Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Presentation Tip: Five tips for preparing financial slides

Financial information is a part of many presentations today. Whether you are presenting the budget for next year, current project spending status, or any other financial information, resist the temptation to just copy a spreadsheet and paste it on a slide. Copied spreadsheets overwhelm the audience and leave them confused. At the Presentation Summit last fall, I shared five steps for creating effective financial slides and in this article I want to share them with you.

Step 1: What is the point?
Somewhere in all those numbers is a message you want the audience to hear. Start by determining what that message is. What is the point you want to make sure the audience understands and leaves with? Numbers are used to document a story that the presenter wants to share, and you need to be clear on what story you are trying to tell. Write a headline for your slide that summarizes this key point or message.

Step 2: What numbers tell the story?
Now that you know what story you are trying to tell, look at the numbers you have and determine which numbers, out of all those you could use, really tell the story. For example, if you are discussing the difference between a measured value and a standard, don’t make the mistake of selecting all the numbers. Too many presenters copy the column of measured values, the standard, the difference and the percentage difference. You can likely eliminate 75% of the numbers because the audience probably only needs to see the % difference.

Step 3: How can you use these numbers to tell the story?
Don’t just copy the numbers on to a slide. Look for more visual ways to present the numbers. If you are comparing measured values, perhaps a column graph would show the difference better. If you are showing the trend of data, a line graph will probably work best. If you are showing % difference, a summary table with arrows indicating whether the difference is positive or negative could be best. If you are showing how numbers are related to a whole, a pie chart shows that message well. Look for opportunities to show the numbers visually.

Step 4: Sketch the visual
I always find it helpful to sketch out what I think the visual should look like before creating it in PowerPoint. This allows me to make sure that my idea will work visually. It also allows you to check your idea with others before you have spent a lot of time creating a visual in PowerPoint. Once you are satisfied that the visual will work, you can create it in PowerPoint.

Step 5: Determine what backup you may need
The most common reason that presenters overload their slides with numbers is that they want to have the answer to every possible question on the slide just in case someone asks. These overloaded slides don’t help the audience understand your message. It is a good idea to anticipate questions that might come up, but the better approach is to create hidden slides or hyperlinks to source documents in order to answer the questions. Hidden slides are not shown in Slide Show mode, but can be accessed during the presentation if needed. Hyperlinks to spreadsheets allow you to show how changes to assumptions or other inputs will affect the resulting calculations. I have a tutorial video on linking to external files here.

It doesn’t matter what financial background you have, you can use these five steps to make financial information easier for your audience to understand.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Presentation Tip: Design visuals vs. Content visuals

Some presenters think that adding visuals, especially pictures, will instantly improve their slides. I agree that visuals can improve your slides, but only if those visuals help communicate your message more effectively. In this article I want to discuss the difference between design visuals and content visuals.

Let me start by defining each of these terms. A design visual is used to improve the appearance of the slide, and doesn’t really add to the point the presenter is making. A design visual is usually a photo or a graphic element. A content visual is one that helps the audience understand the point you are making and includes more that just photos or graphic images.

When I was recently reviewing a set of slides for a client, my feedback was that they had used design visuals instead of content visuals. They had used pictures, but those photos were not related to the points being made. For example, they were talking about partnering with customers and they used a photo of a chess board. The image of a game that has a clear winner and a loser doesn't support the message of partnering together for mutual benefit, and may end up confusing the audience. If they had used a photo of two people helping each other scale a mountain, it would convey working together to reach a mutually beneficial goal.

Content visuals could be photos, but presenters who use content visuals can choose from a variety of visuals that make their message more impactful. If they want to show trends or measured values, they might use a graph. If they want to show relationships or processes, they might use a diagram. For a testimonial, they might use a video clip. Using content visuals is more effective than using design visuals. You don’t need to be a graphic designer to create a content visual. You can easily use the tools in PowerPoint to create graphs, diagrams, and other visuals. I have a number of PowerPoint tutorials on my site here that show how to create a number of visuals using PowerPoint.

I am not suggesting you stop using photos, because photos can be very effective if the photo reinforces your message. I am suggesting you be very deliberate in choosing visuals for your slides. Don’t limit yourself to photos, use a broader selection of visuals. In my latest book Present It So They Get It, I suggest three strategies for selecting an appropriate visual depending on what point you are trying to make and I show many examples of different visuals you can use on slides.

Don't use a visual just because it makes your slide pretty, use it because it better communicates your message. Choose content visuals over design visuals and your presentation will be more effective.