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The Art of a Compelling Presentation

Do it well, and everything else becomes much easier

Despite the valuable information they offer, finance presentations often fall flat.

They tend to concentrate too heavily on reams of complicated data and fail to answer specific questions and concerns of the audience: the line managers and other business partners that must make decisions based on this data.

The five steps below will help finance teams produce and deliver more compelling presentations by starting with the most important ideas, using data to enlighten rather than confuse, and structuring presentations around a few main themes.

Five Steps to the Perfect Presentation

  1. Lay the groundwork: Assign responsibilities to each of the team taking part in the presentation. For instance, analysts can be responsible for gathering the necessary information, senior analysts with preparing and delivering the presentation to business partners, and the department or function head can give feedback to the presenters and actually deliver the final presentation to senior management.

    It’s also crucial to establish a timeline and clearly state what content, data, etc is needed, so that the necessary analysis can be done in time.

    Key takeaway:

    • Identify the most newsworthy and actionable information early on and support it with relevant facts and trends.

  2. Don’t preach in vain: Understand your audience and determine what information, data, and story will be the most relevant to tell.

    Key takeaways:

    • The information and insights you select should be relevant, authoritative, actionable, unique, and memorable.

    • Understand your audience’s communication style and adapt your own to have the maximum impact (see chart 1 for more).

    The four communication styles

    Chart 1: The four communication styles  Source: CEB analysis

  3. What’s the key message?: Structure your presentation around two or three themes that pertain throughout the presentation, and decide on a key message for each page.

    Key takeaways:

    • Don’t load pages with information, trends, and insights; make them easy to consume.

    • Be wary of a sequence of messages and data that don’t support your overarching recommendations.

    • Be transparent about sources and assumptions; then you won’t have to waste time discussing whether the data is correct and be able to concentrate on the insight.

    • You should test your presentation with other members of your team to see how you can improve it.

  4. Script, rehearse, and anticipate follow-up questions: Set the context clearly and incorporate metaphors, anecdotes, or stories to create an engaging presentation (see chart 2).

    Also prepare a list of answers to potential questions business partners might ask and identify points in the presentation where you can initiate a discussion that will make the lessons more memorable and spur the audience to action.

    Key takeaway:

    • Rehearsing will help you improve and, more importantly, tell you if a substantial revision is necessary.

    Three reasons why storytelling works

    Chart 2: Three reasons why storytelling works  Source: CEB analysis

  5. Find out how you did: Seek feedback from the audience both on the content of the presentation and your effectiveness as a presenter. Also, establish a follow-up process and regularly send updates to stakeholders to remind them of the action steps agreed on after the presentation.

    Key takeaway:

    • If you subsequently make major changes to any recommendations from the presentation, you will need to communicate this (probably with another presentation; in which case, see step 1).

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