There are lots of studies depicting the sad state of the average adult attention span. A famous 2015 study found that the average adult has an 8 second attention span. Surprisingly, this number is just below a goldfish (9 seconds) – not a very good animal to be compared to in terms of brain functions.
But even the more hopeful statistics, that our attention spans max out at around 18 to 24 minutes, have many implications for businesses. That’s because these attention span limits cover all types of people, no matter the nationality, sex, or IQ. This includes executives and managers, who may be even more susceptible to losing concentration, as they have a lot on their mind and usually need to sit through many of these lengthy meetings every month.
But for some reason, many people still equate lengthy and complicated presentations with professionalism. This greatly harms business partnering and financial storytelling.
So now that we know that we have between eight seconds and 20 minutes to get our point across before the audience starts to lose their focus, let’s look at some tips for how finance teams can communicate quickly and effectively when it comes to business partnering and executive presentations.
The pyramid principle
One of the best ways to ensure that you are getting your message across without losing the audience or going into too many unnecessary details is by following the Minto Pyramid Principle.
In this pyramid you start with the “what” first. The “what” is the insights, and the goal is to start off the conversation by challenging the stakeholders with a new perspective. It will help you summarize your supporting arguments, keep the audience engaged, and start off with an intriguing argument.
The second step is the “why”, or the impact this decision will have on the business. It needs to explain why it will create value and answer the questions of both short and long term implications. There should be a strong and convincing argument as this leads into the last step.
The last step is the “how”, or how you can influence management to get on board with the decision and get the buy-in needed. It leaves the audience with the action plan as a build up from the “what” and the “why”. This is done through assertive communication during the presentation and overall creating good relationships and business partnering over time.
To make it even simpler, the process is broken down into 4 stages:
- Situation: The facts that make up the current situation. For example, if we continue spending this amount on marketing, we will not reach our profit goals this year.
- Complications: The reasons why there needs to be a change or why it’s unsustainable to continue this way.
- Questions: The questions that will inevitably come up from all parties involved, and why and how to solve the issue at hand.
- Answers: The clearly defined answers to these questions backed up with data and predictions.
Top Down Presenting Approach
The pyramid approach, or any condensed presentation, is also known as the top down approach. This is because you start with the most important facts and leave the longer details and thought processes for the end.
Conducting a top down approach does two things: To begin with it keeps the audience engaged by starting off with the important details and insights – the “what”. The stakeholder or manager then hears the most important part (the clear and condensed argument backed up with statistics about why something needs to be changed) at the beginning of the presentation, when they have your full attention, instead of at the end when they have already lost interest and are thinking about what they want to eat for dinner. The audience will be intrigued and will have a much higher chance of paying attention to the rest of the presentation with the same piqued interest.
The second reason is that it adds credibility to the presentation and action plans. The long details and background information (the part where the audience usually loses interest) is not left out, rather it is condensed and saved to the end. This means that the presenter is prepared to answer questions and concerns from the audience at the end, leaving stakeholders with a feeling of well researched information, instead of boredom.
Important things to remember
- Practice your presentation- Not all stakeholders or audiences will have the same financial knowledge as you, therefore it’s important to avoid financial jargon and complicated terms as much as possible. It’s always best to practice presenting in front of a non-finance audience and be open to feedback. If you don’t have time to practice live, make sure to time yourself and try to keep the presentation far less than the amount of time allotted for the presentation. This will keep the audience interested and leave an impression!
- Use visuals- Around 65% of the world are visual learners so it only makes sense to use lots of visuals. It also makes it seem more organized and convincing to show trends and analytics through graphs. Using FP&A dashboards that drill down, show important trends, and update in real time is a great way of presenting information.
- Leave emotions on the side- There are usually emotions involved one way or another, but it is best to leave them out. Stick to the data and back it up with facts! Most managers and stakeholders can see through emotions and it will be less convincing.
- Include alternative recommendations- Oftentimes the action plan isn’t black and white and even if you are certain that this is the right direction, someone else might think otherwise. Try to include at least one, if not more alternatives. Worst that happens is you use it to explain why other ideas aren’t a good course of action, and it will help back up your original answer.
Stakeholder presentations are too long! People’s attention spans very rarely last the full length of a presentation and the moment you go into slightly too much detail, the audience loses interest. Keep it short and simple and use the top down approach by starting with the most important facts and narrowing it down to the details towards the end. Come prepared, use visuals, and don’t forget to always have the action plan in mind.