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Financial Presentation Tips

By Livia Gershon

It's a sad but true fact that many office workers—up to and including CEOs—see spreadsheets and number-heavy presentations as the workplace equivalent of a root canal. And yet, there are few things more important to a business than understanding the numbers: changing market share, profit margins, trends in product mix. These are the things that success and failure are made of, and, if you're reading this, chances are it's your job to make other people understand them.

Fortunately, Proformative has the resources to help you create and present financials to let your audience see why the numbers should matter to them. In the Proformative course “The Evolution of a Great Spreadsheet Report - How to Effectively Present Numbers in the Business World,” Randall Bolten, a longtime Silicon Valley CFO, explains that creating an Excel sheet that can inform and persuade isn't about traditional accounting skills at all.

"I would argue that almost none of it is a math skill," he says. "You should think about designing and organizing and fine-tuning your spreadsheet as if you were writing a memo or a position paper."

Bolton lays out how to do that, starting with seemingly simple aspects like white space, formatting and borders that make a dramatic difference in readability. He then moves into strategic choices like which numbers to present and how much detail to provide, with an eye toward making the most useful information easy for the audience to understand.

"A report that's too long or has too many numbers may be destructive to the reader's ability to recognize and understand the important numbers," he says.

Using the example of an acquisition target presenting sales projections to the firm that may acquire it, Financial Presentation TipsBolton takes a step-by-step approach in showing how to mold the numbers into a meaningful, easy-to-read format. He also explains why ratios are "absolutely critical to helping readers understand the information" and offers practical tips for making Excel documents look their best without spending hours on formatting.

Of course, once you have a brilliant spreadsheet prepared, you may run into another question: how to share the financials at a meeting without confirming everyone's worst fears about dry, dull numbers. In a Proformative blog post, "5 Warning Signs You Stink at Presentations," Ernie Humphrey of 360 Thought Leadership offers some tips based on the hundreds of presentations and webinars he's run.

Humphrey explains why preparation—both knowing your audience and rehearsing your material—is crucial. He also discusses why "storytelling" can be just as bad as droning on and on about the numbers, and why actually caring about what you're doing makes a big difference.

Proformative readers also offer a lively discussion in the comments to Humphrey's post, including specific thoughts on how to use PowerPoint effectively and personal stories about good and bad experiences giving presentations.

Ultimately, most experts and commentators seem to agree, whether you're creating a spreadsheet or explaining financials to a group, the key is to figure out exactly what your audience needs to know and then make a step-by-step plan to get make that happen. Do that enough times, and people at your company might even start to see attending financial presentations as an engaging part of their jobs—or at least something they'd prefer to a trip to the dentist.


Robert Ewalt
Title: Exam Development Manager
Company: Institute of Certified Management Accoun..
(Exam Development Manager, Institute of Certified Management Accountants) |

I had one root canal - not so bad. I have done lots of presentation, formal and informal - also not so bad. Of course preparation, training, and doing it again and again can make presentations better. And anesthesia can make root canals less painful.