Financial Storytelling: Transform Boring into Bravo

March 15 2018 | by Krista M. Gardner, CPA

Truth be told, financial presentations have a reputation for not being the most exciting way to spend your time. Very often, it results in presentations that start off boring and stay boring. Even the most number-happy accountant appreciates a livelier approach.

With financial results and projections being the basis for most decisions surrounding your governmental entity, it’s important that the decision makers and influencers of the entity have a clear understanding of the story being told by the financial information provided to them. In this blog, we’ll look at how to accomplish this without your audience losing interest.

It’s Not All About You

First things first, it may be your presentation, but it’s all about your audience. Identifying and evaluating your audience is a critical element in successfully developing your story and communicating its message. The way you prefer to see and experience the information isn’t necessarily the best course of action. It is crucial to not only know who your audience is but to understand their level of knowledge and background before you proceed. There may be occasions when you are required to present the same information to multiple audiences. In these situations, a few simple tweaks to customize it can go a long way in achieving your goals. This can be especially beneficial when communicating financial and accounting information to non-accountants.

If you have spent any time around accountants, or those in financial roles, you’ve probably noticed an abundance of acronyms being thrown around (GASB, GAAP, etc.). Or lots of accountant-speak terminologies that are weaved into their everyday conversations (fund balance, transfers, accruals, etc.). Put yourself in the shoes of the listener and ask yourself if these things would be confusing.

The Art of Storytelling

A financial statement, in and of itself, can be confusing for those who do not work directly in accounting or finance on a regular basis. Add in the unique aspects of governmental accounting, and what you end up with is muddy water. Making it difficult for someone trying to decipher and make decisions based on the financial information presented. But, did you realize that behind every number lies a story?

Take time to provide examples that are relatable to the audience, putting things in perspective can ensure that “aha” moment instead of everything going over their head. It’s also important to make sure they know why you are presenting this information. Having a why is critical to making it important to them. Don’t leave them guessing! Explain how this will impact the entity whether it’s big picture or short term. This will create a more engaged and invested audience.

Keep it Simple

As the presenter, you are responsible for translating financial data into useful information for the audience. It’s easy to overwhelm and confuse people with too much information, so keep things simple.

To help with this approach, focus on including what needs to be presented. Think about finance-driven presentations as coming in all shapes and sizes including everything from monthly board and finance committee meetings to annual budget preparations and even daily financial discussions with staff. Be aware of exactly what information they need to assess a situation or make a decision appropriately. Always consider how the information will be received, who will be impacted and what message will be heard.

It can be difficult to balance providing the right type and amount of information – not too much, but not too little. By considering the audience and their needs, you will find the perfect balance of transparency and organization of information.

Next Steps

Join me as I take a more in-depth look at how to capitalize on financial presentations. We’ll start with how to understand your audience, your objectives and their expectations, discuss techniques for presenting accounting topics to “non-accountants,” and review how to engage our audience beyond your presentation. If you are looking for ways to enhance the effectiveness of your financial message, this is a not to be missed webinar.

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