How to deliver one that is interesting, engaging and passes a message you want to share? It is a part of a management accountant's job description (as a business partner). Learn a few tips and tricks that will help you move your presentation skills to an upper level.
Who loves to business presentations?
Okay, we will not wait for anyone to raise their hands on that one. People are not passionate about PowerPoints and slide presentations. It is your job to make yours (as a management accountant) interesting so whoever listens, will engage and will not fall asleep out of boredom (haven’t we all experienced that state at least once?).
So how to give a good and powerful presentation?
When I’ve been working in a big corporation, I remember that the higher you got, the more presentations you had to give. And if you are invited to do even more, that is a really good sign. It means that someone appreciates you, recognises you. That’s why it is really important to do it right. Giving presentations can either hurt your career (if you don’t do it well) or can be a career elevator. When you are seen as an expert, people come to you for your opinion, thoughts, to share your experience with them and soon after new job opportunities will appear.
Here’s how to do that, in 11 steps:
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
We cannot emphasize enough the need for preparation. But most accounting professionals seem to think that having a flawless and impressive slide deck and data presentations is enough. It isn't.
If you are presenting lots of data—as most financial presentation are—you need to decide what to say and what to keep out. Columns and tables of data are boring for most people. The fine print won't go into their heads anyway. And there is no point showing columns of data and expecting your audience to actually make sense of what you are showing.
Your job as presenter is to put the data in context, interpret the data, and summarize the conclusions you reach from it. You can guide your audience where to go from there.
You provide the map they should take to reach their goal. You cannot draw the full map. So in your careful preparation, you need to pick and choose well so that you give them the best guide posts as guidance.
Have you hear of Albert Einstein's approach to problem solving? "If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions," says Einstein. Take a similar approach to preparation of what you are going to say.
What you should not do is spend 55 minutes (or worse, hours) in the slide deck, data and tables, but five minutes in preparing what you will actually say to your audience. Instead, spend ample time deciding what to say and how to say it, and finding the best way to go about it. Then only do your tables and charts.
My personal tip is: Less IS MORE. Don’t put 12 lines of text on one slide or lots of columns full of data. Highlight what is important. You will show that as a valuable CIMA management accountant, you know what is important and you know how to pass that to your superiors or colleagues.
Always Have an Executive Summary.
Tell them what you are going to say. Say it. And tell them what you just told them.
Write your brief executive summary in point-form as the very last step in your preparation because you need to sum up your entire presentation in a couple of minutes.
2. Infographics make complex information memorable and easy to understand.
Which looks more attractive to you? Which is more memorable?
Our brains have many ways to deal with information overload and to pick things to remember from among many things we encounter on a daily basis. People are more likely to remember unusual, bizarre or different things.
3. Cut out unnecessary bells and whistles.
Just because your presentation software has various features, it does not mean you have to use it. If you do, you end up looking like an amateur; not a professional. I know what I’m talking about – as an IT enthusiast, I just love to
Use whatever features you use, only to make the presentation better, and makes it easier to understand.
4. Pick background colors and text colours to enhance readability.
Don't forget your audience, the occasion and other practical concerns, like how visible it will be from the back of a large room when choosing fonts, text colours and backgrounds.
- Pick well contrasting colours for background and text (more like black and yellow and not orange and pink).
- Be careful when using a corporate template. Some organisations have definite guidelines on what colours and fonts you can use, how and when. When creating images and tables for use with a corporate template make sure to pick colors that go well with the set template.
- Textures matter: it’s great to see on your laptop or PC. But some textures make it difficult for readers to see from a distance. The same can be said of using shadows on text (just for effect).
- Be careful with your background textures and text styles.
- Fonts, some fonts are difficult to read. Others are more readable. Why make it harder for your audience? Make it easy.
- Capitalizing should be used sparingly. Even on titles and headings. Capitalizing makes it more difficult to read.
5. Remember that colours evoke emotions within people.
Try to understand the psychology of colour. Here's a great article on The Psychology of Color in PowerPoint Presentations.
Choosing Colors for Your Presentation Slides is a great article explaining what colour combinations to use and to avoid.
6. Justify or left align?
Typically, it is easier to read text with jagged right hand margins because the varying length of lines provide a guide to the reader. Justified text makes it harder.
7. Don't create slides that require a telescope to read the figures.
If you must add text and numbers in very small fonts, just question yourself how necessary it is.
Also, too much text and figures on slides distract the audience. They will try to read everything avoiding what you say. Anyway, if your presentation says it all, why should anyone bother to listen to you?
Be careful with using text or numbers you are not going to use or talk about.
If the audience must have the figures, why not give a handout for them to refer at leisure.
8. Practice your presentation to timing.
This helps you decide what you MUST say and to cut down on the fluff.
"I've delivered the same workshops dozens of times,” says a seasoned presenter and management trainer. “Still, each time I find ways to improve what I say to the audience, even though I use the same slide deck."
Most of us however, do not have second or third chances or opportunities to improve on our presentation. To do it right the first time, practice your presentation for timing and style, the language and examples. You cannot over prepare.
9. Use a power pose.
If you are nervous about speaking in front of an audience, remember, most people are too. Those confident presenters, they just hide it better.
To boost your confidence, use a power pose. Here's a great TED Talk from social psychologist Amy Cuddy on how Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.
According to Cuddy, our body language affects how others see us. But it may also change how we see ourselves. Amy Cuddy argues that "power posing" — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don't feel confident — can boost feelings of confidence. And who knows, it may have an impact on your chances of success.
Her advice is, "fake it till you make it!" Using a power pose helps you project confidence, even if you are shivering in your shoes.
10. Understand the relationship between tone, body language and words you use.
The first two are more important than the words.
Here's the data we've seen many times:
To find out about where these figures came from, check out Is Nonverbal Communication a Numbers Game? in Psychology Today.
11. Tell the story behind the numbers.
That is one of the rules in CGMA Research Brief on Six Rules to Delivering a Powerful Financial Presentation.
Don’t just say – OP grew by 3% compared to the last year’s Q4. Everyone can see that on your slide and hopefully they understand what the data is showing. But say something like: We’ve have run a new marketing campaign, and as a result, OP has grown by 3%. Sounds better, doesn’t it? Also that is extremely useful as in any CIMA Case Study, you will need to write in such a way if you want to pass.
Now let’s focus on the story - there is always a story. Whether you are presenting data, or interpreting them, if you can find the story, you can make it more interesting for your audiences.
Stories are easier to remember and relate to. They stick to memory better. Think of Aesop's fables. How memorable is it if I just tell you that “Necessity is the mother of invention”? This just will not stick to memory for very long, will it?
But what if I use this picture?
And also tell you the story behind it: A thirsty crow wanted water from a pitcher. Since the water was at the bottom of the pitcher, he filled it with pebbles to raise the water level to drink. Smart crow!
Then the message really sticks in memory because you have a visual and story hook to attach it to, over the mere verbal hook of the message.
The science of memory shows that more senses you engage in creating a memory, the easier it becomes to retrieve it later.
If you follow these steps and use them in your financial presentation, you’d definitely keep a lot of people in meetings awake, alert and engaged. You will be seen as a valuable member of your company’s finance community and most likely your work situation is going to improve if you do well your presentations.
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