When the finance person in the business speaks, everyone should listen. But as many frustrated Finance Directors can attest, they often don’t.
The blame for this shouldn’t be directed solely at the audience of other people within the company – a large portion of the responsibility lies with numbers themselves. By their very nature, they are intangible and abstract. They have few semantic properties of their own, which makes them difficult to engage with, absorb and remember.
Make finance presentations more interesting
This is why those responsible for crunching the numbers need to work particularly hard on their finance presentations to make the data resonate with non-financial staff.
Luckily, our presentation design experts have some finance presentation tips to help you shape that raw material into a memorable message that will keep your audience engaged.
1) Don’t dump all your data on the slides
This is where a lot of financial staff get it wrong. They try to say everything all at once and end up filling their slides with numerical brain dumps that bore, confuse or even intimidate their audience.
The purpose of your finance presentation should be to give the company’s leadership the quantitative information they need to make informed business decisions, but they won’t be empowered to do so if they’re confused about the numbers.
It’s an easy mistake to make: you want to be transparent and give your audience the full picture, but finance presentations aren’t the right place to exhaustively go over every figure.
You’ll be able to see how everything fits together, but you need to recognise that your audience probably won’t have the same level of financial literacy. So it’s your job to communicate just the important top-level headlines in the most effective way possible.
Stand back and think about how many figures in your financial statements actually matter to the business’s bottom line. Include just those key numbers in your financial presentation and talk around them in detail. Share with your audience the headlines that affect the day-to-day of their function with the organisation.
Barrages of statistics are too much for your audience to take in, but remember that you can provide full breakdowns as separate documentation. Or you can use hidden slides that aren’t part of the main presentation, but which you can bring up as necessary in response to queries.
2) Seat your numbers in context
Just telling people what the numbers are isn’t enough. You need to go into what they indicate and why they’re significant. In other words, you need to tell the story behind the data.
Executives love data and measurability, but only when they can draw meaningful conclusions from it and prepare actionable next steps. Don’t assume your audience will be able to extrapolate meaning by staring at a set of statistics, even if you yourself can.
This is where insight comes into play: it’s essential for companies to assess their performance and plot their goals. Through analysis and investigation, you’ll want to really dig into the nitty gritty of what the numbers mean for your business.
For example, ‘profit this year is at a net total £500,000’ is just raw data – we can’t tell whether it’s good or bad, or what it means moving forward. However, ‘net profit has risen to twice that of the nearest competitor’ is a piece of insight that’s full of context and can help inform future action.
Craft a message around metrics and benchmarks that your audience are already familiar with – whether this means past performance, projected performance, industry averages or competitor data. This will lend you data more context and make it much more interesting and easier to retain.
3) Make use of data visualisation
Let’s face it, of course your audience are going to lose interest if you bombard them with Excel sheets and bullet points. While numerical information is complex and difficult to understand, our brains can process visual information and construct meaning from it incredibly quickly.
So it makes sense that you’d want to take advantage of data visualisation to communicate financial messages more efficiently. Graphic representations of data lend the material context and scale, enabling us to better understand what it means.
But charts and graphs generated from Excel graphs won’t win you any hearts and minds – your audience see them all the time and they’re boring. You need to go beyond the pedestrian formats to make your data stand out: even just small variations on established styles are enough to make your information more memorable.
Don’t be scared of experimenting with data visualisation – you don’t need to be a professional presentation designer to get great results. In fact, there’s a huge selection of data visualisation tools out there specifically for non-designers, so we’re sure you’ll something that works for your type of dataset.
4) Have an agenda and structure
As with any kind of public speaking, there should be an objective you’re trying to accomplish with your finance presentation. Clarify what you want to achieve at the start to validate why you’re there: make clear this isn’t just another arbitrary finance update your audience need to sit through.
Bring your objective in line with the organisation’s business objectives so that it’s directly relevant. For example, if talking about cash flow, your objective could be to make clear how this will affect the business decisions that can be made going into the next quarter.
It’s also good to make explicit an agenda for your presentation. If your audience know where you are in your presentation, you’ll find that it’s easier to hold their attention. They can also then save their questions for the appropriate sections, which in turn helps you maintain your momentum.
Setting an agenda is also useful from a planning perspective. When structuring your presentation, you can logically organise your content into sections. You can set the financial scene and work towards dramatic reveals of important data – rather than just dumping that information onto a slide from the start.
You can even visualise the progress of your presentation by creating a simple progress bar placed at the bottom of each slide.
5) Make it a two-way conversation
Nobody likes to be talked at, and you’ll find attention levels dropping off quickly if your finance presentation is a droning monologue. Make use of techniques that call for the audience’s direct involvement to keep them engaging with your numbers.
Try to understand your audience’s motivations and speak directly to their priorities when presenting financial information. Ask your audience questions, canvas them for feedback and discuss ideas with them. By making a point of actively involving people in the financial and budgetary process, you’ll find they’ll be much more switched on and will retain information better.
Making financial information interesting for other people within the business is challenging. They’re busy with other aspects of their roles, so you need to present the information in a way that matters to them.
Giving proper thought to how you communicate data can dramatically affect how it is received – even the driest financial detail can be made to resonate with your audience if you deliver it in the right context, with quality visuals and at the right point during your finance presentation.