Strong presentation skills are important in any industry, finance and accounting included. Yet, many finance and accounting professionals struggle to present information in a way that is both informative and attention-grabbing. Molly Sargent, president of Professional Impressions Consulting, works with client-facing executives and individuals, and the leaders who support them, and provides them with the tools to enhance their professional effectiveness. Ms. Sargent reveals why strong presentation skills are important and how these skills can be improved through a few simple techniques.
1. How important are strong presentation skills in the finance and accounting industries?
Many finance and accounting professionals are so enamored with the data they are presenting that their message can get lost. They give presentations that are data-intensive and they sometimes lack delivery skills. Someone who is very attentive to the detail of accounting often does not recognize how the enthusiasm in their voice, their posture, and their manner of engaging with the audience can affect the audience’s ability to receive and relate to the information. For some presenters, it’s easy to lose the point of their message; it gets lost in the mire of data that they are presenting.
To give a strong presentation, the presenter should deliver a pithy message, with alignment between what they want the audience to understand, and how they deliver that message: their tone, their manner, and the context in which it is delivered. Content should be organized to provide just enough detail for that particular listener, and then delivered so that the presenter’s body language and words work together to effectively convey his or her message. This is something that finance and accounting executives, in their brilliance for details, often forget.
2. In what ways can finance and accounting professionals improve their presentation skills?
The most straightforward way to improve a presentation is to start with a statement that is client-centric and speaks to a need or concern of the audience. This need should be linked as quickly as possible to a statement that speaks directly to the benefits of listening to the presentation. People perceive the value of your presentation based on your understanding of their needs and your ability to address those needs in your presentation. This need-to-benefit correlation is the very definition of perceived value. If presenters are able to state that equation of need-to-benefit right up front, the listener is more inclined to invest their attention and time in the presentation.
Preparing for pushback is also important. Oftentimes the audience will have a number of questions, and these questions may present themselves as challenges to your data. I prefer to see any question, comment, interruption, concern or challenge from an audience as a sign that they are trying to learn. I call these “contributions.” A speaker has a choice: they can treat contributions as attacks, or welcome them as opportunities to engage the audience. Ask yourself “How can I address this contribution from my audience, learn more about what is behind the question, and treat this as a wonderful chance to speak directly to key issues that are getting in the way of my listener’s adoption of my ideas?”
Finally – practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect, especially in this situation. However, it is also important to learn the skills that must be practiced in order to become a stronger presenter. Many people prepare for presentations by devoting their full attention to refining the words they will use, not realizing that how these words are spoken will often make a greater impression on the audience than the content of their speech. Ask yourself questions about what a good presentation looks like: the necessary delivery skills, the content of the presentation, the use of visuals and how best to engage an audience. Examining the answers to these questions and preparing for every aspect of the presentation will make presenting fun and easy and ensure that the audience connects with and listens to your message.
3. How important is the first impression? And how can it be improved?
Statistics say that it takes up to 12 client interactions to overcome the impact of a botched first impression. From this standpoint, the first impression is very important. The first impression is important because it helps you to connect with the audience, but it is even more important because it helps you to get your message across by making the audience more receptive to you and your message. I call it a lens: if someone forms a positive lens through which to view your message, they are more inclined to work with you, to see value in your message, to “cut you some slack,” so to speak, as you are presenting. Forming a strong first impression simply makes your job as a presenter easier.
Improving your first impression can be as simple as improving your professional image. I think it is important to dress for success. This means that you should find clothes that fit—not for the body that you wish you had but for the body that you actually have. Everyone is beautiful and it is important to find clothes and designs that fit you and flatter your shape. Using color is also important. Everyone has an innate palate that looks good on them and when they are wearing colors in this palate they will look brighter and more put together. Finally, smile. Nothing looks as beautiful on a person as a smile and this energy will be contagious.
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