Financial presentations that really stand out

building a presentation

Sarah Sullivan


Posted on October 10, 2016

Creating a financial presentation probably isn’t your favourite task. First, there’s the mountain of Word documents, Excel charts, tables and numbers, and then the horror and pressure of untangling all this into a presentation that won’t send the audience to sleep.

A recent survey on the state of financial presentations is a useful guide to what NOT to do. At its brutal simplest, audiences tend to see financial presentations as boring and confusing.

Using too many numbers, going into too much detail, using small fonts and impenetrable tables of numbers were revealed to be the four biggest presentation crimes, but if anything, that can make the task feel even more daunting. When the subject of your presentation IS complex and data-heavy, how on earth can you present it in a way that’s going to leave people engaged and motivated?

Don’t panic. Even financial presentations can be made simple, interesting and enjoyable.

Here are a few tips to help you along the way followed by some examples of good practice to inspire you.

Think about colours

Start with the basics: the colours of your presentation play a big part in how readable it is. If your colours aren’t contrasting enough – standing out clearly against one another – then your audience is going to struggle to make out what’s on the screen, however mindblowing your content.

Colours contrast by being very different from each other in terms of their hue AND their brightness. A good technique is to choose two colour schemes – one that uses dark text or graphics over a light background, and another that uses light text and graphics over a dark background.

If you’re not sure what all this means in practice or are struggling to judge contrast by eye, this calculator lets you try out combinations of colours and scores their contrast. Or, if you want to delve a little deeper, check out this helpful guide to the emotional connotations of different colours and discover some suggested colour combinations to try.

Limit yourself

Too much detail in a presentation is an instant attention-killer. One way to keep your presentation short, simple and focused is to limit the number of slides you use and how you use them.

One idea is the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint – use 10 slides, present for no longer than 20 minutes, and keep all fonts at 30 points or bigger.

Having less space and time will challenge the way you present information and encourage you to condense, simplify and illustrate with simple visuals and infographics. You’ll need to hone in and focus on your main messages, identify what’s most relevant, and think about the best way to present it quickly.

Tell stories

One of the biggest criticisms of financial presentations is that they tend to focus on data, not messages. People don’t want to know what the numbers are; they want to know what they mean.

Don’t just show figures, explain why they’re relevant and why they matter. By illustrating the real or projected impact of data – either verbally or through simple, creative graphs and infographics – people can begin to visualise the outcomes you’re trying to sell and be motivated by them.

What stories are hiding behind your data and which are most relevant to your audience? Tell them.

Be memorable

Presentation Xpert gives five pointers to help make sure your presentation is the one your audience will remember:

  1. Do the unexpected
  2. Focus on what is unique and beneficial
  3. Make it easy
  4. Keep it simple
  5. Prove It

These five points act as a great checklist when you’re reviewing your presentation. Let’s reframe their ideas into five questions to ask before you finish:

  1. Is my presentation predictable or have I done something different?
  2. Have I stressed the benefits and what makes us special?
  3. Have I made it easy to read and understand?
  4. Is there any piece of information I could simplify further?
  5. Have I proven what we claim?

Three examples of financial presentations we like

Want to see how it’s done? Here are some examples to give you some ideas.

Morgan Stanley – Graphs, charts, and whitespace:

Use whitespace and imagery in your presentations

Here is an excellent example of how to display financial data clearly. The pages aren’t cluttered or jammed with financial Excel sheets showing every number known.

They simply show the data graphically and illustrate its relationships with outcomes in ways that are obvious to the audience.

Colours are easy on the eye and used with a good balance alongside plenty of white space. Less definitely gives more.

HSBC – Imagery and whitespace:

Suitable imagery can make financial presentations more engaging

HSBC’s beautiful use of imagery on a bog-standard template file is surprisingly effective and hints at some skilled designer involvement.

Images are full bleed and compliment both the brand and the PowerPoint format while still allowing for plenty of white space. However, we did notice that some of the data pages are number-heavy without obvious outcomes.

Simplified, more illustrative or graphical data would be an easy way to take what’s good about this presentation and make it even better.

Legal & General – Design style of tables and imagery:

Example of strong imagery and well placed tables

Present financial information using charts where possible

This outstanding presentation manages to showcase financial information in an interesting, engaging, modern format.

Each page uses a well-proportioned grid, which feels familiar as each page is viewed yet gives plenty of flexibility. Its colour palette is neutral and contrasts well, and the entire presentation comes across as well designed, simple, balanced and easy to digest.

Tables and data are allowed to breathe, and there are no gimmicks: it all feels honest, straight forward, clean, modern and professional.

Next steps

We’ve talked a lot about graphs and visuals in this blog  – getting those right can often be key to the whole presentation.

If you’re feeling uninspired or stuck in a rut with your financial data presentation, we discussed graphs in more detail on our blog recently, linking to tutorials to help you create something extra special.

And if you want to go one step further, don’t forget – you don’t have to produce your presentations on PowerPoint at all!

For some imaginative alternatives to PowerPoint presentations, check out our blog here.