What Good Writing and Presenting Have in Common

May 20, 2019 | Institutional Asset Management

If you work in financial services, there’s a good chance that giving live presentations is an important part of your job.

But for many financial professionals, the idea of having to give a live, in-person presentation generates some anxiety. Not everyone feels confident speaking in front of a group of people, and many feel that they lack the skills and charisma to “command the room” like the presenters they’ve seen on TED Talks or on television.

The good news: you don’t need to be a TED Talks all-star or a trained broadcaster to give effective presentations. In fact, you just need to incorporate some of the principles from a skill that you do every day at your job—writing.

Here are five ways you can take some of the practices that make for good writing and apply them to your next presentation.

Establish A Clear Goal

Make sure that your presentation has an overarching goal—and that the goal is clearly communicated to your audience up front. This is just as important in writing as it is in presenting.

Before you start putting together your presentation, you need to first identify what you’re aiming to get out of the presentation; it will change the way you organize your talk.

Common goals for presentations by investment professionals:

  • Take action: You may be persuading prospects to leave their current managers and transfer assets to your firm
  • Change their mind: You may need to convince a pension fund’s CIO that the fund should incorporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into the investment mandate
  • Correct a misconception: You might have to convince your firm’s internal investment committee that the current valuation models aren’t adequately accounting for the risk of changing regulations or inflation
  • Gather information: You might be looking to learn about what your clients’ biggest priorities are for the coming year so that you can incorporate those into your portfolio recommendations

Regardless of what the goal is, you need to clearly identify it in your own mind. Only then can you construct a presentation that’s tailored to achieving those goals.

Know Your Audience

Every presenter should spend time thinking about their audience’s level of understanding about a topic and, perhaps more important, their mindset about the topic going into the presentation. Simply put, you need to understand how receptive the audience will be to the idea you’re about to present.

Audience receptivity isn’t as simple as agree, disagree, or neutral. According to “Harvard ManageMentor Plus, Communicating for Results – Persuading Others,” there are generally six types of audiences to consider:

  1. Hostile – they disagree with your idea or don’t want to do what you’re about to ask them to do or think
  2. Neutral – they don’t have strong feelings for or against your idea
  3. Uninterested – they don’t feel that the topic is relevant to them
  4. Uninformed – they don’t have enough information yet to have a strong opinion one way or the other
  5. Supportive – they agree with your idea
  6. Mixed – the audience comprises elements of several of the above categories

Each audience type requires a different approach. For audiences that are hostile to an idea, start by identifying things you agree on and then emphasize that you’re looking for a win-win solution. For uninterested or neutral audiences, talk about how remaining with the status quo is dangerous. For supportive audiences, give them a plan for turning that enthusiasm into action.

Determine Your Narrative

Many people naturally equate storytelling with writing, but storytelling is also an extremely useful skill for giving presentations. Here are a few examples of common storytelling techniques to incorporate into your presentation.

  • One big idea: Identify one main, provocative idea to use as the “hook” for your presentation; if the audience takes anything away from your presentation, it should be this; introduce your big idea early and often
  • Be empathic: Make it clear to the audience that you understand where they’re coming from and what their pain points are—and that you have the expertise to help them
  • Focus on benefits, not features: Don’t waste valuable airtime talking about the features of the product, service, or idea that you’re presenting; focus on the benefits that the audience will receive
  • Go from abstract to tangible: Human brains are wired to remember finite, tangible things that can be visualized, not abstract ideas; use anecdotes or analogies to make your ideas easier to grasp

Use Compelling Visuals

Just like any piece of writing, visual elements go a long way toward making your presentation more digestible for the audience. Use charts, graphs, pictures, and other visuals to make your ideas come to life.

However, it’s easy for presenters to use PowerPoint as a crutch, rather than a visual aid. It’s essential to remember that the slides aren’t the presentation—you’re the presentation. The slides are just there to make it easier for the audience to focus on, understand, and remember the most important parts of your presentation.

A few things to consider when using visual aids in a presentation:

  • Keep the slides simple; don’t cram multiple ideas or visuals on a single slide
  • Make sure any charts/graphs you use are easy for the audience to understand; if it takes more than 10 seconds to discern the information, try and make it simpler
  • Any stats or relationships you’re trying to visually convey in a presentation should be in a simple, clean format—not complicated flow charts

When putting together your slides, think about the context in which they’ll be consumed. If the presenter is talking through the slides, they don’t need to spell out everything explicitly for the audience—that’s the speaker’s job. But if the slides are going to be consumed without the speaker there, the slides should be more explicit.

Along these lines, in most cases, it will make sense to create two separate versions of the slide deck: one that’s used simply as a visual aid for the presenter and one that can be circulated before or after the actual presentation.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Like with writing, the only way to get better at presenting is to do it often. When preparing for a presentation, the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be giving it—and the more likely it will resonate with your audience.

Some tips on how to practice your presentation:

  • Do a dress rehearsal: give your presentation to friends/family, or in front of a mirror or empty room
  • Don’t memorize your lines: you want your presentation to be conversational and natural, not scripted and stiff; trying to memorize lines will make the presentation more stressful
  • Test out technology: if you’re planning on using any slides, audio, or video in your presentation, show up early to make sure that all this technology is working properly—and have a Plan B in case it isn’t

For more insight about how financial professionals can become better presenters, click below to download our “Present Like a Pro” e-book.

Download Your Free E-Book Highlighting How to Present Like a Pro

About the Author Scott -About AuthorScott Wentworth is the founder and head writer of Wentworth Financial Communications. He has served as a ghostwriter for portfolio managers, investment bankers, attorneys, and other thought leaders across the financial services industry. It took all the willpower he could muster to not include "Who You Gonna Call?" in the title of this blog post.