Tips for Overcoming Financial Complexity in Presentations

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Presenting financial information to a non-financial audience presents several challenges. Whether you are presenting to a single individual, small group, or shareholders meetings, here are ten tips to help you communicate complex financial data effectively.

  1. Use visuals. It is difficult for some people to put numbers on a page, even numbers in a table, into a context they can understand. Help them out. Give them some visuals to go along with the information you are presenting. Don't just use the familiar charts and graphs, try photographs or artist's renderings of structures, products or even people, and don't forget copies of ads or other publications that can help put the numbers into context.
  2. Make charts and graphs meaningful. Charts and graphs are easy to make, unfortunately, they don't always convey information in a way the audience needs or wants. Before presenting a chart or graph, ask whether it answers a question the audience may have or presents commonalities in data that might otherwise be overlooked.
  3. Limit the information presented. This is especially true if you are presenting using slides or other presentation software. Too much information can be difficult to read on a computer or video screen unless the audience is very close. Put key points on the slide, but don't leave the underlying information out.
  4. Make good use of handouts. The information used in developing the numbers presented can be distributed as hard copy hand-outs or electronic files emailed to attendees before or after the presentation. Be sure to include your contact information, or that of someone who is able to answer any questions regarding the information in the extra material. Did you know you can embed information from Excel spreadsheets into a Power Point presentation so that when the data in the spreadsheet is changed so is the data in the presentation?
  5. Make it easy on the eyes. Use legible fonts in a reasonable size. Some fonts, such as Tahoma and Verdana, were developed specifically for on screen viewing. Traditional familiar fonts, such as Times New Roman and Arial, are also readable on a screen, primarily because they are familiar to most of us. Size is a more difficult question and should be tailored to the needs of your audience, as well as your information. Older audiences may find it easier to read larger fonts, as may those seated in the rear of a large room. Printers and typesetters are good resources if you have questions regarding the appropriateness of the chosen fonts, sizes and colors.
  6. Pick your colors carefully and use high contrast backgrounds and text. There is a reason black and blue inks are popular to use for signatures. On a white or light colored background they are the easiest to read, as most printers will tell you. If you must have color, restrict it to the border areas or use it to divide or draw attention to particular points. Reversing the colors, such as white text on a black or dark blue background, is the next easiest look to read, however, lighting may have to be dimmed considerably when it is used, making it unacceptable for environments that cannot be sufficiently darkened.
  7. Check for unexpected symbols or clashing color combinations. This is especially true if you are copying information from other programs/applications into presentation software.
  8. Nothing has its place. Sometimes, nothing is a good thing. If you are including a story or anecdote to illustrate a point and don't have a photo or other image to accompany it, consider using a “blank” screen or one with just the title of the point being emphasized. A screen with nothing but the company name or the name of the presentation could be mistaken for the end of the presentation. Temporarily blanking the screen might also be appropriate, but if the lights have been dimmed, this risks throwing the room into complete darkness.
  9. Get to the point quickly. Keep this in mind when preparing your presentation. What information do they require? What information is unexpectedly good, bad, or unchanged? What projects, deals or initiatives have been emphasized, implemented or concluded during the previous period? What information is likely to be to be needed or useful in planning, investment or risk assessment? Asking yourself and potential audience members, these and other similar questions can help you focus your presentation. You may wish to collect all the information related to the answers to the questions, then review it, identifying the most pertinent points. Include those in your presentation and put everything else in your handout materials.
  10. Leave time for questions. Chances are your audience is both intelligent and busy. Go through your preparation materials again, asking yourself what kinds of questions you might be asked. Include these questions and their answers in the notes section of your presentation. The handout material may come in handy depending on the questions you are asked after the presentation is concluded. Remember, the more substantiated information you can give people, the more confidence they, and you, have in your answers and conclusions. Be sure to distinguish between facts and your opinions. Your audience may want both, however, it is important that they can tell the difference between the two.

It may seem that these tips apply to all types of presentations, not just financial ones. They do. They are significantly more important when it comes to financial presentations, however, because of the complex nature of the information being communicated.

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