By Jennifer Cryder, CPA, CFO and vice president of operations
One of my favorite parts about being a CPA is having the opportunity to help others see the “story” being told by financial information. In my role as CFO and vice president of operations at the PICPA, I present financial information to various stakeholders, such as our board of directors and our staff. Although the message is delivered differently based on the audience, I always try to keep the following points in mind when presenting financial information to a group.
Tailor the message to the audience
Within the span of a few days, I’ll present financial results to both PICPA’s board and staff. At a fundamental level, the points that I want to communicate to both groups are no different – I want both groups to have a clear understanding of how our day-to-day operations manifest themselves into a financial statement. Given the disparity in the audiences, however, I’ll spend a bit of time adjusting my message for the two audiences. I really enjoy presenting to a board full of CPAs; I eagerly await the questions that will be asked by such astute readers of the financial statements and always prepare extensively in anticipation of this discussion. In this case, I don’t want to take an overly simplistic approach. Likewise, I really enjoy talking with the PICPA team. I love the challenge of breaking down technical concepts, such as deferred revenue or the impact a change may have to profit margin. When speaking with the PICPA team, I take a much more narrative approach that is grounded in plain English. If I were to speak too technically, I might intimidate my audience or lose them rather than engage them.
Understanding the organization can be more important than understanding accounting concepts
Any time I sit with members of the PICPA team to look at financial data in the context of their roles, I always remind them that their understanding of the organization is all that’s necessary to read a financial statement. I believe CPAs are well positioned to help our non-CPA colleagues see how their day-to-day activities translate to financial results. A manager may not understand the difference between a fixed and variable cost, but if we talk instead about costs that are charged per person or per event they can contribute their operational expertise to the conversation. Often, when you can break through the intimidation factor and focus the conversation on the operational aspects, a reader of the financials can begin to understand the trends and relationships inherent in the data.
Be clear on the key points
With any set of financials, I try to identify a few key points that I want my audience to understand. The number of points depends on the audience and the material – as the level of sophistication and quantity of material increases the key points likely will as well. I’ll introduce these key points early in the conversation, use examples to support and clarify them, and then reiterate them as we talk.
Check in regularly with the audience
Check-ins can be a simple pause or a question back to the group, and they should be built into the conversation. Generally, you can visually tell if the audience is with you. Do they look bored or engaged? Not only does a check-in give the audience a moment to process and reflect, but it gives the speaker a much-needed deep breath to collect thoughts. I always use these moments of quiet to reflect and think about any points I may have missed or consider where to move the conversation next.
With some practice, presenting financial information to groups can become enjoyable. Perhaps a financial presentation will never be mistaken for a TED Talk, but sometimes telling the story of the financials can be just as enlightening!