Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Presenting the Numbers

I'm wearing my serious trousers today, so let's get straight into talking about stuff.

There's a distinct type of presentation that causes alarm, despondency, terror, global warming and scrofula wherever it's encountered.

It's the one that includes numbers.

Numbers are scary. You have to walk into the firing line and hold your hands up. You have to say something concrete and measurable. One slip and you'll go down like Willem Dafoe; and thanks to multimedia technology, you can even pipe in Barber's Adagio.

It's OK though. If you use the usual approach and paste in an Excel spreadsheet, no one will be able to read or understand any of it anyway.

This is a shame.  We recently put together a numbers presentation for one of our long-standing clients. They wanted to show one of their major clients just how much money they could make for them. It was a big story, with more than twenty separate propositions, each with its own financial model. If the customer went for half of the suggestions, this would be a massive win for everyone in the room.

We could have pasted in twenty-odd spreadsheets.  All the numbers would be there, and if the audience wanted to challenge any of them, they could even be changed on the fly.

But that's not a presentation, it's a maths lesson.

So here's how we approach numbers presentations.  You start by splitting the models onto separate screens; typically this means you'll end up with a page for assumptions, one each for the current and proposed situations, and a final summary. 

A typical - though in this case deliberately anonymous - numbers presentation

All of the background workings are kept out of the picture, so it's easy to see and understand, and your big proposition isn't lost in a mass of identical figures.

Audiences tend to challenge figures.  If you've put your case together properly there's no need to fear this. In fact it's worth encouraging them to explore the what-ifs; they'll become more involved and enthusiastic.  In the case of our client's big numbers pitch, their customer green-lighted every one of the propositions.

Daniel shows us how to leave behind an edited copy of the presentation

If all's gone well, you should have succeeded in turning the presentation into a planning session. Instead of telling your audience what you want them to do, all of you're all already talking about how it'll happen.  That's serious progress. 

Now's when they'll ask you for a copy of the presentation, so make sure you're able to load up a memory stick with numbers that reflect what you achieved together.

Shameless plug warning: With a Configurative presentation, this is easy...

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