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Poor Presentation Skills Damage Finance Careers

The importance of effective communication is more critical than ever as the office of the CFO is taking on more ownership of results beyond the walls of finance.

One skill that every finance professional needs, and many do not possess, is the ability to deliver an effective presentation. Those without this skill limit their upward mobility, and often stand by and watch those who have it move above them on the corporate ladder.

During my own career I have had the opportunity to deliver many internal presentations, presentations at professional conferences to audiences of various sizes, and moderate well over 200 webinars developed for corporate finance professionals.  In addition to experiencing some “interesting” presentations, I will confess that I have delivered presentations that were not up to my own high presentation standards.

I offer the following as warning signs that you may not yet be at the top of your game in terms of your presentation skills:

  1. You do not prepare for presentations- no matter how well you know the material you will cover everyone needs to take time to practice a presentation.  Delivering a presentation is like being a stand-up comedian. Some days you are just “on” and other days you are not. If you are having an “off day” preparation is what enables to deliver a presentation that is worthy of the professional brand you want to convey each and every time to speak to a group of people (in-person or virtually). Proper preparation for a presentation is a skill and needs to be developed and nurtured.
  2. You are a story teller- a short relevant story can add important context and color to a presentation, but going off topic and wastes your valuable “air time”, and can impact the ROI your audience realizes from attending your presentation. Effective story telling in the context of a professional presentation is rare. It can be done, but is a slippery slope for most.
  3. You like to speak in technical terms,  offer details, and not known for your energetic personality- it is hard for many to admit, but some people in delivering a presentation just come off as having the personality of a wet fish. Speaking to what’s really important and adding some energy and variability to your delivery will improve your connection with the audience of any presentation.
  4. You do not “know” your audience before you deliver a presentation- you need to know what value you will offer each attendee for attending your presentation. If you do not then you have placed a huge inherent barrier in front of yourself to delivering a quality presentation.
  5. You do not care to understand why you are delivering a presentation (and/or why it is important to you)- if you do not care about your presentation content or why you are giving a presentation that will come through loud and clear to any audience. If you ever put yourself on auto-pilot even when giving a presentation you have given many times the audience will pick up on it, and you will fail to engage your audience.

I am interested in getting the thoughts of others who have suffered through presentations that left them confused, aggravated, wanting more, or feeling like attending a presentation was a complete waste of their time.  In a future blog I will address presentation best practices.


Scott Kleinberg
Title: CFO
Company: Undisclosed
(CFO, Undisclosed) |

Slides should supplement the presentation, not be the script. If the presenter does nothing more than just read what's on the screen, I'm way more likely to tune out.

Michelle Rogers
Title: CEO
Company: Virtually There CFO Services
(CEO, Virtually There CFO Services) |

Great points. I sit through and create many presentations - in my work environment, PowerPoint is seen to be the 'Hallmark' of the business. It's a great tool to keep a presentation on track. Practice and basing the structure of your presentation on a clear message/goal for the meeting are key success factors. Deep breaths and confidence in delivery will keep the presentation flowing. Much like writing an impactful business case, presentations need to logically link concepts and reinforce them at the end. Toastmasters is a great organization to practice these skills.

Ern Miller
Title: Co-CEO
Company: Miller Small Business Solutions
(Co-CEO, Miller Small Business Solutions) |

At one time, I could presentate your socks off. I took some time away from that aspect. Now, I am being asked to do them again.

I gave one last week and found I lost my mojo. My presentation was water torture. I felt bad for the audience. But, I was the subject matter expert and had to bring others up to speed.

If I need to do more presentation, it won't be hard to get the mojo back, but, i feel bad for those who have to sit through my retraining montage.

Hugh Delaney
Title: Business Development
Company: Sererra
(Business Development, Sererra) |

Following yesterday's presentation, all of your points are relevant. The challenge will be how to get other presenters on the same page. Any ideas?

Perhaps a bit off-topic....has anyone used Prezi for financial presentations?

Marcel Wiedenbrugge
Title: director
Company: WCMConsult
LinkedIn Profile
(director, WCMConsult) |

I have given many presentations and I learned that keeping your slides simple is one of the key elements for a successful presentation. If you use bullet points, not more than four bullet points on each slide. Furthermore, use a large enough font size, so people at the back of the room or people with limited eyesight can read it as well. And yes, prepare your story. A presentation is like a flight with an air plane and has three main components: the take off, the journey itself and the landing.

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Great list, Ernie! Point number 4 about knowing your audience is very important. Earlier this year I gave a presentation to a local chapter of a national organization that I had never done work for in the past. When I was asked to speak to the organization I checked out the national website, state website, and local websites for the organization. I threw in parts about their mission statement into my presentation. I wanted the participants to know I did my homework.

Knowing the topic was huge for me with this same presentation. I was presenting on nonprofit finance and budgeting. Apart from a leadership team on a nonprofit I just joined at that time, I knew nothing about nonprofit finance and budgeting. I spent the next three years devouring everything I could on nonprofit finance and budgeting. All of my experience has been in for profit companies which sells goods and services.

The result of that presentation was that I received high remarks from the participants. I have also been asked if I would consider doing it again in February 2015. The decision regarding who all will be presenting hasn't been finalized yet. Hopefully I will have an opportunity again to present to the nonprofit. This time I will be more prepared because I know more about the organization and nonprofit finance and budgeting.

Annie Godfrey
Title: Search and Social Executive
(Search and Social Executive , |

Some brilliant pointers here! I particularly agree with your last point about knowing and caring why you're giving the presentation. And if you can't see why you're delivering a presentation, then don't! The worst presentations are ones that don't need to be presentations, where another format would work better.

ann ross
Title: Director Finance
Company: General Motors
(Director Finance, General Motors) |

Excellent points, I would also add that when knowing your audience ask yourself the following question; What is the "purpose" of the review and what do you want to "leave or receive" from the audience. This will help guide your materials. It is also helpful to state or reference the purpose and result you would like to achieve with the audience, early on in your review, as it helps set expectations.

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