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Six Presentation Tips for Finance Professionals

Written by: Julia VanDeren
Published on: Sep 15, 2018

Presenting is an essential responsibility for many finance professionals.

To gauge just how essential, we asked CFA Institute Financial NewsBrief readers how often they have to give presentations. More than half of the 585 respondents (58%) to our unscientific poll said they present at least once a month. Meanwhile, only 19% responded that they “rarely” or “never” do.

Presumably, there is a bit of natural selection at play here: Those who are more comfortable with or gifted at presenting end up in the roles that require it most often. And, of course, the more experience they accrue, the more they improve and the more comfortable they grow. Nevertheless, most people always have room to hone their presentation skills.

As a finance professional, on average, how frequently are you required to give presentations?

Recently, Dave Underhill of Underhill Training and Development delivered a webinar on how to be clear and concise in data-heavy presentations. He offered many useful tips for improving your presenting skills. Here are a few:

Presentation Design Tips

  • Have a clear and singular core message tied to a specific call to action. Even when you are dealing with complex information, the key takeaway and call to action should be simplified and made crystal clear for your audience.
  • Targeting the information to your audience means considering each member’s role and how well they understand your material as well as their communication style and how they feel about the purpose of your presentation. If you know some of the key decision makers in your audience well, consider what motivates them. Do they care most about getting straight to results, ensuring the best for staff members affected by the decisions, avoiding unnecessary risks, or basing plans on flawless data? Address these motivations. If you don’t know your audience well, try to address all of the motivations.

Presentation Delivery Tips

  • Attention spans are short and you may notice audience members’ interest drifting away. To bring them back, try pausing, moving, or mentioning an individual by name. The silence of the pause can recapture people’s attention. Similarly, a move to a new position can change the setting enough so that people refocus. Using someone’s name is a foolproof technique, but does require some tact because you do not want to embarrass anyone.
  • Orient your audience to your data slides verbally or through animation, even if you believe they will grasp the meaning on their own. Explain what the axes of a graph represent, for example, and feature the specific data points you want the audience to absorb.

Underhill had two additional pieces of advice that address both design and delivery:

  1. For every “what” you present, you need to answer the “so what?” Don’t assume there’s one logical conclusion to be drawn from your evidence. Communicate what you want the audience to take away. Underhill used the example of a company pitch presentation in which the audience is told that the pitching team has a combined xx years of experience. That’s nice, but so what? Why should the audience care about that? You need to tell them why.
  2. Remember that the goal of many presentations is to have a conversation, not to give a lecture. Approaching presentations with this mindset can give you more confidence and help ensure the audience’s needs are better met.