Let’s face it, few people outside of the Finance department are comfortable interpreting a profit and loss statement. If your audience’s eyes glaze over during a monthly operating review, the problem isn’t your communication skills—it’s their lack of knowledge, right? Wrong.
As companies tear down departmental walls and organize people into cross-functional teams, good communication skills become critical—for everyone. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for Finance professionals to shrug responsibility when their colleagues don’t understand finance concepts and terminology. The problem with that line of thinking is that you miss opportunities to enable strategic business conversations and further your own career.
“If you’re perceived to lack effective communication skills, particularly to a cross-functional audience, you will hit a ceiling before you make it to the CFO chair. That also applies to your ability to effectively communicate to your own team,” writes John Touey for CFO.
Pip Spibey, ACMA, CGMA, and CFO at Travelport Locomote, echoes this sentiment in an interview with Journal of Accountancy. “[A great CFO] is a great communicator and is as comfortable talking to boards and investors as [he or she is talking to] a roomful of software engineers.”
If you’re already comfortable talking to anyone, how do you know if you’re an effective communicator? For starters, take a look at what you present and to whom. If you present the same PowerPoint deck to both the Board of Directors and colleagues across the company, your communication skills can use some work, Alison Davis explains.
“[T]heir strengths (precision, completeness) become weaknesses as finance people delve into the details so much they sacrifice the big-picture messages they’re trying to convey,” Davis writes for Inc.com.
To avoid this scenario, create your presentation around the message you want to leave with a specific audience. Ask yourself, what is most important for them to know and what audience-relevant examples can you use to illustrate a point? To gauge how the message is landing, whenever possible, present your information in person so your audience’s reactions are visible. You can’t see that half your audience is tuning you out or started multitasking if everyone is on a voice-only conference call.
Face-to-face meetings also help cross-functional teams establish trust and familiarity so that people feel comfortable asking crucial questions like, “Can you help me understand what that means?”
When gathering everyone together in person isn’t practical, a video collaboration tool makes it possible to meet face-to-face from anywhere. Video allows you to see your audience and vice versa, enabling you to pick up on facial expressions and body language that may indicate you’re losing people or that folks don’t understand what you’re telling them. When you see these cues, react accordingly. Ask questions. Take a step back and reassess whether you’ve delved too deep. Give your audience what they need so that they can re-engage and everyone benefits.
When creating your presentation, err on the side of more slides, not less. “Put aside those vision-ruining charts you use at board meetings. Instead, use PowerPoint to propel your content forward. Don’t read your slides, but do use them as a visual reinforcement of what you’re talking about. And use a lot of slides to give participants something new to look at throughout the session. (After all, slides are free.),” Davis writes.
A content sharing platform incorporated into your video collaboration tool will ensure that everyone is literally on the same page—even allowing multiple simultaneous streams of content. No more “hunting and pecking” between files. No more prompting folks to move to another slide or open another document. You can stay focused on your message, and so can your colleagues.
These extra visuals have the power to improve your communications with very little effort on your part. According to Davis, “Most listeners will recall no more than 25% of your presentation. That means all those little details will fade away as quickly as you can say, ‘Short-term memory.’”
Incorporating visual elements can help increase retention, thereby optimizing the effectiveness of your communications. And when you engage participants through discussion, retention can further increase to as much as 70%.
Holding meetings over video offers another benefit. Enterprise-grade solutions provide recording functionality, so that you can go back and review your presentation and communication skills for continual improvement. This can be particularly useful if you’re getting help from a coach or mentor—a worthwhile endeavor if you continue to struggle.
“[E]nlisting the services of a good coach may be one of the most useful investments you’ll ever make in your career,” writes Touey.
No business professional can succeed in today’s innovation economy without effective communication skills. However, Finance professionals arguably stand to benefit the most. From enabling digital transformation to eliminating us-versus-them attitudes, Finance professionals who communicate effectively have the power to positively impact both the business and their own careers.