The Dos and Don’ts of Communicating Company Financials
Here’s how to hone the dollars and cents of your delivery.
As the keepers of financial data, accounting and finance pros have a significant impact on corporate
health and people’s perceptions.
"Whether you’re in public accounting, the CFO of a nonprofit,
or a controller in a midsized company, your job is to present
financial information to the people who need it,” says Paul
Preziotti, CPA, principal at Johnson Lambert LLP in Vienna, Va.
Indeed, no matter what your job title is or what your job duties are,
as an accounting and finance professional you’re going to be called
upon to share your organization’s financial data with shareholders,
board members, company executives, employees, the press, and
other stakeholders. And that information not only has to be accurate,
but it also has to be delivered in a way that’s interesting, relevant,
and targeted to your audience. Achieving this balance isn’t always
easy; flub it up and you can see your share price tumble, but deliver
a report that’s clear, concise, and enthusiastic and you’re likely to
gain the attention and respect of everyone listening.
So, here are some dos and don’ts of financial public speaking to help
ensure that your next presentation or quarterly earnings call is a success:
Do understand your audience.
In other words, don’t assume
everyone is an accountant. “When presenting financials, the most
critical thing accounting and finance professionals forget is that
most of the people they’re presenting to aren’t accountants,”
Preziotti points out.
You need to know what and whom you’re dealing with before you
step into the meeting or conference room. If you’re communicating
the company’s financials to its board of directors, you can be
reasonably sure they’re up to speed on terminology and what’s
been going on over the last three months. However, if you’re
speaking on an earnings call, your audience will be much wider
with varying levels of experience. And, if you’re working for a
nonprofit, then you may be asked to talk to completely different
non-financial types of committees and groups altogether.
“You really have to gauge the financial comprehension of the
audience,” says Jeramy Kaiman, vice president at Parker Lynch in Chicago. “You may need to do more ‘educating’ or boiling down
of key concepts in certain cases.”
Even a common acronym to you, like EBITDA, may not be
immediately familiar to your audience. “Keep this in mind and
tailor your presentation to that particular audience,” Preziotti says.
“The point is to make the information relevant and useful.”
Don’t overwhelm users with materials.
“Send me a 30-page packet
ahead of your presentation and the chances of me opening it are
slim to none,” Preziotti says. Instead, send out a concise, tightly-written
email or press release to capture your audience’s attention
and get them interested in what’s to come. “Hit on everything you
need to cover, but put it in a quick, digestible format,” he advises.
Do use “dashboards” to convey what your audience cares about.
“We have 10 months of operating reserves.” “Here’s how the
membership has grown quarter-over-quarter.” Whatever the hot-button
items may be, “using a dashboard in conjunction with the
financial statements can go a long way,” Preziotti says, suggesting
you always using appropriately colored charts and symbols to
illustrate the numbers behind hot-button issues for your audience.
Don’t start out on a negative note.
Financial information can’t
always be rosy, but it’s important to find and focus on the positives
in the beginning of your presentation.
“You don’t want to start the meeting out on a somber note,”
Preziotti says, stressing the first few sentences that come out of your
mouth set the tone for the entire production. “It could be as simple
as pointing out where the organization is with its reserves and how
far it’s come, or how that new line of business is becoming
profitable. These early points can really help you set the right tone
and engage your audience.”
Do tell an interesting story.
You’ll only put your audience to sleep
if you start reciting numbers and projections without making that
information useful for the people you’re talking to. Instead, come
up with an interesting storyline that will engage the audience and
give them some context (and not put them to sleep). Develop
opening remarks that are relatable in some way, speak in a
conversational tone (versus dictating to your audience), and weave
interesting anecdotes into your verbal presentation.
Don’t avoid the tough questions.
Ideally, you want to inspire
confidence in your delivery and create a collaborative atmosphere
where audience members aren’t afraid to ask questions.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to prepare for every single question
that might come your way.
Kaiman suggests focusing on the core issues at hand, then
brainstorming a laundry list of potential queries in advance. If, for
example, sales are down for the quarter, you’ll want to be able to
explain why and what’s being done to offset the losses. In some
cases, there may be a very logical explanation for the setback.
“The whole purpose of a board meeting or earnings call is for
people to be able to ask the tough questions,” Kaiman says. “So,
be ready for them.”
Do understand this is an important part of your job.
you’re a CFO or a staff accountant, articulating financials to the
people who need them is part of your job. Some of this may take
place via written word (corporate reports, press releases, emails,
etc.), but you’ll also have to do some public speaking. You can set
yourself up for success by preparing in advance, practicing your
delivery, and coming up with a way to parlay the information in
an interesting way.
Don’t make final conclusions for them (stick to the facts).
cases, a CFO or controller will go into a presentation ready to sway
his or her audience to see things a certain way. “Too many times,
accounting and finance leaders go into events with too much
of a final conclusion in mind when in reality they should just
be conveying the facts and then letting attendees come to their
own conclusions,” Kaiman says. “You can certainly make a
recommendation to the board, for instance, but ultimately it is that
board’s job to come to its own conclusions.”
Do operate with a high level of transparency.
Last, but certainly
not least, use this time to be as transparent as possible about
the organization and its financial health. “When you’re upfront
and transparent, things go well,” Kaiman says. “When you aren’t,
For example, ignoring or deflecting questions from the audience
basically says, “We have something to hide.” This could put your
organization (and your role) in a negative light, knowing that the
uninformed audience will quickly lose faith in the presentation —
and possibly the organization itself.
“Focus on delivering very accurate, concise information,” Kaiman
says, “and then answering questions as openly and honestly
While public speaking may not be the forte of most accounting
and finance professionals, how a company’s financials are
communicated can have a lasting impact on the organization.
Practicing these dos and don’ts of communicating financials
will ensure your audience is getting all the dollars and cents
of your delivery.