis.
It should be easy to spot, but I come across slides like this all the time. Don’t give your associate or VP a slide that looks like this:
4. Align every single object on your slide
Meet your new best friend – the alignment tool. This is what you use to make every box and every line start or stop at the exact same height or width. You’ll never go a day without using this.
I find it almost impossible to see it if a box is half a millimeter off.
If you always use the alignment tool when boxes, arrows or anything else is supposed to be aligned, you save yourself the trouble of looking at it.
5. Check every font manually
Follow the rules for which font types and sizes you’re allowed to use.
Easy, you say? Don’t forget to check the text inside every individual box in your Excel graphs. Autoformatting often lets you down.
Did you think that tool in Excel that’s supposed to set the font type to the correct one actually works? It mostly doesn’t.
You need to click into every axis and every label to make sure the text doesn’t deviate from the norm.
6. Search and replace
Using search and replace is one of the easiest ways to check for simple spelling mistakes or traces of old project names when you re-use slides.
If you know there are some mistakes you often make, search for them in the slide deck. In addition, search for all of these things:
- Words you know have different spelling standards
- Double spaces, which are almost impossible to see
- Old project names
Bankers are masters of re-using old slides. Because of that, old project names might appear.
Or even worse, if you use code names for fun while working on a project, make sure to search for them in the deck and remove them. An organization chart showing your plans for the new DefaultCo, doesn’t look good.
7. Move the colors around
Ok, so you already know that your bank has a color palette you need to follow.
Did you also remember to check that the ranking of colors is correct? Not only should you just use the colors on your firm’s palette, but you also need to arrange them in the right order inside graphs or boxes.
If you’re creating a graph with only two colors, you’re not necessarily free to use any two colors in the palette. You should use color number 1 and color number 2.
8. Don’t forget the front page
This one is super easy but often forgotten. Always triple check dates, names, and pictures on the front page.
If you created a super fancy cover page for a pitch within the same industry, and used a picture from the company you were pitching for, change it before the next pitch.
9. Bullet styles matter
Always be consistent with the style you use for bullets. Never use full stops in bullets, or do. But never change between two different versions within one presentation.
If you want some general guidelines to follow, use these:
- No full stops after short bullets
- If your bullet includes entire sentences with full stops in them, use them at the end as well. And don’t forget to do so for all the bullets on the slide.
10. Include sources and notes
Use sources everywhere, and get them right. Depending on what kind of jurisdiction you work in, this can be a make or break. Yes, US lawyers, I’m thinking about you! Don’t write anything you can’t support with numbers.
Do you see an orphaned * or a 1 somewhere on the slide? A lot of people include them and forget to write out the explanation down in the notes section on the page. Make sure you’re not one of them.
Are there any other points you always check before printing slides? Please comment below to create an even better powerpoint checklist.