A Presentation Lesson From Number Crunchers

This blog was originally published on Forbes as A Presentation Lesson From Number Crunchers on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.

“Number crunchers,” “Bean counters,” and “Green eyeshades” are labels often used to describe people who work in the world of finance. The ironic tone of those terms implies that such detail-oriented types, being left brain-dominant, lack creativity. And yet, those same people often engage in an obligatory financial activity that takes considerable right brain thinking—and serves as an excellent analog for presentations.

Financial documents, annual reports, and offering prospectuses contain a boiler plate section called MD&A, an acronym for Management’s Discussion and Analysis—a text passage accompanying the dense numeric tables and charts that, according to a business dictionary definition, “may not be apparent in the financial statements.”

In fact, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission specifies that “MD&A should not be merely a recitation of financial statements in narrative form or an otherwise uninformative series of technical responses to MD&A requirements… [instead]… provides guidance.”

The parallel with presentations is with the role of the presenter in relation to the slide show. Just as no reader of a financial document can get the full value of a company’s performance from the tables and charts alone, no audience can get the full value of a company’s story or messaging from the slides alone. Yet many presentations attempt to pack their whole story into slides that have the density of a document. The results of this misguided approach is to cause the presenter to read the slides to audience. (Comedian Don McMillan mocks this dreaded phenomenon in a perennially popular YouTube video.) And remember that the first time anyone read to you, was to put you to sleep.

It is the presenter’s job to tell a company’s story or deliver its messaging. The only role for slides is to provide a visual reinforcement of the presenter’s narrative. Consider the slides as a headline and the presenter’s narrative as the body text. Consider the narrative as MD&A, a discussion and analysis beyond what the slides show; a narrative in which the presenter provides verbal content that includes examples, endorsements, benefits, and interpretation.

Take a lesson from number crunchers. Just as they add value to their numbers with MD&A text, add value to your slides with your narration.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as A Presentation Lesson From Number Crunchers on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.

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