How to Make Project Plan Presentations for Clients and Execs

Project presentation is a critical part of project management.  Whether gaining stakeholder commitment or updating clients and executives on progress, success depends on a your ability to effectively present the project plan. This article reviews approaches and techniques for creating an impressive project review that non-project people can quickly understand.

Project Plan Slide - How To Make Them

Avoid complex project documentation when presenting projects

Project visuals for clients and executives should be kept at a high level to avoid losing your audience in too much complexity. Rather than re-using detailed project documentation, quickly create project visuals that are easy for non-project audiences to understand. Presenting a simpler project review to clients and executives will help you stay on message and it will provide them the opportunity to drill down for details when they need to.

Most often project planning is done with specialized tools like Microsoft Project. This software is perfect for managing the complexity of many interrelated tasks and events, and for creating detailed project documentation, however, it falls short in generating high-level charts. The visuals, like the example below, are not well suited for client and executive reviews. An exec-level project review should summarize the plan and it’s progress in graphically appealing way, making it easier for your audience to quickly digest the information and understand implications to the business.

Creating a graphical project presentation

The best technique for presenting a project plan, is to make chart that visually relates the  tasks (activities) of a project and with the project's critical milestones , as shown in the example at the top of this page. Presenting your project plan in this way helps clients and managers quickly see the scheduled tasks, the duration for each task, the sequence of the tasks and their dependency on preceding tasks (critical path). Showing the project’s tasks alongside the critical milestones of the plan makes it easier for audiences to connect your project activities with important events.

Techniques for creating visual project charts

The easiest and most familiar way for creating a graphical project presentation is to make it in PowerPoint or Excel.  There are two charting techniques for presenting project plans.

  1. The first is to show the tasks and how they are scheduled. This is typically done with a Gantt chart.
  2. The second technique is to present the milestones of a project. This is done with a timeline chart.

Since the intention of an executive project review is to connect both the critical tasks with the important milestones on a single timescale, your presentation should include both a Gantt chart and a timeline on a single unified chart.

Below we will show you easy alternatives for creating project charts with Excel and with PowerPoint. We will explain how to make a Gantt chart in Excel using a bar graph, and how to make a Excel timeline using a scatter graph. Also we will show how to quickly make a single, unified Gantt chart + Timeline presentation in PowerPoint by using an add-in for PowerPoint.

Organize your project schedule in Excel

A good first step in building your project’s schedule is to draft it in Excel first. To do this you will need to breakdown your plan into smaller pieces of work, called tasks. Project management in excel typically means listing each of those tasks on a table and placing them in the right sequence. These tasks will form your Gantt chart, and the order of these tasks will form your project schedule. 

In addition to tasks you will also need to have an Excel table that lists the critical milestones and deadlines your plan must achieve. These milestones and deadlines will form your timeline presentation. I have included a simple example of my project schedule below.

As discussed above you will want to limit it to the right amount of detail for an executive level review, so it is not over complex. If your project schedule has more than 20 tasks and 20 milestones, you may want to trim it down so it will be easier for your audiences to understand.

Project Plan Schedule

Presenting a project plan with PowerPoint

PowerPoint is a good tool for building project presentations. Since it is a graphical application, it is designed for creating and communicating charts in a visual way. Additionally, since it is pervasive throughout enterprises PowerPoint is familiar to audiences, and slides can be easily shared. There are three ways to build project slides in PowerPoint:

  1. Use a timeline maker to automatically create native PowerPoint charts (like the example at the top) by importing and synchronizing your Excel table.
  2. Use a PowerPoint timeline template and manually customize it with the data from your project schedule.
  3. Create PowerPoint slides by building a timeline and a Gantt chart in Excel and paste those images onto a static PowerPoint slide

Create your project presentations natively in PowerPoint

Option 1: Use a PowerPoint timeline maker

The easiest way to turn your project data into a presentation, is to use a timeline maker. Office Timeline is a timeline maker that plugs into PowerPoint and automatically turns project plans into graphical slides which can be easily shared and edited. You can enter data into Office Timeline directly or you can import your data from Excel or Microsoft Project. 

To import the project schedule you created in Excel, use the Office Timeline Plus import wizard which will link to your project spreadsheet (or a Microsoft Project file) and instantly create a PowerPoint slide that includes both a Gantt chart and a timeline. Since the slide is linked to a worksheet it can be synchronized and updated with the click of a button when data changes.

  • To begin with you will need to install Office Timeline Plus, which will add a new project schedule tab to the PowerPoint ribbon. Open it and select new to add your data into PowerPoint or import to import it from Excel.  Watch this video tutorial to see how Office Timeline creates project slides.

Project Plan Slide - How To Make Them

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Option 2: Use a timeline template.

An alternative to using a timeline maker for creating your project plan, is to download and edit a free timeline template. These are PowerPoint templates that have been graphically designed and are made available for free. The benefit of using a timeline template is that they are pre-formatted, however, unlike the automation of a timeline maker, they require manual editing which can become tedious particularly as things change.

  • Download a timeline template from a PowerPoint template collection and customize it by entering your project’s tasks and milestones. Do this by manually aligning the milestone and task objects on the template slide so the dates of your project schedule are properly aligned with the timescale. You can find a variety of PowerPoint project templates from this  free timeline template collection .

Project Presentation Collection

Make project presentation charts with Excel

Option 3: Build a timeline and a Gantt chart in Excel

Excel is not as graphical as PowerPoint is. Because of this, project presentations built with Excel charts will tend to look more graph-like. Also, Excel does not combine a Gantt (tasks) with a timeline (milestones) in one chart, so you will need to create two separate visuals and combine them on one slide or present them individually. To do that you will first need to make a Gantt chart showing the tasks of your project plan, and then make a timeline with your project milestones. Here’s how:

Step 1: Make a Gantt chart in Excel with the stacked bar chart function

  • Once you have your project schedule in Excel you will add the task data into an Excel stacked bar graph and then follow approximately 20+ formatting steps to transform it from a stacked bar chart into an Excel Gantt chart, which will end up looking something like the chart below. You can see a video tutorial and a visual guide of all the formatting steps required to create an Excel Gantt chart here:

Excel Gantt Chart

Step 2: Make a timeline in Excel using the scatter chart function.

  • To make a timeline in Excel you will use a scatter chart. Add your data to the scatter chart then follow approximately 25 steps to format it so it looks like a timeline presentation, as shown below. You can see an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide and a how-to video tutorial here:

Excel Timeline Project Plan

Excel is familiar and accessible however there are limitations for a creating project presentations with it.

  • You can’t combine a Gantt chart with a Timeline. Executives and clients want to see both a Gantt chart and a timeline simultaneously. They want visibility into the critical milestones and important tasks of a plan. This can’t be easily done with Excel.
  • To make a timeline presentation or Gantt chart in Excel requires advanced skill. Converting Excel’s stacked and scatter charts into Gantt charts and timelines depends on properly following a specific sequence of formatting steps. This requires Excel proficiency.
  • Excel charts don’t look as appealing as PowerPoint slides and are more difficult to share.

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