Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Big Question: How to Tell a Story Without Being There?

“Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it To Whom it May Concern.” - Ken Haemer, AT&T

“It’s not what you SAY that counts; it’s what they HEAR.” - Red Auerbach, Boston Celtics

In Finance, we create many types of presentations.
Results “Updates”
Recurring updates on state of the business, competitive position
Typically very short updates for high level consumption
Executives seek the “killer” one-page slide
Presentation of “what caused what”, e.g. why was inventory up this month, or overhead?
More detailed/analytical but also short and to the point
Asking for Something Tactical
Capital requests, resource requests
Short why, what, how presentations; typically including financials and a timeline
Presenting a Broader Strategy
One time per year presentations to executives, BOD, or analysts
Longer presentations” require insights from multiple sources and tight storyline to follow
Presenting Project Recommendations
Multiple presentations on long projects, to various audiences
Inputs can come from several team members and sources, requiring synthesis and consolidation

Most presentation writing mistakes come from failing to adapt structure and content to the purpose or audience. 

Purpose or Audience
Common Mistakes
Important executive presentation to large audience
Too much detail (small font, bullets, graphs)
Too little detail (pictures with no insights)
Too long (count minutes per page, allow for Q&A)
Recurring updates to large audience
Too much detail for time allotted
Same thing every time (gets monotonous)
Doesn’t tell a story to hold audience attention
Tactical purpose, executive audience
Tactical isn’t a license to throw in everything without thinking! Common mistake not to distill detail into clear actions and visual representation
Can be misleading if done incorrectly
Group strategy plan or project recommendation
Information collected from many sources thrown together, and looks like it (no synthesis)

Fact: We are Not Usually the Speaker.  So How Can I Persuade Without Presenting?
Clarity of structure and reasoning
Translating logical clarity into visual clarity
Avoiding common mistakes which cause the speaker to mistrust the materials
Thinking ahead – what questions will be asked of the presenter?
Leave breadcrumbs – using source/footnotes and appendix

Solving a problem and thinking about how to communicate the solution are equally important and your teams should be spending time thinking about both.  Here are some expectations you should share with your finance teams to improve their deck writing.

Decks need to be CFO ready without spelling and grammatical errors. Decks are the product of all of your hard work.  If your decks are sloppy and contain errors, it doesn’t matter how hard you worked putting it together or doing the analysis.  All executives will see are the mistakes.

Where applicable, decks should contain a targeted message that stands on its own (meaning that someone could forward your deck to the CEO and answer all questions that the CEO might have despite not having spoken to you or the team.) 

Content should be easy to understand and read.  Regardless of format, graphs, tables, and text should be easy to comprehend.  You should be able to print your slide in black and white and convey the same message (e.g. your message should not rely on 3D artifacts to tell the story).  Iconography should match the context (e.g. cell tower for communication).

Elements should be consistent with PowerPoint standards.  If you do not have standards developed for your organization, consider adopting them. 

There should be a storyline to the deck (even if only a few pages).  The storyline of a deck is its narrative arc. If the purpose of a deck is to get our customers from point A to point B, the storyline is the roadmap for that journey.  A good storyline takes into account the reader - where they're starting, where you want to take them, and what you have to show them to get them there.

Your storyline is your opportunity to convey your logical thinking of the problem and solution.  Each page of the deck should have a clear purpose and play a role in advancing the storyline.  The first page, like a first meeting, is our chance to make a first impression. What is the first page trying to answer?  Why does the reader care?  When presenting to executives, the first page should tell the whole story. 

The essential elements or key "takeaways" of each page should be clear and supported by data. If a page does not meet these criteria, consider removal or relocation into an appendix.

Where applicable, use active headlines on each slide to convey the message of the slide (i.e., the headline should make a statement and prepare the reader for what the slide is about to tell them. They should be able to gather everything they need to know from that single opening sentence). A good headline or "lead" will concisely and efficiently a) capture the audience's attention, b) explain why the page is important, and c) show how the page contributes to the storyline.  Someone should be able to read your entire deck just from the headlines and get the same meaning without looking at the slide contents.

Every page that follows the first page should also have an active headline. Each page needs to answer “so what?” and “why do I care?”.  The content on the slide needs support the headline only (if it supports something else, either the headline is not correct or the content need to be cleaned up). The focus should be highlighting value-adding insights or supporting information.

General Rules for Bullets and Numbering
Ensure each bullet point is indented to .5 and wraps
Avoid unusually large or small fonts (usually 14 pt to 16 pt)
Ensure there is appropriate spacing between bullet points (typically .25 to 1.0)
Avoid excessively long bullets (try to limit to 1 to 2 lines maximum)
Keep bullet points to between 3 and 6 per page
Use arial black font for bulleting unless specific reason necessitates alternate color
In general, try to limit bullet slides to agenda and summary slides

Rules of Thumb for Content Slides
Use active titles to convey message of the slide, i.e. titles should make an argument
For longer recommendation driven documents, titles should flow from page to page like a story
All slide titles should be in Title Case (capitalize all words except articles and prepositions)
Ensure appropriate balance between data and visual content
Use takeaway boxes at the bottom to highlight key insights
Vary slide layout throughout to keep presentation visually interesting

General Tips to Avoid Clutter
Stay within margins of each slide (use blue line across the top as a guide)
On graphs, use the largest unit of measure possible ($5BN vs. $5,000,000,000)
Zeros should be omitted from axis scales and legends
No more than one decimal point of detail (exceptions exist, ie. gross margin rate)
Limit the use of talking points within graph area (unless space constraints necessitate)
Limit the data presented to only what supports the slide headline
Pay attention to both screen presentation and print/hard copy

Tips for Charts and Graphs
Always use brand colors
Never use 3-D graphs, gradient/shading
Choose the right chart for your message (e.g. growth = time series, breakdown = waterfall or pie chart)
Use shadow boxes (style 14 gray) behind the graph
Consider eliminating Y axes and format data labels (or use text boxes)
Data labels should always be horizontal
Never use data tables in (below) charts
Remove gridlines and plot areas
Always note the data source
Title every chart, and chart title should be smaller font than slide title, include units below title

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