How to Present Numbers with Impact

Why was it that I always found it a challenge to present the monthly performance figures to team meetings for the whole company? It may have been that I picked up on the cues that my colleagues weren’t always excited at the prospect of being taking through a P&L and variance analysis.

The reality is, whilst for Accountants reading financial reports is second nature, the rest of the business team can be deeply ambivalent towards Finance. To some people, numbers seem to be a foreign language and they can certainly be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of information being presented. So how do you present numbers with both rigour and impact?

Headline your Results

Headlining your results impresses the meaning of the numbers as well as the facts themselves. Think broadsheet newspaper headlines rather than tabloid. Attaching meaning to results makes them much more memorable. Examples could include:

‘Heavy discounting with Key customers drives Gross Margin down 0.5% points.’

‘Sales revenues rose 7% due to entry into new market’

Keep it Simple

Reducing the quantity of data on show, when presenting financial results, is always advisable. Imagine being subjected to a 100 slide month end financial presentation at a board meeting. I suspect the 100 slides were shown so that the Finance Director was reassured that all possible results were covered. In this situation, what could you ever hope to take away from the presentation that was clear and actionable?

In fact, there is a limit to how much numerical data the brain can hold in its working memory. Bombarding your audience with extraneous information just overloads memory capacity. As a Finance professional your job is to reason what the most important results are and focus on these.

What’s the Story?

Every set of results have an underlying business story behind them. Bringing the story to light and identifying the business drivers allows the management team to make decisions. Getting underneath what has eroded the Gross Margin by 0.5% point, is clearly more useful than issuing the variance only. How much was due to pricing, product or customer mix, additional sales investment or raw materials cost increases?

Summary

Although the ideas above may seem obvious and common sense, I have all too frequently seen Financial Management colleagues fail to do these very simple steps. There may be a psychology at work saying that “I have put in hours and days of effort to produce these analyses and reports. I’m going to show how much work I’ve done, whether it’s helpful or not”! Take a step into the shoes of your audience and look at your presentation from their perspective. It’s always much more satisfying presenting to a group of people who are engaged rather than bored and confused.

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