How to make board financial presentations easier to understand

Written by Tim Mears on August 22 2018

How to make board financial presentations better

Numbers. We rely on them every day. But at the same time, most of us loathe them. Why? Because they’re tiresome on the eyes and difficult to decipher.

Add a long PowerPoint presentation to that mix and you have a recipe for disaster. But don’t fret because there are things you can do. Here’s how to make board financial presentations easy on the eyes and mind.

1. A picture paints a thousand words

Humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, according to a Microsoft study. To ensure you get your message across before your audience checks out, make your presentation as digestible as possible.

BI GO financial presentation

Source: The Offbeat Story

That means visuals. 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and photos are processed 60,000 times faster than text and numbers. To make your board financial presentations easier to understand, make what you’re saying easier to digest. People will thank you for it later.

We know what you’re thinking: this is a financial presentation – it’s all about the numbers. While that’s true, you can, and should, turn those figures into visuals. At Axon, we’ve built a tool called BI GO. It takes the financial data you have in Sage 50, combines it with the analytical power of Microsoft’s Power BI and leaves you with stunning dashboards of financial data.

2. It all starts with a story

Behind every number is a story to tell. Understanding numbers is about understanding context. Has your expenditure increased? Maybe Derrick bought some new computers. Has your revenue decreased? Perhaps you lost a few clients. 

People respond to stories better than to statistics and data. It’s human nature. Although showing clear-cut figures to people is valuable in benchmarking your business’s success, the what, where and why of it is just as important. Don’t leave your audience in the dark.

Download our free guide to building a KPI dasboard

3. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid

The David Brent types might consider data-dumping business financials on a big screen to ‘impress’ board members. We advise against it. As said by economist E. F. Schumacher:

‘Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius–and a lot of courage–to move in the opposite direction.’

He’s got a good point. Complexity is the enemy of understanding, and statistics can be difficult to understand even in their simplest form. For greater understanding, then, explain your business data in layman terms. This way, you’ll spend less time clarifying to the board and more time explaining what it all means.

4. Make it a two-way conversation

Just because you’re running the financial presentation, it doesn’t mean you need to do all the talking. Perhaps someone has an insight you didn’t think of or that helps explain something in a better way. Be sure to turn your one-way presentation into a two-way conversation.

Think of it like sales. A bad salesman will give a pitch while a customer listens. A good salesman will involve the customer and build rapport prior to making a sale. The board want to be reassured (especially about finances), so ask them questions and let them answer. This will help them better understand how the business is performing. 

5. Follow the 10-20-30 rule

Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule is no exception. It is a must-follow rule for anyone giving a presentation. The concept is simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have 10 slides, take 20 minutes to present and have a font no smaller than 30 points.

No human likes too much information. We want the fastest route to the water. For busy board members, this couldn’t be truer. Outline your financials, apply the context, decipher the meaning. And you can do this in 20 minutes. If you’ve scheduled in an hour, use the remaining time for discussion; it’ll be far more valuable. 

The real test to this rule is using a large font. Like the argument we made above, simplicity is key. The bigger the font, the less room you have to write. The result is an easy to understand and contextually valuable presentation.

6. Expectation management is everything

Steve Jobs used to open his presentations by saying ‘I have four things I want to talk about today’. This single line set the bar for what an audience could expect from him. They knew how long they had to focus for, how much Jobs had to say and when it would be over.

For your board, set a similar expectation. Board members have places to be and work to do. And so do you. By opening your financial presentations with a short agenda, you’ll help them understand what they can expect and plan accordingly.

Download our free guide to building a KPI dasboard

7. Always be closing

What we mean here is: don’t ramble on. You need to explain something? Do it in fewer than 10 words. You’re running out of time? Finish your point and move on.

Greater understanding doesn’t come down to quantity, it comes down to quality. Your ability to communicate clearly and concisely is the difference between a good presentation and a bad one. Think about what you’re saying, filter it and then say it. Don’t waste time. 

8. Lastly, prepare yourself

A good presentation is a rehearsed one. And a financial presentation to the board must be prepared, never improvised. To ensure what you have to say is easy to understand, adopt the 20 for 20 rule. That’s a 20-minute presentation, practised at least 20 times. 

We know what you’re thinking: 20 times sounds overcooked. But a lot of that practice will be refactoring and reworking sections of your presentation. You’ll probably run through your financial presentation start to finish less than 10 times. The best part? This rule ties perfectly into Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule.

Data-driven doesn’t have to be confusing

90 percent of the data in the world today was collected in the last two years, and we’re producing approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. That’s a lot of information.

When it comes to financial reporting, sifting through data can be overwhelming, difficult to digest and hard to contextualise, making your board room presentation a tough puzzle to piece together. 

That’s why we think BI GO is the tool to end all boring financial presentations. Bringing the elements of Power BI to Sage 50, you can visualise and understand your accounting data without the hassle. And when data is presented in this way, it becomes much easier to see trends and identify opportunities.

The only hard part now is delivering your presentation. Do you wear the blue tie or the grey?

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