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5 Tips for Powerful Financial Storytelling

MicrophonePublic speaking is hard, there’s no doubt about it. You need to prepare your speech, carefully choosing your words and crafting your story. Then, you need to devote some serious time practicing-- some say up to one hour for every minute of your speech! Finally, you need to fight the butterflies in your stomach to step in front of the crowd, steady your voice, and give your speech.

When it comes to public speaking, accountants face more challenges than the average person. Not only do they need to do all of the above, they also need to translate complex data into easy-to-understand concepts for non-finance professionals.

Financial storytelling takes a lot of work, but it’s a learnable skill. The following are tips from the CGMA research brief, “Six Rules to Delivering a Powerful Financial Presentation.”

Know your audience. Your first step when developing a presentation is to find out what’s most important to your audience.  Then, lead with that piece of information. It will instantly capture their attention and make it easier to keep them engaged throughout the rest of the speech. Manoj Vasudevan, the 2017 Toastmasters International world champion of public speaking, suggests identifying what you can teach your audience, and cutting anything that can appear self-serving or repetitive. “Your speech is not about your ego; it’s about your message,” he told Business Insider. “Make sure that message is worth listening to.”

Nobody’s perfect. Not even champion speakers—and especially not the members of your audience. Don’t fear making mistakes or suffering technical difficulties. Most audience members won’t notice mistakes, but they will notice if you get tripped up by them. When something goes wrong, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, pause, regain your composure, and carry on. And, resist the urge to apologize to your audience – that only draws more attention to the blooper.

Tell a story. Storytelling is so effective because it provides context to the figures you’re presenting to help make them relatable. A speech is like a conversation--you want to wrap your facts in emotion so your listeners understand why what you’re saying is important. Your job isn’t to read the balance sheet, it’s to offer broader context to the figures and bring a financial story to life.

Use pictures to enhance the data. Use bold, bright, and high-contrast photos to help set the tone for your presentation. Or use props for an unexpected twist. Instead of displaying multiple figures on a large graph, consider data visualization charts and tools. They’ll help your audience quickly identify major trends or anomalies without getting distracted by trying to read a busy slide. (You can always send spreadsheets as a follow up to your presentation!) The CGMA report, “5 Rules of Effective Data Visualisation” can help you generate ideas.

Simplify. You worked  hard to master the vernacular of accounting. Unfortunately, it might as well be a foreign language to your audience. Warren Buffett has said that he writes financial reports like he’s talking to his sisters. “I have no trouble picturing them: though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them.”

It may take a while until you nail the perfect financial presentation. Until then, try to improve upon one aspect at a time, and practice, practice, practice!

For more details and case studies, download the entire report.

Chrissy Jones, MBA, Manager--Communications and Member Engagement, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Microphone courtesy of Shutterstock

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