A new client recently challenged me to explain what I could do to drum up some interest in a dry financial presentation.

Let’s be honest, financial presentations are rarely the most entertaining of presentations. Even the most devoted professionals have a hard time getting excited about a financial presentation, especially these days – when we’re competing against increasingly dynamic online and offline content.

I’ve seen my share of glazed eyes myself, and I know first hand that It can be a real challenge to make financial presentations come alive to people across an organisation, so that they are embraced as a critical step toward achieving corporate goals.

But it’s a worthwhile challenge. Over the years, I’ve figured out how to make financial presentations more engaging, and the key for me has been to follow the same 9 guidelines every time. I’ll share those presentation design guidelines with you today.

Turning Complex Data into a Compelling Story

financial presentation-03

The guidelines I’ll cover serve an important role: they help me take all that dry, dull financial data, and turn into a great story. Because people respond to stories. Certainly better than they do to data.

Data will appeal to analysts, but what I’ve found is that to maintain your audience’s interest you have to give a human context to the numbers. And even data analysts are not just analysts: they are people. And they’re interested in stories about events and people.

Content is King

financial presentation-04So how do I do that? Well to start with, I always focus on the content of the presentation. Long before I turn my attention to aesthetics. Why? Because redesigning weak content is like putting lipstick on a pig… You can dress it up, but it’s still a pig.

1. Know your Audience

To financial presentation-05get your financial presentation into shape, the first thing I  need to do is get familiar with my audience. Obviously, I wouldn’t build the same presentation for a team of senior executives as I would for line managers or for sales representatives.

Depending on the audience, I’d use different examples, a different level of detail, and even different design elements.

For example, when they’re well done, PowerPoint animations can really liven up a presentation. But sometimes, busy C-level audiences get impatient with animations and prefer to have everything displayed on screen at once. So I might go light on animations in a presentation to executives.

2. Use the Right Language

financial presentation-06What else depends on the audience? The language I put into the financial presentation. My goal is to make sure that the audience isn’t drowning in jargon and acronyms that they aren’t familiar with.

Because  if they don’t understand the words that are being spoken, and they’re too embarrassed to ask, the presenter will lose both their attention and their trust. Plainer language puts everyone at ease and makes them more receptive.

3. Tell them Why they Should Care

financial presentation-07Part of knowing your audience is understanding what they care about. When I’m preparing a financial presentation, I like to know what drives my audience in their jobs, which outcomes they use to measure success. That helps me emphasize the right numbers, and present them in a way that will resonate with them.

When I have to build a financial presentation for operations teams whose biggest concerns are not financial, I try to tell them why the numbers matter, why they should care.

For example, if I’m showing profitability forecasts by product, I might explain that the numbers are important to determine which initiatives show the most promise and merit further investment, and which programs are doing less well and may need a new plan.

4. Tell them What the Numbers Will Help Them Do

financial presentation-08Next, I try to understand what types of decisions the data can help its audience make. I can then build a financial presentation that emphasizes the usefulness of the numbers, and makes sure that positive actions are taken as a result of the presentation.

For example, if I’m presenting CRM data to sales managers. I can show them data points like the number of proposals that have been placed, the closing rates, average selling prices, etc. And that might be moderately interesting to some.

But if I tell them that the data will tell them how many more proposals they need to put out each month to hit their revenue targets, then suddenly the presentation becomes much more compelling and useful.

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5. Trim the Extras

financial presentation-09Once I have identified the content that really matters to the audience, and helps them make important decisions, I try to be discriminating about what more I add.

At the end of the day, the audience isn’t going to have an endless attention span. I stick to the important points without cramming in