You know that effective financial management is one of the most essential ingredients for business success, and that communicating this information to key people within your organization is important for achieving company objectives. So it can be frustrating when your audience simply doesn’t listen to your message or take it on board.
But blame can’t wholly be directed at your audience; numbers themselves are abstract and intangible, which makes them difficult to understand on their own and even harder to absorb and remember.
What this means for finance professionals is that they have to work particularly hard on their presentations to shape raw data into an interesting and memorable message that’ll keep listeners engaged.
Luckily, we have some expert tips to help your numbers resonate with non-financial staff across the business. Remember that even the driest financial details can be made impactful if delivered in the right way, with proper context, and at just the right point.
Start with an Objective and Agenda
Your finance presentation should be trying to accomplish an objective, and you should make this explicit to the audience from the start. Clarify what you’re trying to achieve, bringing it in line with the organization’s goals so that your audience know this isn’t just another arbitrary update they need to sit through.
It’s also a good idea to set an agenda for what your presentation will cover. You’ll find it a lot easier to hold your audience’s attention if they know where you are in your presentation and how long is left. They can also then save their questions for the appropriate sections, meaning fewer diversions relating to points you’ll cover later on.
Establishing an agenda for your presentation is also useful during the planning phase, as it allows you to organize your content in a logical way under distinct headings. You can set the financial scene and work towards dramatic reveals of key quantitative information, rather than just unloading this onto your audience from the start.
Don’t Brain-Dump onto Slides
A mistake that many financial staff make is trying to say everything at once on their slides. Take care to avoid such info dumps as they can bore, confuse or even intimidate your audience.
Your finance presentation should aim to empower your company’s leadership to make informed decisions. They won’t be able to do this if they’re confused about the numbers.
It’s an easy thing to get wrong: you’ll want to be transparent about the full financial picture, but presentations simply aren’t the place to comb exhaustively through financial detail. Even if you can see how everything fits together, it’s important to recognize that your audience probably won’t have the same financial literacy. So it falls to you to communicate the top-level headlines as efficiently as possible.
Take a step back to think about which figures contained in your financial statements are the most important to the business’s bottom line. Include just the key data and talk around it in greater depth—share the information that closely affects your audience’s roles and their day-to-day.
Barrages of statistics are too much for anyone to take in, but remember that you can provide full financial breakdowns in separate documentation. Or you can use ‘hidden’ slides that aren’t part of your main presentation, but which can be brought up as necessary.
Give Your Data Proper Context
Just delivering the numbers isn’t enough: you need to make it clear what they mean and why they’re significant. Data and measurability are things that executives love, but only when they can draw meaningful conclusions from them and plot actionable next steps.
This is where insight becomes essential. For companies to assess their performance and set goals, they need to analyze and investigate the nitty gritty of what the numbers indicate.
For example, ‘profit this year is a net total of $100,000’ is just raw data; we don’t know if it’s good or bad, or what it means moving forward. However, ‘profit has fallen 50% on the previous year’ is a piece of context-rich insight that can help inform future plans.
Build messages around metrics and benchmarks your audience are familiar with, whether that means past performance, projected figures, industry averages or competitor data. This will help seat your data within context and make it much more interesting.
Take Advantage of Data Visualization
If you bombard your audience with bullet points and tables, their eyes are going to glaze over faster than you can say ‘spreadsheet.’
You’ll be glad to hear that there’s a better way of communicating data. While numbers are complex and difficult to understand, our brains can process visual information incredibly quickly, so it makes sense that you’d want to use data visualization to convey financial messages.
But the pedestrian formats that your audience see every day aren’t enough to hold their interest. You’ll need to go beyond these styles if you want your data to stand out: even small variations on established modes are enough to make your material more memorable.
And you don’t have to be a professional graphic designer to accomplish great results: there’s a huge selection of data visualization tools out there now for non-designers, so you’re bound to find something that fits your dataset.
Get Your Audience Involved
Don’t let your presentation become a droning monologue. Instead, make use of techniques that call for the audience’s direct involvement. They’ll be much more switched on when they’re playing an active part in the financial and budgetary process, and will retain information more easily.
Get your audience engaging with your numbers by asking them questions, seeking their feedback and openly discussing ideas with them. Take time to understand their motivations and speak directly to their priorities when presenting financial information.
Author: Jonathan Branney is Marketing Executive at Buffalo7, the UK’s leading PowerPoint presentation design agency. Its clients include UEFA Champions League, Red Bull, the Guardian and Unilever.