Presenting Financial Information
Very often, salespeople need to present financial data – and all too often to an audience where most people seem to have the word ‘Finance’ in their job title. An extra challenge may be that the audience comprises a few finance professionals plus people from different disciplines who may not use the financial jargon. Presenting financial data in a concise way which is understood by everyone listening and watching requires strong presentation skills and a keen grasp of the content. Only when you achieve this, does the ‘Data’ come alive and turn into meaningful ‘Information’ in the minds of your audience. The following section will help you convey financial information in a clear fashion.
Your Target and Purpose – the Audience
To prepare your presentation material, you first need to be clear about your purpose and the financial data you want to get across. How many different types of disciplines will be represented? What message will you need to target to which parts of the audience? Imagine yourself being in the audience: what would you need to hear – and at the end what questions would you ask? By anticipating which parts of the material your audience will focus on, you can slant the presentation beforehand so it covers all the right areas and gets the message across to the key targets. You may also need to prepare additional material and hand-outs in case your audience wants more information. Use the headings from this module to anticipate questions from the finance people.
Convince yourself before others
Before you try to present financial information, you first need to convinced yourself of the key messages contained in the data. Once you have reviewed the material, try to summarise it in your own words for somebody you know well – a partner or friend. That should help you to spot any weak areas in your own understanding. If you are unsure of any aspect, you will need to make time to seek advice and find out more about that particular area. The contents of this module will guide you – and if your organisation has a finance department, speak to a colleague who may be able to help.
Be sure of the Financial Terminology
When preparing your material, bear in mind your purpose is to express rather than impress. Don’t try to use terms you may not fully grasp. If you are in doubt, check it out. Avoid using financial jargon unnecessarily – particularly if there are non-financial people present. Make your material as straightforward as possible to help your audience understand the information more easily. In this module, you have seen that different headings are often used to mean the same thing (Sales, Earnings, Turnover, Income), so check that your audience are all on the same wavelength and explain your use of a term the first time you use it.
Be Precise, Accurate and Up to Date
When you are presenting financial figures, make them as precise and accurate as they need to be. That’s not the same as saying that figures in the range of billions of dollars need to be right to the nearest cent – it may be fine to round numbers to the nearest million if that’s exactly the right range in which a decision is to be made. However, when we round numbers up or down in a series of figures – and then sum the series, we often see ‘rounding errors’. Ask somebody else to proof-read and re-perform all the arithmetic after your presentation material is finalised. If one figure is incorrect, it can often mean that all the cascaded data is also wrong. An obvious mistake can also undermine your credibility with the audience.
Many finance professionals have a strong ‘completer-finisher’ trait, so they will probably leap upon any discrepancies in your figures. Beware of handing out any material at the start of your presentation, because the finance people will be tempted to stop listening to you, while they add up figures and spot problems. You should also check that your figures are based on the latest available raw data, or otherwise you may get a question starting with the dreaded words “Yes, but the latest figures published this morning say something quite different …”
Purge your Material of Irrelevant Information
If you need to present a lot of statistical information, be sure that you filter out any irrelevant data in the original material. If you don’t purge all unnecessary data, it will distract from your main message and you may simply overload your audience. Here’s where you need your partner or friend again – to proof read and question why each set of data is necessary.
Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS)
Very often a picture can paint a thousand words. Make good use of relevant charts, graphs and tables. However, if these illustrations need a lot of explanation, they run the risk of being ignored or misinterpreted. Each illustration should be capable of being understood in isolation, so each one therefore needs a meaningful title and effective labels for each axis and dataset. You need to ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid’ so perform the KISS test on all your presentation material.
If the only way to get your point across is through diagrams, keep these simple to understand visually. Don’t put too much information on a chart. Use colours to represent a few key ideas, but don’t have too many colours or other visual effects as this can be distracting. Line charts are good for presenting trends over time. Bar charts can make good comparisons between a few sets of data. Pie charts are good for showing relative sizes and percentages. All your visual aids need to be simple and easy to grasp quickly. If you are using several charts or diagrams, make sure the data is consistent across them all. Any variances can confuse your audience and distract them from the picture you are painting.
Another way of painting a picture is use stories, anecdotes and analogies wherever possible. Try to break off from the figures from time to time and reconnect at a human level with your audience.
Prepare a Summary
By the time you get to the end of your presentation, you may just feel like lying down in a darkened room, but you can plan ahead to help yourself at that point by creating a really good summary of your key messages. You have probably provided your audience with a lot of financial information in a short time. They need a little while to absorb the ideas and think about their reaction to your proposal. Signal to them that you’ve got to the end and will now summarise and conclude in a few minutes, but it may be best not so ask them to prepare questions, or they will be doing that rather than listening to your summary. When you have concluded, then give them time to prepare questions.
Proof Reading, Editing and Timing
One of the reasons we have mentioned asking a partner or friend to read your drafts, is that your colleagues in work have by now realised that you are putting together a key financial presentation and they are hiding from you. Nevertheless, a fresh read by a colleague can help prevent many mistakes. For critical presentations, put time aside for you to read the material ‘backwards’ – starting with the final slide or page and working to the front. This often uncovers problems you didn’t see when reading forwards, because you know what you meant to say and often don’t see the problems.
If you have been given a specific time-slot for your presentation, then you will want to ensure that you can actually deliver all your material in the agreed time limits. You will need to practice the timings and maybe adjust your content accordingly. Remember to build in time for questions.
For some types of presentations of financial material, you may not want to handout anything beforehand that may distract from your presentation, but you could make it available afterwards. You could handout printed material, or tell the audience where they can pick it up online – or email it later. This could also include any additional detailed material you think may be important to your cause.
Copyright The Resource Development Centre LTD. 2014
This blog is an extract from ‘Finance for Sales Managers’ by Steve Hay and Alan McCarthy of RDC.