Whether the presentation class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . . or Singapore . . . I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students everywhere with regard to their finance presentation PowerPoint—
“Finance is different.”
“We don’t do all of that soft-skill kumbaya presentations stuff.”
“For us, the numbers tell the story.”
Worshiping at the Altar of Numbers
Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways.
It’s almost as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language, less subject to manipulation.
In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort, an income statement serves as anchor.
For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric.
This illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.
Finance presentations are somehow harder.
They appear more firmly rooted in . . . well, rooted in the very stuff of business.
Finance Presentation PowerPoint . . . Beware!
But this is an illusion.
Among other problems, the numbers on a spreadsheet are nothing more than proxies for the conditions that gave rise to them in the first place.
Yet folks create and sustain the myth that “The numbers tell the story.”
But the numbers tell no story.
They are mute.
They offer the illusion of precision. They offer fool’s gold to those who worship at the numbers altar.
The result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.
Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.
We’re all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast, demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.
As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.
Finance Presentation Hell
The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica.
It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.
In fact, many finance presentations crumble into little more than meeting “discussions” about a printed analysis distributed beforehand. They’re picked apart by Gotcha! jackals with nothing on their minds except proving themselves worthier than those who might be unlucky enough to be the presenter du jour.
Finance presentation PowerPoint shows seem to offer nothing save the opportunity for public posturing and one-upmanship.
A presenter or group of presenters stands and shifts uncomfortably while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of gotcha questions, usually couched to demonstrate the mastery of the questioner rather than to elicit worthy information.
Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life. But there’s hope.
Upcoming posts offer solutions to this common presentation conundrum.
Meanwhile, you can find my in-depth treatment of how to wrestle and subdue the finance presentation beast in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.