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 devolve into basic meeting discussions about a printed analysis distributed beforehand.
The group of presenters stands idly while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of questions.
Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .
“Just the facts”
Exhortations of “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.
“Just the facts”
Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core. But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised.
It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.
What does it mean, “Just the facts?”
Why these facts and not those facts?
Events are three-dimensional and filled with people. They require explanation and analysis. Mere “facts” are flat, two-dimensional, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world.
“Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.
“The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me. “We deal in hard numbers.”
There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.
Numbers, by themselves, tell no story at all.
Numbers in a spreadsheet of past performance are proxies for myriad conditions inside and outside the firm that will not repeat themselves.
The end result of these finance presentations shenanigans is an overall level of mediocrity and outright bad presentations.
If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it.
It may be useful. It may be boring. It may be morale-building. It may be team-destroying. It may be time-wasting.
But whatever else it is, it is not an effective business presentation.
“Cut ’n’ Paste” Finance Presentation
This is the heinous data dump that all of us inevitably see. PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font.
The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase: “As you can see . . . ”
The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium.
Slides from the netherworld.
But in every obstacle exists an opportunity. Sometimes, you must dig deep for it.
But inevitably it’s there
The Good News
Because the bar for finance presentations is so low, if you give a finance presentation using the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude.
It can be a source of personal competitive advantage.
This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid.
Because it should be.
Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect your superb finance education.
All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance presentations, particularly the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity.
If anything, finance presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.
A situation statement must be given.
A story still must be told.
Your analysis presented.
Conclusions must be drawn.
Recommendations must be made.
And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.
If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance presentations will easily outshine the hoi polloi.
But if you delve even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully, you can rise to the zenith of the finance presentations world precisely because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the opportunity to deliver an especially powerful presentation.