When it comes to presenting financial information, I could write a “1,200 Tips for Great Presentations” article and only scratch the surface. But in the interest of time (and sanity), I’ll center this post on how to present to senior executives. And even more specifically, how to present at a financial meeting with executives. Whether you’re a marketing coordinator doing a presentation on the values of leads generated or giving a full CFO presentation to executives, these five tips will put you on the path to delivering a rock solid, controlled and insightful presentation.
1. Be clear in your objectives
When you find out that you will be presenting, get as much information as you possibly can about what you should be doing. Some of the non-negotiable, need-to-know facts (apart from the time and date of the presentation) are:
- How long is the presentation?
- What format does it need to be?
- Who are you presenting to?
- What are they interested in finding out?
You should endeavor to have these questions answered as precisely as possible before you even consider what information you’ll present. The answers to these questions will give you the base you need to create a presentation that is informative and engages your audience.
Pro Tip: When you find out about the presentation, have a think about it and work out what your key questions are. Then book in some time with whoever gave you the task—it can be as simple as chatting on the way to get a takeaway coffee. Make sure you come away with a firm understanding of what you are doing. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of building a presentation only to lose confidence that what you’ve done is not actually what’s required!
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2. Prepare properly
This one might go without saying,.but going into a financial meeting with executives unprepared is a big no-no (regardless of how good you might be at speaking off the cuff). There are a couple of keys here that you might not think of as part of your preparation.
First, when preparing your slides (we will assume you are using slides here), make them as visual as possible. Think pictures, infographics and graphs. Nobody (even the most financial of chief financial officers) wants to look at slide after slide of spreadsheets.
Second, send the documents to your executives in advance. They might read over them in detail, or they might not. But they will almost certainly flick through them and this will likely pique their interest in what you have to say.
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3. Highlight clear takeaways
All good presentations should boil down to a few key points (three at absolute maximum)—these are your takeaways. Takeaways are the things that you want to stick in people’s heads even when they’ve forgotten everything else you’ve said. They should frame your presentation—and by that, I mean that you state them clearly at the beginning, end and allude to them throughout.
You want your takeaways to be positive, even if the news is not necessarily so. Frame any issues as work in progress, for example, “We have struggled to recover this debt, however as a result we have started a new debt collection process and expect that matter to be resolved shortly.”
For a great takeaway, frame your point positively and in simple language for maximum stickiness (in the minds of your executives).
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4. Anticipate the questions
Anticipating questions is one of the central pillars of a good presentation. You DO NOT want to get stumped by a question. It’s a bad look.
When you have a pretty firm idea of what you will be covering in your presentation, if you take a run through it you will pretty easily be able to spot the areas where questions will arise.
Often those questions will be around a bad figure—“Why is it like this?” “What’s being done to fix it?” “What have we done in the past?” But they might be around good news as well—“OK, so we’re looking good now, but what’s our strategy for when that CapEx hits the bottom line?”
A surprising number of people opt for the ostrich approach and stick their heads in the sand, but you need to be real with yourself, work out what those questions could be and plan your answers. Read on to find out the best way to do that.
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5. Cover the difficult points with a narrative
This is one of the secrets of how to present to senior executives. Nobody likes having to discuss struggling finances or mention that the figures are perhaps not where they should be. It’s a difficult conversation to have at the best of times, made all the more difficult by a critical with a deep interest in the company!
So if you know your cash flows look bad due to clients who haven’t paid their invoices, think about how you can present this information. What factors are playing into the situation? Are there process difficulties that are restricting the generation of revenue? And, most importantly, what are you already doing to fix the issue?
Having this narrative at hand shows the executives that you’ve identified the problem, looked into it and are fixing it. Often (though not always), this is what your executives want to hear. It’s not that they expect everything to always run smoothly, they just want to know that the people they have handling these problems are capable and in control.
It’s important to make a good impression on executives. And apart from that, delivering a great presentation can be a huge boost to your self-confidence. By following the steps above you will be taking your presentation and turning it into an incredible opportunity to raise your profile within your company and set yourself up for success.
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