CFOs play a critical role in arming executives and investors with current and relevant financial information to provide insight into company performance and growth opportunities. Therefore, it’s necessary for first-time CFOs to quickly develop a strong presentation skill set that effectively delivers clear, concise and meaningful data in an impactful way.

On Wednesday, October 9, 2013, The Controllers RoundTable Boston presented its first program of the 2013-2014 season, The Controllers Playbook for Impactful Executive Presentations, where our expert panelists reviewed best practices and communications skills necessary to research, prepare and deliver compelling information in any professional scenario.

Our speakers included (from left to right):

Impactful Executive Presentation SpeakersScott Dussault, CFO, Demandware; Kent Bennett, Partner, Bessmer Ventures, Bob Badavas, President & CEO, PlumChoice, Inc., Mark O’Toole, Director, PR & Content Marketing, Hart Boillot Agency, and Karen Reynolds, Regional Manager, BusinessWire (moderator). 

And what did we learn?

1) Know Your Audience

Controllers RoundTable Boston A full house for The Controllers RoundTable
Boston’s first program of the year!

Audiences are a fluid bunch, and change as constantly as the business does. Effective communicators are always aware of what motivates their audience, and makes sure that each presentation is carefully tailored to the expertise and mindset of the audience they present to. For example, a presentation to your sales and marketing team will look much different than a presentation to your board.

However, it’s up to you as the presenter to tell each audience you speak with not only what they should care about, but why. Explain what the key metrics you report on mean and why they’re important to the health of your business. And never assume that any audience has as much visibility into the mechanisms of your business as you do.

2) Collect The Right Data

In a world where every move we make results in a data point, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by corporate metrics. The panel agreed that while key metrics differ by company type and size, make sure that you provide only the metrics that you will consistently want to report on, and avoid those that will distract your audience from your intended takeaways. 

For example, smaller, series A companies will want to focus on the basics, such as cash updates (including monthly run rates, burn, etc.), basic metrics (such as upsells, MRR, etc.), and the cap table, as well as on risk and compliance issues. Larger companies will obviously have more complex metrics to report; however, the message of simplicity and clarity in your data is still the same.

It’s important to remember not to collect the data on the ‘metric du jour’ at the moment, meaning, don’t fall prey to the 70 things that investors and audience members say they want to see. If additional metrics are requested individually, put them through your own sanity check. If it’s not a metric that will greatly enhance the overall learning and perspective of your audience as a whole, leave it out of your data set.

3) Prepare an Artful Presentation

The Controllers RoundTable Boston  The panelists discuss mastering the
art of an effective presentation

And when we say artful, we don’t mean letting loose with the graphics or the slide transitions. Rather, the art of preparing an impactful presentation has as much to do with what you leave out of your presentation, rather than include.

Remember, now is the time to demonstrate that you truly understand your audience and the data that motivates them. Therefore, the panel advised for presenters to act like an owner of the business and master the numbers. Accuracy in your data and calculations is key, and without it, your credibility and value is at stake.

When building the actual presentation, the panel agreed that simplicity is the best option. Boil down each slide to one sentence or thought, as there is such a thing as too much information for one slide. (As suggested by one panelist, click here to view Seth Godin’s article on The Atomic Method of Creating a PowerPoint Presentation.) You may also want to consider building an executive summary of your presentation to help your audience familiarize themselves with the key points of your discussion before you meet.

4) Deliver With Finesse

Delivering with finesse is an art and style that’s learned over time, and embodies confidence in your data and comfort in your storytelling skills. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you understand the business you are in, and the value your perspective brings to the entire team.

And storytelling doesn’t mean spin – it means telling the true story behind the numbers. Remember, this is your chance to make the numbers sing, and give them a life beyond the paper. The panel further advised presenters to:

  • Fight your human instinct to recite the obvious – this is your opportunity to demonstrate substance and interpretation.
  • When presenting, stay on message and avoid going off topic as much as possible.
  • Give color, opinion and perspective, and remember that this isn’t a test.
  • Titles are not important – investors want you to tell them what you know. 

The panel also advised for presenters to be aware of the topics to address and not address with your audience. If there is an issue that’s ongoing but does not yet have a resolution, or perhaps has caused unrest or polarized your audience, leave it out of your presentation. 

The panel also briefly discussed delivering bad news in the boardroom. If it can be addressed with the board prior to the meeting, do so with a direct conversation right away. For more information on effectively managing crisis communications, read our blog article here.

5) Answer The Questions That You Can Answer

According to the panel, the key to successfully mastering a Q&A session with your board is in your preparation. Practice your presentation in front of others, not only to solicit feedback, but also to role-play a Q&A session to ensure that you’re as prepared as possible for your live event. 

The panel also advised to never pretend to be fully thought out on an answer, and never, ever fake an answer. Everyone recognizes that you can never be perfectly prepared, and if you need more time to best answer the question, then say so.


While daunting at first, executive presentations afford you the opportunity to show your passion for your business, and advance value creation in the company. With a little thoughtfulness and a clear goal in mind, you can portray confidence and value to the audiences that matter the most. 

Like this event? See what’s next on tap from The CFO and Controllers RoundTables. 


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