Presenting financial results is a core skill for finance professionals, taking data and turning it into a story. Let’s walk through the goal of presenting, different methods to present, and tips for presenting variance analysis and forecasts.
What is the goal?
The specific goal when presenting financial results depends on your role or department and who you are presenting to. That said, there are a few goals of any financial presentation you want to think through.
First, your goal is to convey financial information in a clear, simple, and easy to understand way. This is true even if you are presenting to other finance professionals.
Second, your goal is to tell a story and not just read numbers off a page. The reason we have “analysts” and not “report generators” is because the numbers need to be analyzed and context added. Reports can run themselves these days, it’s up to us as finance professionals to pull out the details and the story.
Finally, you want to know what you are talking about. It isn’t enough to just come in with polished materials. You need to know your materials, the numbers behind them, and be prepared to answer any questions that come up. When I walk into a presentation, my goal is to hit the 80/20 rule. Be ready to answer 80% of the questions that could come up, and answer the 20% curveballs with a “let me research and get back to you.”
Different ways to present
- Printed Materials: This is the most traditional presentation method. You create a slide deck, build a one-pager, or simply walk through financial statements. The upside, no need to worry about technical difficulties. The downside, you are giving all of the materials up front and its tough to manage the discussion.
- Presentation Software: Present a structured review using software such as PowerPoint, Google Slides, or Keynote. The upside is that you have control over the presentation. The downside is the significant development time and the risk of technical difficulties.
- Dashboards: Present an unstructured review walking through a live dashboard. Software such as Qlik, Tableau, and Thoughtspot can be connected directly to your company’s financials. The upside is that you have all of the data needed to answer questions and have a detailed discussion. The downside is that you really need to know your numbers as the discussion can go anywhere.
Walking through variance analysis
The key to variance analysis is to start with the headline and then break down the details. A common mistake is to start at the top of a page and work your way down. Just like an essay, you need to first explain your “thesis” and then back it up with details. If you start with the details, it is really easy to confuse the message.
You need to focus on telling the story, not just reading the numbers off of the page. What is happening in the business that drove the numbers. Were expectations off? Has there been a significant change since the last year or the last month? Was there a major change in demand or in the operation?
You should also break down variances using drivers where possible. This can add more context than focusing on the nominal variance. For more details, see our post on variance analysis using rate and volume.
Forecasts are pretty meaningless without context. Your job when presenting a forecast is to give that context. What does the forecast mean year over year or quarter over quarter? How does the forecast compare to the expectations of leadership, the board, or even Wall Street? You need to present the forecast against a comparable period or base, and discuss the change from that period.
In addition to providing context, it is critical to document and support the assumptions in the forecast. How did you determine growth rates, sales forecast, or other drivers? At the end of the day, even the best forecast is just a very educated guess. Supporting your assumptions before you are asked will give the forecast credibility and strengthen your presentation.
Have any questions on presenting financial results? Are there other topics you would like us to cover? Leave a comment below and let us know! Make sure to subscribe to our Newsletter to receive exclusive financial news right to your inbox.