- Ryan Van Hatten, SVP, Finance & Operations, Prophix
Despite endless hours of preparation, it’s hard to strike the necessary balance between a powerful—yet streamlined—finance presentation and being prepared for every possible question a meeting participant might throw your way. No matter how good you are at reading people’s minds, inevitably there will be a request that trips you up.
The answer is not a better crystal ball. It’s powering up your finance presentations to accommodate the unexpected and embrace the unknown. It’s doing smarter prep work, including the most relevant facts for your audience, and using real-time data.
To help you create more effective, efficient presentations, we asked experts in the finance profession for their best advice. You’ll find full videos from these folks at our Pro Talks home page. Here’s a sneak preview:
of survey respondents said
presentation skills are critical
to success at work
of respondents agreed
If you’re not a fan of public speaking, delivering a presentation can be about as much fun as an unexpected audit. However, it is possible to minimize anxiety through preparation and practice. Here are a few general tips to help make your presentation easier to deliver — and easier for your audience to process.
Do practice until you feel comfortable
Do create an outline of key points
Don't crowd your slides with text (don't read to the audience)
Do use summarizing bullet points
Don't overdo it on transitions & animation
Do keep your design simple and elegant
Don't use outdated data
Do use live data for a more flexible presentation
- Blair Cook, CFO at Horizon Maritime
When developing your presentation, limit the number of slides and also the amount of text included on each. Use compelling visuals, rather than detailed bullets points, to highlight key points.
Many experts suggest practicing in the front of mirror—or a friend—until you’re comfortable with the content of the presentation. But refrain from completely memorizing your script, word-for-word. It’s important to remain flexible for the inevitable questions. Anticipating those questions can help plan the best answers and what additional data you may need to reference.
Incorporating real-time data makes it easier to answer questions—even the unanticipated ones. However, you may wish to practice interacting with the data live to ensure you will be comfortable during the presentation.
guy kawasaki's 10-20-30 rule says a presentation should be:
Makes meetings more interactive
With real-time data, you don’t have to dread the unanticipated question. Perhaps you’ve modeled the data for one likely business scenario but factors uncovered during the discussion suggest another possibility. By incorporating real-time data into meetings, attendees can work together towards real-time business decisions.
Makes meetings more informative
How many times has a critical decision been delayed due to insufficient historical data? By linking your charts to your data stream, you can easily share company information without leaving the presentation. So, if a future forecast depends on past performance, you’ll be able to deliver the data that allows business leaders to make informed decisions.
Reduces need for follow-up meetings
Flexible real-time data analysis ensures that all data-driven questions can be addressed during a single meeting. Business leaders won’t need to loop back around for subsequent meetings which would likely rehash the initial data, review new data, and still unearth opportunities for further analysis. By having access to all relevant data during the initial meeting, business leaders may be able to make the first meeting on a topic, the last meeting.
Makes content more persuasive (more relevant to audience)
It’s hard to anticipate every question from every meeting participant. Everyone is driven by different priorities and has different data needs. For example, while one sales director may want to dive into quarterly revenue by sales representative, another may want to go deeper to view sales by account. With real-time data, it’s easy to drill down and tailor your presentation to the audience.
- Jonathan Roomer, Co-Founder & CFO, Yulife
The use of visual language can Shorten meetings by24%
Data visualization tips
The best charts are the ones that share key metrics and business trends in the simplest way. The goal is to share pertinent information but not overwhelm meeting participants with unnecessary nuances. If it’s going to trigger more questions than insights, leave it out of your presentation.
Design for data visualization
When it comes to data visualization, keep it clean. Opt for simple charts that allow the numbers to be the stars. Choose colors with sufficient contrast to provide visual pop and to emphasize key points. It is also key to steer clear of visual distractions such as shading, borders, gridlines, and 3-D perspective. But don’t let your quest for sterility impede clarity: be sure to include descriptive titles, simple legends, and trendlines to aid in understanding.
Types of data best suited to which type of visualization
While it may be tempting to experiment with chart types, it’s usually better to stick with the basics. In most cases, simple line and bar graphs will suffice. They are not only effective for plotting key data but are easily understood by most professionals. Here are the most common chart types and best use cases:
- Jack McCullough, President, CFO Leadership Council, Founder & Chair of the MIT Sloan CFO Summit
Finance reporting—whether monthly, quarterly or yearly—provides a snapshot of the financial health of a corporation. Inputs typically include the income statement, statement of cash flow, and balance sheet. While this translates to a lot of data, not all of it bears equal weight or contributes to greater understanding. Unfortunately, finance presentations are often weighed down by charts and data which are included out of routine or as a preemptive measure to answer any and all possible questions.
Access to real-time data changes all that. Because it’s easy to dive deeper into the live data directly from the presentation, the included charts can focus on a big-picture view of the most relevant data.
For example, while it’s been a staple of financial presentations since the dawn of the Office of Finance, there’s really not a lot of value in including the ultra detailed income statement in your PowerPoint. Instead, consider simplified charts on profit and loss, top cost drivers, percent to quota, revenue, and orders.
Similarly, you can deliver greater clarity around cash flow through high-level charts such as the greatest expense variations from budget, differences between previous and current forecasts, and revenue versus expense.
As for showing the Balance Sheet at a particular point in time? Perhaps a better approach is to send the PDF in advance and spend your presentation focusing on the drivers behind any significant changes.
- Jennifer Warawa, Executive VP of Partners, Accountants & Alliances at Sage
- Jack McCullough, President, The CFO Leadership Council
Messages delivered as stories can be up to 22x more memorable than just facts. (source)
Executives are looking for presentations that are shorter and more candid. So, when in doubt, keep it simple. Limit the number of slides and focus on the data most relevant to your audience.
Start your presentation with a clear objective and be flexible when presenting. You’ll want to budget plenty of time for questions throughout the presentation. It’s typical that executives will ask you to skip back or jump forward as you move through your slides. They will also ask you for the data that supports your analysis and conclusions. Including charts linked to real-time data makes it easy to support any data claims. If someone questions how you arrived at a particular conclusion, you can dive deeper into the contributing factors without jumping from slide to slide or leaving the presentation.
And, don’t sweat it if your time is up before you reach the end of your presentation. Instead, focus on meeting the data needs of the executives. If they leave satisfied, that’s a clear win.
There is strength in numbers. These tools easily transform raw data into visually compelling graphs and images to lead your presentations to a victorious close.
Sometime a picture is worth a thousand words. And, with these sites, you’re images can be low-cost and free.
Looking for even more pizazz? Adding video and animations is easier than you think. These programs receive high ratings for ease and value.
- Jonathan Roomer, Co-Founder & CFO, Yulife
A stellar finance presentation can bolster your corporate credibility and rocket you towards new opportunities. Solid preparation and a streamlined, visually compelling presentation are a start. But, it’s hard for a finance professional to truly shine when the presented data doesn’t reflect the most recent business performance and corporate priorities.
Real-time finance data makes meetings more interactive and informative, reducing the need for follow-up meetings, and helping to tailor the presentation to meet the needs of your audience.
Get expert advice about making the most of your data in finance presentations with our Pro Talks video series: