Avoid These 10 Mistakes When Presenting Financial Information

man on desktp looking at spreadsheet

Presenting financial information or any complex data can be risky business

The route to success revolves around a high level of mindfulness.

When you are presenting financial information, begin with this question.

What precisely does my audience really need to know and why do they need to know it?

Being blinded by a sea of numbers and data maybe your thing but it’s not everyones.

If your audience are as excited about line charts, pie charts and bar charts as you are, that’s great. In that case, feel free to give them everything you have.

If they aren’t quite the same as you, then sharing data in this way is futile. It’s likely to leave them feeling as though you have just turned the lights off. You may as well be speaking in another language; one they don’t understand.

Sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is by focusing on what not to do.

If you find yourself presention financial information or complex data, please don’t:

  1. Craft your presentation without a strategy

The more complex the information, the more robust your strategy needs to be.

– What is your message?

– Why does anyone need to hear, understand and care about your message?

– What exactly do you want them to do with the information?

– How do you want them to feel when you’ve finished speaking?

– What will it take for you to connect with them emotionally as well as intellectually?

Having very clear answers to each of these questions is the start of formulating a strategy.

  1. Present the information as a long list of bullet points

Only share what is  completely relevant to your audience. If the data doesn’t contribute significantly to the point that you are trying to make, leave it out. Make sure that you have the rest of the data available to share as appropriate but don’t give it to them unless you need to.

Avoid using bullet points at all costs.

In a previous article I wrote, ‘‘Death by bullet point’, I shared the following helpful tips

– Avoid templates wherever possible; many are too restrictive.

– Make sure you have one idea/key point per slide. Not three, four or twelve;just one

– Have a clear and simple background.

– Less is more; keep the text to a minimum.

– Use a large and simple font size. Don’t complicate things.

– Avoid animations; most are unnecessary and many are ‘cheesy’.

The fastest way to lose your audience is to fill a slide with data

  1. Present a wealth of data and then immediately speak over it as your audience are trying to read

The moment anything appears on a screen, you are instructing your audience to read it.

When text or data appears on a screen many presenters will do one of two things while their audience are busy reading their slide:

Some presenters will read the text out loud to their audience.

This is a huge and unforgivable mistake

The moment you read anything that your audience can read for themselves you are telling them that they cannot read.

Some presenters will immediately talk over the slide whilst their audience are busy reading it for themselves. The human mind was not designed to read and listen effectively at the same time. You have a choice. Do you want your audience to read or listen to you?

If you decide to make the first choice, send your audience a document to read for themselves.

If you speak whilst they are trying to decipher your data in their own mind you are causing undue stress on their brains.

  1. Focus exclusively on the data

Your job as a presenter is to breathe life into the data.

Remember, the human mind is conditioned to wander. It’s been suggested that during the course of an average day our minds can wander around 47% of the time. Can you imagine how much that number increases when we are staring at a slide filled with numbers?

Data presented on it’s own is not enough. Your audience can read data for themselves

When presenting financial information or data focus on:

– Sharing short, relevant and compelling stories.

– Using metaphors and analogies.

– Telling them the story behind the data.

– Presenting why the data matters.

– Using examples and comparisons your audience can relate to.

Here are 10 very helpful tips I shared in a previous article:

’10 Simple Tips On How To Present Complex Information.’

  1. Leave out the insights

The last thing your audience wants or needs from you is another ‘data dump’. They are already overwhelmed with information.

They really want your insights surrounding and supporting the information. Once you’ve established the accuracy, credibility and significance of the data they want to know:

– What you think about the data.

– How you feel about the infomation.

– What it suggests or uncovers that no one has thought about.

– How it’s changing your market or industry.

Presenting financial information offers you an opportunity to give your audience a professional but also personal perspective on how you see things.

Ask for their insights too.

  1. Focus on the past or the problem

The last thing your audience needs is another problem.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t present it but it does mean you have to present the solution. Use the data to share the problem in a way that they will understand and feel its impact.

The next critical step is to offer or ask for a solution

– What does this data mean in real terms to them?

– How can they use it to make decisions more effectively?

– What will the future look like if they use and respond to the data?

– If they act on the information now, what positive difference will it make?

– What would you like the data to look like in 6 months?

Relate everything to the teams vision or objectives and what action needs to be taken now.

  1. Be vague and generic

I attended a company presentation recently where I heard an executive present to a room of 50 people.

He opened with his concern about how the business was running behind its annual forecast. He then presented a number of slides covered in complex charts.

It got worse when he asked his colleagues to:

– ‘Button down the risks’

– ‘Focus and look for opportunities’

– ‘Put the fires out’.

– ‘Only pick the low hanging fruit.’

Needless to say most of the audience left the room with little clarity as to what he really wanted them to do.

From their perspective,their entire time at work already revolved around these key areas. What else was he expecting from them?

Be clear, be specific, make it personal and make sure they get it.

  1. Show them spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are for sorting, filtering and calculating data. They are not designed to be shown in their entirety as part of a conversation. Don’t just put them up on a slide to impress your audience; they won’t be impressed.

Give them the ‘gold’.

Your job is to filter the data for your audience to the point where you only present the ‘gold’. The ‘gold’ represents your message; it’s what your audience needs to know to help them to make a decision or make a tangible difference to their professional or personal lives.

Present your message visually using images rather than spreadsheets.

  1. Wait for questions

When you present data to an audience the one thing you can be certain of is that they will have questions. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for those questions to be asked. Anticipate them by preparing extensively before you even craft your presentation.

In other words, put yourself in their position:

– Ask yourself what you would like/need to know or may not readily understand.

– What you may not like or agree with.

– Why it matters to you personally?

Anticipate the questions, especially the difficult ones. Don’t wait for them to be asked, build the answers into your presentation

Prepare fully for questions you may be asked by ‘The scary six’.

     10. Try to look good

Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of a presentation is not to:

– Demonstrate to your audience how much you know.

– Show them how clever you are.

– Illustrate how hard you work.

It is of course human nature for all of us to want to look good and be judged positively. Setting that  as your core intention, isn’t the route to winning over your audience.

Your job as a presenter is to share knowledge, information and insights that will  make a tangible difference to your audience.

They aren’t remotely interested in how creative or clever you are. All they want to know is how you can help make their lives better, easier, happier or positively different.

If you need help presenting financial information:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

Image courtesy of: Shutterstock

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