There is no shortage of data in financial services. Yet there may be a shortage of understanding, appreciation and meaning when using it. If your role involves telling people what is going on by using words and figures, you need to be able to not only provide information, but help others to receive it, and understand the underlying message you wish them to take away.
Having seen thousands of presentations in my career, and run hundreds of sessions on presentation skills, here are some essential tips and to help you use your data to achieve what it needs to: and avoid ‘Death by PowerPoint.’
The clearer you are about what outcome you want to achieve, the easier it is to collate and present your data to build towards that
- Think Covey: “Begin with the end in mind”. The second habit from Stephen Covey’s famous ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ provides a useful starting point for preparing your presentation. Before you reach for slides or the vast amounts of data at your disposal, ask what it is you want your audience to do as result of your presentation. The impact your data will have is not what happens during your presentation, but what happens after they leave the room or leave an online presentation. The clearer you are about what outcome you want to achieve, the easier it is to collate and present your data to build towards that. Besides Covey, three other ‘C’s’ give you a purpose for using data – Comprehension (so people achieve a common understanding), Capability (so they can do something, or do something different), and Commitment (so something happens as result). For some presentations you need to hit all these three C’s.
- Think Sinek: “Start with Why” – introduce your presentation with some great reasons why your audience should want to see your data, why they should listen to your messages which surround and support it, and how they will be better off as a result. Anyone can present data, but the meaning attached to it is where the interest and engagement come from. Build engagement in your audience from the very start – Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” provides a template here: your data may tell the what and how, but position these with the Why up front, and maybe reiterate that when you reach each main point.
- Who is your target audience? You will probably not present your information to everyone, or even everyone in an organisation. Consider who will be receiving your data, what their existing knowledge and experience is, and (back to Point number 1) what you want them to be able to do afterwards. The more precisely you target, the easier it is to tailor your message – and your use of data.
- How long have you – and they – got? Abandon any thoughts of X slides per minute, or similar ‘rules’. The time question here relates to whether you have enough time for your message, and if not whether you seek more. Such a request may be unusual and not that welcome – the alternative being to fit your message and its supporting information into the time available. If time really is of the essence, less data may be more – as in more message.
- Where am I presenting this? Online for many is the ‘norm’, and Zoom, Teams et al make it easy to share data. Making your mouse into a laser pointer could help highlight detail but use selectively to avoid unwanted distraction. When presenting live, some rooms and their expensive LCD screens may constrain where the slides are seen – in which case your flexibility as presenter requires you to move from one slide to another if you want to focus on specific points or areas of a slide. Crossing the screen is seen by some as a sin: yet failing to move with your message is missing opportunities to draw attention to the detail. Standing in front of your screen for a extended period remains ineffective though.
- The message not the slides; each slide should convey a message or part of an overall message. The number of slides is irrelevant: what people remember is the impact on them. If using text alongside you data selectively animate it so people read the message step by step – unless you want to read it all at once, and possibly ahead of you talking about it.
- Focus audience attention with TTT. This tool enables you to draw attention to specific elements while building engagement. When presenting live, Touch a part of the screen gently to the point you want your audience to focus on, Turn back them and only then start to Talk. TTT ensures you avoid using your slides as a script and talking to the screen. Online this can be adapted to highlighting with the mouse pointer or highlighting tool before adding your verbal message.
- Build engagement: tell them what’s coming. You do not always have to show your data to generate engagement. Telling people what your next slide is about, and what to look for before displaying it, enables them to focus on the point you want to make as soon as they see the slide – and not to look at it all and wait for your guidance. If you Alert them to what’s coming, Instruct them what too look for, Display the slide, and then Shut Up, you have used the visual AIDS tool to good effect. Use selectively on important data sets for maximum effect.
- Where’s the lightbulb? Not all data will be equal, even if created equally. Your job when presenting data is to manage your audiences’ outcomes through the information you present. In every presentation there will be one or two (I suggest maximum three) main points you will want people to retain: shape your data presentation around those. If aiming for Comprehension (Point 1 again), enabling your audience to experience a lightbulb moment could be the takeaway you and they are looking for.
- Do I really need this slide? One for the preparation stage. Once your presentation is complete and ready to go, give it a quick review, asking whether you really need this slide. This will help in two ways: firstly by removing superfluous content, and secondly, should you planned timescale be reduced, you will know what you can readily cut out. Prepare your reactive thinking in advance!
You will have experienced many presentations and forgotten most of them. In financial services much of the message will come with words and figures which, despite the range of colours, templates, and whizzy graphics, can combine into one amorphous blur.
Your mission is to bring clarity of message, even when supporting it with a mass of data.