Throughout the course of the last century, the world’s business landscape has continued to shift, often dramatically. The fall of once believed unstoppable operations like the fax machine industry, or local family owned grocery stores, as well as giant names like Toys’R’Us in more recent years, are all prime examples of this.
Despite technological advancements and shifting market trends certainly playing their parts, under the surface, when a business starts failing to understand or act upon its own financial data, a snowball effect of small problems leading to irreversible damage can rapidly grow. The familiar Buffett line – “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing”, remains relevant regardless of the age or size of a company. Knowing how to communicate the most important financial metrics, from the boardroom of executives to the staff and customers, can mean the difference between a thriving enterprise and a dying one. Going forward, we will explore some of the primary elements that make for well presented financial data and explain their importance, then go on to analyse some key audience categories. With examples and suggestions, I hope to highlight the extremely valuable relationship between a brilliant presentation and its audience, and the actionable insights (or calls to action) that can be drawn from it.
The importance of well-presented financial data
In her insightful work, ‘Storytelling with data’, Cole Knaflic speaks about going through and finding, then presenting the pearls amongst the oysters, instead of presenting countless oysters and hoping your audience finds the pearl for themselves. Well presented financial data is key, and when understood, all areas of your business, from executives to customers, can work towards improving it. Let’s look at some of the most vital points that can mean the difference between impossible to understand data, and a financial presentation with easy to understand information that can be used to draw clear actionable insights.
Regardless of your audience, a thoughtful design in your infographics, whether they are tables, graphs, visualisations and dashboards, or PowerPoint presentations consisting of Excel and spreadsheets, will always remain vital. It is important that your presentation is coupled with an understanding of the meaning behind the data, allowing you to communicate vital financial metrics. Being able to transform raw numbers into important actionable insights can mean the difference between a company that excels, and one that fails due to poorly communicated ideas.
While there is no specific type of infographic that will suit every single part of a financial report, Knfalic speaks frequently about the importance of using the most simple forms of data presentation wherever possible. Bar graphs, line charts, basic performance dashboards and easy to read tables should be your go to, while infographics where data can easily be confused or muddled due to the number of ways they can be interpreted should be avoided.
Keep it simple
Avoid overwhelming your viewer. Regardless of the type of infographic you choose to present your financial data, avoid visual clutter and allow ‘white space’, or whatever plain background you choose, to isolate the important points of your presentation. This allows your audience to more easily understand and absorb all the important points. The more data you present in a single slide, the less chance there is that your audience will be able to take it all in, leading to data overload, and potentially misunderstanding any actionable insights that arise from it.
Be consistent with visuals and colours
Another important part of keeping things simple, is being consistent with regards to how your data is presented. For example, keep negative figures, or bars if for example it’s a bar chart, red, with positive figures being green, and everything else consistently black and white. Important numbers can be LARGER, to highlight them, while you might add any significant annotations in blue, offset to the rest of your data. Regardless of what you choose to highlight your financial data, keep those choices consistent throughout the duration of your presentation.
Focus on the pearls
Pearls are what you should consider important. It does not always mean they are positive, more so that they are significant, good or bad, they need to be presented with equal importance. Never try to hide negative financial data, it will only lead to problems down the road. It is how giants like Toys’R’Us, who were reportedly in financial trouble as far back as 2004, continued to miss or ignore actionable financial insights all the way up until their liquidation in 2017. If you can catch a problem early, or capitalise on a financial gain at its inception, you can keep your business on the route to success.
Know your audience
Possibly the most important aspect of financial data representation. Your audience should dictate what kind of infographics you present, how you present them, and what kind of information you include in the presentation. Employees for example likely don’t need to know about a sudden downward trend in last month’s turnover. Regardless of who you are explaining data to, simplicity, visualisation, and focus should always be at the core of your presentation
Let’s look now at the typical tiers of audiences you can expect to present financial data to, what kind of infographics are likely more suited to them, and how it can go on to affect the success of your enterprise as you expand and grow into the future.
Presenting data to Internal Stakeholders
While each cog of any business operation has its own importance, they also have their own unique roles, as such, the types of data insights each group needs to be presented to help them in their roles will differ.
The executive group will consist of a narrow spectrum of individuals, from CEOs and directors, to CMOs and board members. Selective infographics should be tailored to display Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in concise and relevant ways. KPIs cover a long list of important subjects that will need to be encompassed and analysed, whether it is year-over-year financial trends, gross profit margin, or competition analysis. It is important to try and convey complex financial data in an accessible and understandable way so no important metrics are missed by arguably the most influential individuals within the business.
A presentation to executives might utilise an easy to understand dashboard that combines KPIs – for example – gross profit, net profit, operating expenses and revenue growth, in well presented line charts to demonstrate year over year financial trends. After each KPI is covered, an actionable insight can then be offered, summarising current challenges, and then offering valuable and concise solutions.
Management can range all the way from floor managers, to regional managers, and while their focus will always be slightly less focused on the biggest picture available, it is important to present financial data relevant to their role and the area in which their focus is based. KPIs will still be relevant to managers, however more specific data pertaining to their niche sectors will become a more important focus. Infographics might illustrate sales performances and project timelines, or employee productivity under their management.
An ideal presentation to management may start with a heat map to demonstrate a visual of sales numbers across sectors. This can be followed by more focused and simplified bar charts that focus on individual product categories, with sales solutions being presented for any items falling behind. Another great financial metric to present to managers, while not directly related to cash, would be important details like employee performance metrics. Employee sales numbers and customer service ratings will have a direct impact on company profits, and actionable insights in these areas can far more easily be addressed than other financial metrics.
I remember from my teenage years, working in retail, every month we would receive a pamphlet full of business updates and insights. There would be a section that presented a financial report, while simple, with bar graphs to show gains, it told us about the health of the company and why we were important in making it healthy. There would also be customer satisfaction testimonies to help bolster the points.
While I didn’t think about it much at the time, my team leaders and floor managers would always discuss the reports with a keen interest, probably because the better the company was doing, the more likely they were to get a bonus! My point of this is, with regards to different areas of the business, sometimes less information is better, so long as your audience can understand the importance of what you are presenting.
As we can see, even amongst the primary cogs of what makes up the bones, muscles and skin of a business operation, there are widely varying types of data that should be considered for presentation. Although executives will always need more in depth financial data, it is still important to adhere to the points we discussed with regards to how it is presented.
Presenting data to External Stakeholders
While it is important to still present your financial data as clearly and concisely as possible, when presenting data to external stakeholders, you will be presenting different types of information and offering different calls to action. Each group will require a unique strategy and display of infographics for maximum transparency and increases chances of finding investors. Let’s look now at the type of data you will likely need present to the following external stakeholders:
Investors will naturally be most interested in your business’s financial health and what risks would be involved with their involvement in your brand. This makes it crucial to follow the same rules of clarity and focus when preparing your investor pitch. We want to create visual images of why working with you will be rewarding and potentially lucrative, along with risk matrices for transparency.
Numerous financial figures relative to your unique business will need to be presented. Following an enticing introduction of line graphs demonstrating your annual stock performance report, subjects like business model, marketing and sales strategy, along with financial projections can bring you naturally to a call to action for your audience. If you have demonstrated a clear understanding of your own financial data, and explained it well to potential investors, your chances of securing new partners will be tremendous.
When it comes to clients, ‘financial data’ will likely look quite different to the numbers and figures you present to prospective investors. A more nuanced approach should demonstrate previously successful projects using gathered case studies and any relevant and related financial metrics. If your chosen infographics can demonstrate the value of your proposed service and what makes it the best in your niche, you will already be on your way to making sales.
Using graphs and charts for example that clearly detail cost-benefits using your service, along with visual proof of customer satisfaction and prior sales will bolster your presentation. It is likely you will need to prove your pricing calculations and demonstrate what kind of return on interest a client will receive. Once you have demonstrated a clear ability to meet your client’s needs, you can then present a call to action that is understandable and appealing.
When presenting financial data to regulatory bodies, the focus will be on compliance to monetary laws, transparency of business accounts, and proof of adherence to legal and ethical standards. Simplified tables and charts can help to demonstrate how your business is meeting the necessary standards, as well as visual data on any relevant financial and operational figures you have documented. It is important for your chosen infographics to be precise and clear when presenting finances to regulatory bodies, to ensure nothing that could land your business in potential legal trouble is not missed or misrepresented.
As we can see, presenting data to external stakeholders is a nuanced and multifaceted task that requires a deep understanding of each audience’s interests, concerns, and expectations. Having the ability to craft a presentation that is relevant to each group will ultimately lead to positive relationships, improved business finances, and a brand that is recognised within its industry as a reliable source of business.
Presenting data to the General Public
Again we will see another shift of focus when we turn our attention to the general public. Infographics amongst this group have more leeway to be ‘funner’, such as social media shorts or discount snippets that are still simple, but more appealing to that audience. The general public, whether it be customers, local media outlets, or the community in which your enterprise is located, will likely be interested in the health of where they shop, and also how they are providing for their customers and the larger community.
With regards to your customers – the most important part of any business operation, simplicity and transparency is of utmost importance. Financial reports will be far away from those KPIs we presented to our executives in the boardroom, but should still involve key metrics that are relevant. Product pricing for example, if it has dropped, can be presented to explain how it benefits the customer base and how you are working to improve it compared to your competitors.
Customers will likely also want to see testimonials or ratings in regards to the best value for their money, and can be reached through more relaxed avenues like social media. With customer finance reports you should align the infographics you choose with your brand’s value, and convey important information that makes your customers feel like they are valued and being rewarded.
Financial reports when presented to the media, while needing to be accurate and clear, should aim to tell an interesting story about your business. Visual summaries of promising achievements or innovations you have made that contribute and give back to your customer base can help solidify your name amongst the community. Up to date statistics, along with easily interpreted graphs and charts that a journalist can take and then go on to present in other forms of media will go a long way to presenting your business as a trustworthy name. The wider the audience you can gain the interest of through media outlets, the easier it will be for you to present your products or service to new customers.
One of the most interesting and important focuses a growing business should have is the community in which it is located. With local engagement, and ways to show off your contributions to the local surroundings, you can quickly build an enormous customer base. Infographics, whether presented online or via leaflets, demonstrating company values and financial contributions, as well as how your efforts have positively impacted the local area can go a long way in creating a sense of connection between you and the people you serve.
As with our other groups, presenting financial data to the general public requires a different angle, but still the same amount of thoughtful understanding of your audience. While your infographics don’t need to be as serious, it is still important to keep the community in the loop of how your business is doing, and what it can offer.
Presenting financial data to different audiences is an incredibly nuanced task. While the basics remain the same – simplicity, good optics, clear aims and obvious calls to action, it is what we show and explain that changes. Understanding this, and being able to adapt depending on who you are presenting to can be the difference between a business’s success or failure, across all groups, from executives to customers.
It is worth taking the time to learn how different infographics can be used to present different types of data. By mastering the way information is presented and processed, you can help your business get an edge over its competitors, while aiding every cog of the operation excel in its understanding of those all important financial affairs.
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