Presenting financial information to a non-financial audience is an essential skill for all finance staff. So what are the key challenges and techniques?

Demystifying Finance for non-Financial Stakeholders

Delivering financial information to those not trained in the subject can be fraught with difficulties. While it is essential that non-financial stakeholders understand the true importance of current finances and financial strategy, conveying this message to them in a way that resonates is truly an art form- yet it is one of the most common and useful skills demanded of finance professionals.

Let's dig further into this issue and look at ways that finance employees can truly embrace a business partnering mindset to achieve consistent communication with the wider company.

What are the key challenges in presenting this information?

There are several key factors that make delivering this information effectively a challenge.

  • Time restraints: Everyone in the company is busy, so persuading departments to make time to listen to finance presentations can be a challenge in itself. This is particularly the case for teams that are not in direct money-making roles may as they feel that the reports are simply not relevant to their job function.
  • Relevance: Each department is under pressure to stick within its own budget while demonstrating ROI to senior stakeholders. With these immediate concerns as a priority, taking time to understand apparently unrelated, wider budgetary situations can seem irrelevant.
  • Lack of financial literacy:  Many non-financial employees simply don't have the financial training or background knowledge to understand a lot of the technical jargon that is provided in the reports. This can make the presentations intimidating and very dull.

Why is this damaging for business?

Low-quality financial communication means that your teams lose track of the bottom line and the company's goals at large. This leads to two key issues which are damaging to the business:

  1. Loss of collaboration: Reduced communication between teams leads to siloing. This negatively impacts the company's culture and the lack of unity can lead to interdepartmental conflicts.
  2. Spinning the rumour mill: Information not relayed properly can produce a feeling of uncertainty with staff members, particularly in regards to the safety of their jobs in relation to unclear financial projections. To ensure that worry and unpleasant rumours are not spreading, information needs to be presented clearly.

What can you do about it? 5 ways to improve your presentation

With so much stake what can you do to make your presentation delivery on point? Fortunately quite a lot:

Tell a story

People's attention is held best by a consistent narrative, or at least a clear linear thread. No, we don't mean make it up, but be mindful that a series of random facts and information is difficult to concentrate on for long. Try to break down the big picture into manageable chunks and take your audience on a journey through them. Put thought into what your key themes and conclusions are and work them into your telling so that they can understand exactly how you got there and what it means.

Match the language and interests of your audience

We've spoken about the lack of widespread financial literacy in most departments, so it's up to you to translate. Work out what the main interests of your audience are and what they measure value in, and fit your story to that. This will vary hugely for each job function so make sure you put the research in. The language of your presentations should be notably different for each section of the company, for obvious reasons engineers are hardly likely to be motivated by the same things as your HR team.

Know your stakeholders

Senior stakeholders all have different ways they like information delivered- cater to these. Some will want a brief big picture view, others will prefer to have every number explained on the micro level. To build trusting relationships with these parties you need to read what works best for everyone and work to that.

Pre-empt tricky questions

Difficult questions are part and parcel of financial presentations and it's unlikely you will be able to convincingly take all of them on the fly. Therefore it's important to get ahead of the game and preempt questions that could trip you up. More than that you should also prepare convincing and data supported answers to show your audience that you are taking the right decisions. Note that well-crafted dashboards can be a huge help with this. Having them on hand means you can pull up relevant data points as you are asked for them.

Less is more

Everyone is busy, but no one is more so than senior stakeholders. For this reason, it's good to be direct and brief (unless of course, you know from experience that an individual prefers length). Try to limit your decks to one page, make your most important data points clearly visible and remove any fluff from your language.

To learn more about essential skills for finance professionals, get in touch with the recruitment experts at Ambition.