Superstar rocker Rod Stewart said it best when he belted out “Every Picture Tells a Story.” That song could have been titled Every Number Tells a Story because financial presentations aren’t much different. If you want audiences to hear what you have to say, showing a bunch of graphs and balance sheets simply won’t cut it. Numbers, like pictures, need to create a compelling story that draws listeners in and helps them understand what those numbers mean to them.
Learning to whittle your words into a few key ideas that suggest you understand your listeners’ dilemma and are capable of solving their problems, you have a much greater chance of making them care. If they care, they’ll pay attention.
Think back on some of the presentations you’ve sat — or should I risk saying? — slept through. Do you remember numbers the speaker spouted? For example, do you know that 40 million Americans are currently on food stamps? Maybe not. But you might recall that enrollment has set a record every month since 2008.
When put in perspective, numbers can drive points home. Consider a doctor trying to educate an audience about recognizing the symptoms of heart disease. If she said more than a million people suffer heart attacks every year and nearly half will die, you clearly understand the importance. However if she said: “We could be talking about your loved one so it is important for you to recognize the warning signs of heart disease so the people you love can be with you for a long time,” those same numbers would be even more meaningful.
These quick tips will help you let the numbers tell the story.
- Less is more — The more points you try to cover, the more you will dilute your message. Highlight three or four important issues and offer examples, stories and anecdotes to drive the points home.
- One-minute window — If you can’t articulate what’s in it for your audience and why they should care in the first minute, you risk tuning them out. For example, if you are talking about technology, do they really care about how the product works? Or would they rather know how the features can save time and money?
- Solve their problems — Financial audiences love profit-and-loss statements, but balance sheets alone won’t tell your story. Only you can do that. Help your listener understand how you will address their problems, market ideas, meet current challenges and make money.
- Show and tell — Serious doesn’t have to mean boring. Instead of scanning data onto a slide, use charts, models, graphs and pictures to bring your story to life. Share the important details but save the fine points for the handouts. Remember, no one came to see a slide show.
- Mock Q&A — Conduct your own mock question-and-answer session in advance. By thinking through potential questions and answers, you will be better prepared and minimize surprises.
- Say it out loud — By rehearsing out-loud, you will internalize information, making it easier to recite and recall. You’ll also develop pace and rhythm helping you sound more polished, confident and assured.
- Don’t wing it — No matter how good you think you are, people who “wing it” are setting themselves up to fail. The better you prepare, the easier it will be to stay focused, give meaning to your words and handle interruptions or unwanted questions.
Like all effective business communications, financial presentations should be interactive. That means encouraging thinking by posing thought-provoking questions, providing examples and pausing to give people a moment to digest key facts. Finally, even if what you have to say makes them feel frustrated or disappointed, that’s okay. As long as they feel something, they’re listening.