Finance report makeover

Reports have three dimensions that you can change. These are the content (the words, numbers, graphs and tables you use to convey your message), the structure (how you organise the information you want to communicate), and the style (how you set out your content on the page or screen so that they are easily readable and understandable). Recently, I did a makeover of the monthly management report for a nonprofit organisation where I changed the content, structure and style.

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Aristotle's advice for presenters

Aristotle wasn’t an accountant or auditor but he was an advocate of transparency in accounting. To prevent the exchequer from being defrauded, let all public money be delivered out openly in the face of the whole city and let copies of the accounts be deposited in the different wards, tribes and divisions.” Aristotle also identified 5 aspects of persuasion which you can follow when you are creating a presentation:

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Science says your audience can’t read the text on your slides and listen to what you are saying at the same time.

They will prioritise reading.

But you want them to listen to you. (Don’t you?)

So, what is the answer? Read this to find out.

Why I don't write in Word

Excel transformed the world. No question. The first impact that Excel made was nothing to do with its functionality; it was the way it looked. Excel arrived along with the Windows operating system. Excel allowed a user to format cells. You could have borders and bold text. You could make a spreadsheet look good even it all it did was arrange data in rows and columns and sum them. Herein were the seeds of accountants and others focusing on form rather than content.

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Put the real subject matter — the point — and even the conclusion, in the opening paragraph and the whole story on one page. Period!

This instruction was written 80 years ago this week. The whole memo has only 129 words.

If you are in a position of some authority why not write a similar instruction to your staff. The return on the investment of a few minutes of your time in terms of time and money saved will be enormous.

Note: This post was inspired by a post on the Daring Fireball blog about this memo from the Smaller War Plants Corporation (whatever that was).

Don’t make your reader have to climb a mountain.

I got an email today from The North Face explaining a data breach. Reading the email was like climbing the north face. This is the opening section of the email … On December 13, we detected unauthorized activities on a part of our IT systems, apparently carried out by external threat actors. Upon detecting the unauthorized activities, we immediately took steps to contain, assess and remediate the incident, including activating our internal incident response plan, hiring leading external cybersecurity experts to support with response activities and temporarily shutting down all IT systems that might be affected.

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Internal auditors need to be competent presenters

Richard Chambers interviewed 15 audit committee chairs to identify gaps in internal audit performance. He found a number of issues including a lack of effective presentation skills. No-one wants to listen to a presenter reading from their slides. What frustrates me is that so many people sit through bad presentations and don’t think, I must learn how to do better. Presentation skills make a massive difference to your job effectiveness but they are seen as peripheral in job interviews and whether you are good or bad doesn’t make much difference to your career.

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A tip about writing abbreviations.

Have you ever thought about how you write abbreviations? Accountants and auditors will often find themselves using technical terms and long titles that it is best to abbreviate after their first use. Some abbreviations, such as BBC, UK and USA, are so well-known they can be used without ever writing the full term. Maybe you have seen or heard the abbreviation “TLA” (three letter acronym) because so many terms are reduced to 3 letters.

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How to make sure your slides look great in every venue

Do you always use a standard theme for your presentations? That’s good because it is consistent. It also avoids problems when copying a slide from one presentation and pasting it to another. If your usual theme is dark text on a light background it will look great in light, airy spaces such as meeting rooms. It won’t look so good in a dark conference hall. You need a second choice theme.

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AI can write a finance report in seconds but it is not going to replace accountants.

But that doesn’t mean that accountants should not improve their writing skills. Accounting is about words as well as numbers. All that classifying and analysing of financial data is pointless if its meaning is not communicated. That’s why I keep writing posts about the need for accountants to be better at writing and presenting. Somehow, we’ve gone from the time when people complained about predictive text because it caused them to send an offensive word to their boss to a situation where people are looking to “write” 2,000 word documents with it.

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