Presenting essential data without confusing or overwhelming your audience can be tricky. A common mistake is to share everything you know. Instead, concentrate on the essential information or suggestions you want the audience to take in.
In a new CGMA brief, Six Rules to Delivering a Powerful Financial Presentation, Peter Margaritis, CPA, CGMA, and Jennifer Elder, CPA/CFF, CGMA, provide the following advice on creating a session which connects with your audience and empowers them to act.
Focus on your audience’s needs
Give your audience the information they want first. You have very little time at the beginning of any presentation to capture their attention. Once you have their attention, you can cover what they need to know.
It’s common for presenters to come out and tell the audience about themselves, regardless of whether they have already been introduced by the host. But what the audience really wants to know is why they should be listening to you. “Whether somebody gives me an intro or not, I start all of my presentations with an executive summary,” Margaritis says.
The ideal outcome is for the presentation to seem like a conversation with the audience, rather than something you have memorised. Learning it by rote puts unnecessary pressure on the presenter and creates a sense of panic if you are less than word perfect.
If you’re the one giving the presentation, accept that you will make a couple of mistakes. But also know this: You’ll probably be the only person who notices. Don’t be fazed if the screen doesn’t work or some other issue crops up. Remember, the audience is on your side.
Make your message relatable
Think about how you can deliver your message in a way everybody can understand and relate to. Stories help provide relatable context, and humans are hardwired to want to listen to the whole thing, Margaritis says.
He uses the example of the CFO of an airline delivering an update on company performance to staff.
In this case, the presenter might reel off a set of figures for revenue, expenses, and profit in the billions of dollars. But few of us have ever seen, nor can we visualise, a quantity like $1.2 billion, for example.
A much more accessible context is, in this instance, the dollar bill. Margaritis suggests using that image on a PowerPoint slide to break down performance for every dollar a customer pays the company for the privilege of flying on the airline.
For example, if 22% of the dollar goes to payroll costs, a graphical representation could show 22% of the dollar bill disappearing. “Seventeen cents goes on fuel, and so on,” he explains. “I take those costs in turn and start whittling away at that dollar until there’s just a little sliver that represents the 11 cents we get to keep as profit.”
This helps everybody understand what’s going on from an income standpoint and provides a better understanding of the organisation than simply stating, “We’ve got a gross profit margin of X% or a net profit of Y% which was up by 0.5% from the prior year.”
Breaking it down in this way helps the audience become better invested in the financials and gives the CFO an opportunity to promote a culture of cost consciousness.
Tell the story behind the numbers
In a financial presentation, the presenter’s role is to translate the data into knowledge that is useful to the audience, covering these three points:
What? For example: Over the past two years, revenue increased by 25%.
So what? Explain why this fact matters. The only way to discover this is to get out from behind your desk and ask what the business did differently in the period that drove the change. A conversation with the head of sales, for instance, may reveal that a particular salesperson focused on building relationships with major companies over the period and secured a number of contracts. One of those contracts alone constituted half of that 25% growth. There’s the “so what.”
Now what? This is your chance to highlight what we can learn from this and suggest changes, such as encouraging the sales team to adopt a similar strategy to the star performer.
“When I look at income statements or balance sheets, there’s a story there. We just have to figure out what it is, which means we have to go out and ask and find the answer,” Margaritis says.
—Samantha White (Samantha.White@aicpa-cima.com) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.