Financial presentations are common to every business. Whether the audience is the board, investors, lenders or bankers, the ability to tell a credible and compelling financial story is critically important. While the specifics will obviously vary from one company to the next, some guidelines are common to all.

Know Your Goal – What is it you want to accomplish with this presentation? Are you sharing information or are you requesting something from the audience? Ask yourself what success looks like when the presentation is done. Focus on creating a narrative that is structured to achieve your goal.

Know Your Audience – Tunnel vision is an easy trap to fall into when preparing a presentation. If you focus too much on what you want to say, rather than on what your audience needs to understand, you run the risk of wasting your time and theirs. Putting yourself in the audience is essential. How well do they understand your business? Don’t assume they know as much as you do. They will appreciate it when you make it easy for them to understand. If you were listening to your presentation, what would you need to hear to form an opinion or make a decision? What questions would you have? Your presentation, including what you say in support of the slides, needs to provide the audience with the information needed to help you achieve your goal.

Know Your Numbers – You need to be able to explain the meaning of every number in your slides. Answering a question related to a number on the slides with “Good question, but I’ll have to get back to you” will undermine your credibility and frustrate the audience.  Along the same lines, and at the risk of stating what should be obvious, the numbers must be correct. Nothing derails a financial presentation faster than an audience member pointing out that one of the numbers is wrong. Check the numbers yourself. Check them again. And then ask someone who wasn’t involved in preparing the slides to check as well.

Acknowledge the Challenges – Most financial projections depend on several key assumptions such as significantly expanding your sales team, reductions in product costs, marketing expenditures to support a new product, etc. While it may be tempting to gloss over them, it’s important to make them visible. For those key assumptions over which you have the least control, such as market growth rates, share your thoughts on “Plan B” if things turn out differently. You don’t need to go into detail, but by showing that you’ve thought through the potential downside, you’ll strengthen your credibility.

Keep it Simple – The reader should be able to understand the point of a slide within the first 5-10 seconds. If they can’t figure it out quickly, it’s probably too complicated or too busy to hold their interest. Adhering to the rule of “less is more” is a safe strategy for slide preparation. If it doesn’t add value, get rid of it. Only include what’s essential to make the point and support your objective. Minimize the amount of text on the page. You’re telling a financial story and the numbers on the slides should accomplish much of that on their own. Most people prefer pictures more than text, so use a graph or a chart if it conveys the message at least as well as a numeric table. Showing both just adds clutter. Avoid the temptation to include graphics just because they look cool. Rather than trying to jam every detail into the slides, include an appendix if you think there is additional information they need.

Know Your Role – Contrary to what many people seem to believe, no law requires a presenter to read every word on every slide to the audience. Your audience can presumably read just as well as you can, and they can definitely read faster than you can talk. Your role in the presentation is to bring the narrative in the slides to life. You do that by sharing your knowledge about and your passion for the business. You want the audience focused on what you are saying rather than waiting for you to finish reading the slides. Add context by talking about the competition, the market, a new customer, provide anecdotes or proactively answer questions you’d have if you were in the audience. The slides can lay out the facts. By making it personal, you create a cohesive, compelling story that will hold the audience’s attention and increase the likelihood of a successful presentation.

The motto “Practice makes perfect” applies here. Ask for feedback from those you trust and adopt new ideas that deepen your skills and presentation style. Continuously learning, we all get better with time.