episode 15: Financial Slides


  • This time on The Presentation Podcast, Nolan and Troy are joined by Dave Paradi for a conversation about best practices for slide design in Financial Presentations. Have you struggled with getting all of the numbers on a slide, or stared at a slide that had too much financial data and tried to find the numbers that relate to the presenter’s message? Listen in for tips on ways to design these slides and to hear lots of great ideas about what to do with data heavy slides (or any presentation with lots of data).


Tell us about this financial world of presenting.

  • Dave:  I think a good place to start when discussing this topic is with what audiences think about the financial presentations they see. Earlier this year, I did my second survey focused on financial presentations. By understanding what the audience thinks, we can become better at providing them with what they want. It can also give designers some ammunition when trying to convince presenters they work with to not use a spreadsheet on a slide.


Can you share with us some of the findings from the Financial Presentations survey?

  • Dave:
    • The top four answers about what people do not like about financial presentations all related to the overwhelming amount of data in small fonts. Two issues that resonated are first, the audience wants to know what the numbers mean, not just see the numbers, and second is the language presenters use. Acronyms and terms are thrown around assuming everyone understands what they mean, and this is not specific to just financial presentations. 
    • Three themes emerged around what financial presenters could do to make the presentations more effective. First, be message driven, not data driven. Second, be relevant to the specific audience for the presentation, such as terminology, level of detail, and importance of the data to that audience. Third use clear visuals instead of tables of numbers.


 How do you get people to present the bigger picture rather than the details?

  • Information overload comes out at the top issue.
  • Every presenter should realize they have three opportunities to communicate with the audience for each presentation.
    • First, before the presentation through a pre-read.
    • Second the actual presentation itself.
    • Third after the presentation, with supplemental information
    • (read a article by Dave Paradi on these three opportunities here).


The common workflow for many people in creating number and data heavy slides is part of the problem.

  • Nolan: Presenters are not being message driven and just supplying data. That is because it is easy to take excel data and just drop onto a slide, but creating a message is much harder.
  • Troy: I agree, the workflow of dropping Excel info onto a slide creates a series of obstacles in developing slides that tell a story. They are often not editable, the styling does not coordinate with the template and does not create a continuous look to all content within a presentation, and Excel is not designed to create a visual focal point to the data.
  • Dave: The common workflow is to do the analysis in Excel first, which makes sense. The challenge is not just copying that spreadsheet onto a slide. Spreadsheets are for calculation, not communication. And often the Excel spreadsheet or graph does not comply with the PowerPoint template branding standards because it is using the Excel default colors, fonts and design.


How much data can we remove from a chart and still have it relevant?

  • Remove every pixel that does not add to the meaning of the graph.
  • Eliminate anything that distracts the audience from the message. Things like the title, tick marks, grid lines, and legend.
  • Add things that help the audience understand the message. Things like labeling in the graph, wider columns or bars, and data labels to replace a measurement axis if the exact values are important.


In the report (which can be seen by everyone with the slideshare link below) is a great Word Cloud that asks everyone to “Share 3 words you hear when people talk about financial presentations.”

  • The two dominant words are “Confusing” and “Boring”.
  • Dave: I think the two words are related and this is a great point. No one sets out to create a boring presentation. But an overwhelm of data leaves the audience confused, hence the word “Confusing.” When the audience is confused, they are not engaged and at the end of the presentation, they say it was “Boring.”


What is a good Best Practice for creating data heavy presentations.

  • Troy: The presentation needs to start before the slides are worked on by deciding on what the overall message it, then develop slides that focus on that message.
  • Dave: Without knowing what the message is, you cannot know what visual will communicate the message. Here are three common types of messages that financial professionals communicate about numbers.
    • First, Rank messages. Greatest, worst, or highest are usually a rank message.
    • Second, Comparison messages. Words like above, below, against, or compared to suggest this type of message.
    • Third, Contribution messages. Words like make up, contribute to, or proportions are descriptors for a contribution message.
  • A spreadsheet can multiple messages. Put each message on its own slide using a visual appropriate for that message.




Guest Host: Dave Paradi
Think Outside The Slide
Toronto, Canada
[email protected]



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