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How to give great financial presentations

Peter Simons has some advice on an activity that scares many of you witless – giving a presentation to your firm’s top brass

October 2017

You’ve analysed the data. You’ve derived the insights and understood the implications to the business. Job done? If only business was that simple. Understanding the numbers and their meaning is only one piece of the puzzle. Effectively communicating the data and telling the story behind the numbers is the other piece. To do this you might need to give a presentation – and this is where many start to worry.
To help accountants ease their fears the AICPA partnered with communications experts Peter A. Margaritis and Jennifer Elder to create a new CGMA guide: ‘Six rules to delivering a powerful financial presentation’. This brief helps finance professionals prepare and deliver powerful presentations. Here are the six rules to guide you on your next financial presentation.

1. It’s all about the audience
Before you start preparing your presentation think about your audience. Accounting and finance types mainly use the left part of their brain, the side responsible for language, logic and analytical thinking. Sales and marketing people make more use of the right part of the brain, responsible for intuition and creativity. For them less is more, and many try to avoid getting into too much detail and information, especially when it is about numbers. So the big question is, how can you deliver the financial information that is needed without confusing your listeners? The answer is, you need to tell them what they want to hear first and then continue with what they need to know. This way you’ll have their attention right from the start.

2. Let go of the need for perfection
Nobody likes making mistakes. That’s one of the reasons why so many people hate giving presentations – when you are thinking on your feet, mistakes simply will happen. If you make a mistake, the most important thing to remember is: do not panic. Panicking will cause you to forget to breathe, meaning that your brain won’t get enough oxygen, and your performance will not be as cogent as it could be. If you make a mistake, pause to regain your composure and continue. It’s natural to do this while speaking so your audience won’t notice that you are trying to calm down. A good training tool is to take a video of yourself while practising and watch it. This will help you learn from your mistakes and give you more confidence.

3. Grab the audience’s attention
While much communication tends to be short and quick these days, telling a good story will always grab the attention of your audience. And a human angle will make it even more interesting. One of Steve Jobs’ most famous speeches is his Stanford Commencement Address from 2005, which has been watched more than 26 million times on YouTube. In this speech he tells three stories about crucial moments in his life – and it is these personal stories that have made his speech so compelling.
Adding a human angle and relatable context, even in a financial presentation, will help you communicate information effectively.

4. Tell the story behind the numbers
When explaining highly technical accounting details do it in a way that doesn’t use slides packed with raw data. It’s important to translate the data you have into information and knowledge about what actions your audience needs to take.
The numbers and figures alone won’t be useful to your colleagues. It’s not just about how much your revenue increased, for example, it’s about why it increased and who played an important role in this. That’s your story behind the numbers.

5. Use pictures to enhance the data
Using visuals will help with your storytelling as it gives context to the information and illustrates the point you are trying to make.
If you pack your slides with too much data your audience will focus on reading it instead of on you. When you present information like sales, gross profit or net income you can also illustrate your point by putting data into charts instead of using only numbers.

6. Simplify
Avoid jargon. If you are speaking to people from elsewhere in the business, most of your audience will probably not understand the technical language of accountancy. So you need to make your financial presentation as simple as possible and understandable to everyone.
Take a tip from Warren Buffett: pretend you are addressing a member of your family.
So to summarise, giving a convincing financial presentation is about grabbing the attention of the audience by telling the story behind the numbers; using pictures or graphics; and using language everybody understands. By following the above six rules and practising, practising, practising, everyone can become a better financial storyteller. To download ‘Six rules to delivering a powerful financial presentation’ go to www.cgma.org/resources/reports.
• Peter Simons is Associate Director of Research and Development – Management Accounting, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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