The value of presenting properly cannot be understated. This is your chance to be viewed as a significant value added member of the team and demonstrate your level of expertise.

Over the years, the below practices have worked extremely well for me. In addition, my observations of other presentations where the presenter did not fare very well was due to not following one or more of these practices.

1. Know your audience

As with any presentation, this is extremely important. Your entire presentation material and presentation style depends on your audience. For instance, a presentation to the Board of Directors would be vastly different in terms of slides, detail, preparation and context than a presentation given to a large group of other finance people.

In addition, a smaller group presentation will be subject to more interactions and therefore knowing each individual attendee can be just as critical. Using the Board of Directors presentation example again; knowing each board members tendencies, mannerism (indications of silent clues of agreement or disagreement), and overall knowledge or bias on a particular topic will help make a presentation go smoothly. The key is to avoid being blindsided by an objection, question or being forced to go down an unexpected path which can abruptly turn a smooth meeting into a very contentious meeting.

2. Know the material backwards and forwards

The presenter needs fully understand the material, any numbers and all the key trends, metrics and variances vs the plan or forecast. You do not want to be just reading the information off the slide. The audience wants to know the story behind the material or numbers. You need to provide the proper narrative as to any important events/milestone and the cause of any material issues or variances (both positive and negative). Are the issues or variances one-time events or will they be recurring?

The ramifications of the issues, depending on their importance, might very well be a topic of discussion By highlighting the possible consequences of not addressing the issue, will at a minimum, ensure the issues are discussed, monitored, resolved or optimally mitigated. Given this, you should be prepared to address the issue in some detail.

One last very important point for this section, if you don’t know the answer to a question, it is better to respond ”I don’t know; let me get back to you” or “I don’t know all the nuances to provide a proper answer, so let me get back to you” than it is to respond with an answer that is not correct. An incorrect answer will cause a hit to your credibility and everything you say after that as well as before that will become subject to suspicion with regards to its accuracy. Of course, you don’t want to be using the “I don’t know” response too often as that as its own negative implications as well.

3. Have answers to questions before they are asked

During preparation of the material, you need to be able to review the slides and ask yourself what questions are likely to be asked during the presentation. This is where knowing your audience and understanding the material and numbers come into play.

By reflecting on the slides, knowing the audience and the details well enough you should be in good position to review the slides and determine what questions are obvious and as well as what questions might surface. This will put you in position to present with confidence and to respond quickly. The better you are able to do this, the higher your credibility to the audience will be.

4. Issue Handling

Undoubtedly you will be in position to have to be the messenger of bad news. Depending on the situation (e.g., presenting to the Board of Directors), it is usually very wise to provide a heads-up prior to the meeting to the board members individually. This accomplishes two things: a) nobody likes negative surprises. By providing advanced notice, it will help control emotional responses during the meeting and b) It will give each Board Member to reflect on possible solutions or provide guidance during the meeting.

While presenting bad news cannot and should not be avoided, it is far better to present the problem, but then follow-up with action plans or possible solutions to solve the problem. In other words, don’t simply announce and give the problem to the attendees. Instead, demonstrate your leadership by owning the problem, whether as a team or individually, as appropriate.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

This presentation adage has been around for a long time, because it is so valuable. The more important the presentation, the more practice is recommended. The benefits that practice provides include:

  • Cutting or rearranging slides if the material does not flow smoothly or does not paint the picture you are trying to convey
  • Provides the opportunity to deliver the presentation until you feel comfortable with the material, script and the message so you don’t have to read the slides. You want to face the audience and talk to the slides with confidence
  • Allows you to time your presentation assuming there are no questions. This will give you a sense if the number of slides or talking points for each slide needs to be modified so that your presentation can be completed in the time allotted