Today’s accounting and finance professionals are taking on more strategic roles in their organizations and interacting more frequently with other departments. As a result, strong presentation skills are more critical than ever to make compelling points, package information and explain technical information to non-financial stakeholders.

If you work to sharpen your communication with others on your team or with those you supervise, that sets a good example for your entire office. And if you want to build influence in your company, sooner or later you’ll need good public speaking skills to present your ideas to your bosses, colleagues or clients.

How to improve your presentation skills

Here are five practical tips for boosting your presentation skills. Then, because it's likely you work with Excel more than PowerPoint or Keynote, keep reading for five more tips.

  1. Face your fears. If you have anxiety about public speaking, the best way to overcome it is to, well, speak in public. Begin by making short presentations to your closest colleagues or friends. When you feel ready, volunteer to give a quick talk or make an announcement at a professional association or civic organization you belong to. Consider joining Toastmasters International, a public speaking organization, to get even more practice. Share tips for presentations with members you meet there. Attend networking events to practice your communication skills.
  2. Do your homework. You’ll have much more confidence during your business presentation if you’re well prepared. To get ready for your talk, learn as much as you can about your audience. This will help you determine how you’ll present your information to get your points across. Use concrete facts and quantifiable information from white papers, surveys or case studies from reputable sources to support your points. If you’re trying to win new business, let your audience know how you’ve helped companies or clients reach their goals.
  3. Practice, practice, practice. Practice your presentation until you know it inside and out. Rehearse in front of a mirror. Run through it with a colleague or friend. Ask for honest feedback about both your content and delivery, and make any necessary adjustments. Then practice some more.
  4. Stand and deliver. Remember one of the basics of giving presentations: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them again. And then tell them what you told them.” Keep your audience in mind at all times. Speak conversationally and don’t use jargon. Show enthusiasm for what you’re presenting. Your audience will respond to your passion. Season your talk with some quick asides, jokes, metaphors and anecdotes when appropriate.
  5. Anticipate questions. Your presentation isn't necessarily over once you wrap up your prepared remarks. Colleagues or clients may have questions, concerns or points of resistance about information you presented. Anticipate these by being an expert on your topic. No matter how well your presentation went, it could end on a low note if someone asks a question you can’t answer. Again, proper preparation is the key.

Make better communication your goal and read Promising Accountants Share Goal-Setting Secrets to Success.

How to create strong presentation slides

If you want to build influence in your company, sooner or later you’ll need to present your ideas to your bosses, colleagues or clients. And you’ll likely want to include some visuals. Knowing how to create engaging presentations can help you get your points across and hold your audience’s attention from start to finish.

Here’s how to make the most of your slides when creating a presentation.

  1. Begin with a clear outline. We’ve all seen presentations that go nowhere fast. That often happens because the presenter doesn't have a handle on where to go with the presentation. Grab a pen and paper before you open your presentation software. Start creating your presentation by writing an outline, with specific focus on your goals and what you want to accomplish by the time you’re done. This will help you stick to the script when it’s time to put the deck together.
  2. Let your titles guide the way. Each slide’s title should provide context and explain the slide’s content, including the conclusion. For example, “A Third of Managers Regret Not Taking Enough Vacation Time” is better than just “Vacation Time.” A more descriptive title keeps your audience focused on the message. Also san-serif fonts that are easy to read. Titles should generally be between 36 and 44 font, and other content should be at least a 24-point font, with a 20-point font for captions,
  3. Keep your slides succinct. Don't overwhelm your audience with too many words and numbers on your slides. Yes, you love your numbers, but don’t go number-happy. When deciding what to place on a slide, remember your slides should support what you’re saying, not the other way around. A slide with too much information is challenging to read. You’re essentially asking your audience to read and listen at the same time. Again, don’t make your audience work. If your presentation needs to be shared as a handout or forwarded to others, consider making two versions: a slimmed-down version to talk through and a sharable version with more explanatory text.
  4. Make it visually engaging. No, a page or screenshot from Excel doesn’t really count as an image. Use simple photos or illustrations that support your message. A well-chosen image is a nice break from text that can grab your audience’s attention and help reinforce your message. You can find professional stock images on sites like Shutterstock. Also consider colors, and make sure your text and background colors contrast well.
  5. Provide a next step. Don’t just end your presentation by saying thank you; give a call to action. Close your presentation by including a slide that mentions what you’d like the audience to do with the information you shared with them.

Once you improve your presentation skills, you can assume you've added valuable skills to your career toolbox. Not only will that help you succeed in your role, it will also help you advance in your accounting and finance career.

Read Accountants Need Hard and Soft Skills for Success, and don't stop there!