Financial information is a part of many presentations today. Whether you are presenting the budget for next year, current project spending status, or any other financial information, resist the temptation to just copy a spreadsheet and paste it on a slide. Copied spreadsheets overwhelm the audience and leave them confused. At the Presentation Summit last fall, I shared five steps for creating effective financial slides and in this article I want to share them with you.
Step 1: What is the point?
Somewhere in all those numbers is a message you want the audience to hear. Start by determining what that message is. What is the point you want to make sure the audience understands and leaves with? Numbers are used to document a story that the presenter wants to share, and you need to be clear on what story you are trying to tell. Write a headline for your slide that summarizes this key point or message.
Step 2: What numbers tell the story?
Now that you know what story you are trying to tell, look at the numbers you have and determine which numbers, out of all those you could use, really tell the story. For example, if you are discussing the difference between a measured value and a standard, don't make the mistake of selecting all the numbers. Too many presenters copy the column of measured values, the standard, the difference and the percentage difference. You can likely eliminate 75% of the numbers because the audience probably only needs to see the % difference.
Step 3: How can you use these numbers to tell the story?
Don't just copy the numbers on to a slide. Look for more visual ways to present the numbers. If you are comparing measured values, perhaps a column graph would show the difference better. If you are showing the trend of data, a line graph will probably work best. If you are showing % difference, a summary table with arrows indicating whether the difference is positive or negative could be best. If you are showing how numbers are related to a whole, a pie chart shows that message well. Look for opportunities to show the numbers visually.
Step 4: Sketch the visual
I always find it helpful to sketch out what I think the visual should look like before creating it in PowerPoint. This allows me to make sure that my idea will work visually. It also allows you to check your idea with others before you have spent a lot of time creating a visual in PowerPoint. Once you are satisfied that the visual will work, you can create it in PowerPoint.
Step 5: Determine what backup you may need
The most common reason that presenters overload their slides with numbers is that they want to have the answer to every possible question on the slide just in case someone asks. These overloaded slides don't help the audience understand your message. It is a good idea to anticipate questions that might come up, but the better approach is to create hidden slides or hyperlinks to source documents in order to answer the questions. Hidden slides are not shown in Slide Show mode, but can be accessed during the presentation if needed. Hyperlinks to spreadsheets allow you to show how changes to assumptions or other inputs will affect the resulting calculations. I have a tutorial video on linking to external files here.
It doesn't matter what financial background you have, you can use these five steps to make financial information easier for your audience to understand.
Dave Paradi has over twenty years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written nine books and over 100 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don’t overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of less than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel and PowerPoint communities. He regularly presents highly rated sessions at national and regional conferences of financial professionals and is NASBA registered to deliver CPE credit courses to CPAs.