Present Like a Pro

In the third installment of a continuing series on communication, Scott Wentworth addressed members of CFA Society Chicago on how to make good business presentations on April 4th.  The capacity crowd of 90 in the Vault at 33 North LaSalle Street spoke to the popularity of the topic as well as the value of Wentworth’s previous two appearances before our society.  Wentworth founded Wentworth Financial Communications in 2015 to help financial businesses (especially investment managers) demonstrate their expertise through various forms of marketing content, including white papers, blogs, and newsletters. Prior to founding the company, he served as the head marketing writer at William Blair & Company. In his previous appearances with CFA Society Chicago (2017 and 2018), Wentworth addressed business writing, the primary focus of his company. This time, he spoke on oral communication, specifically how to make effective presentations.

Wentworth began by demonstrating (without announcing) several common presentation mistakes such as reading from a script, employing busy or confusing graphics, and relying on undependable technology. His point made, he quickly moved on to a very effective presentation embedding his recommendations within it. He pointed out that presenting is not the same as public speaking. A good presenter does not need to have a commanding presence or an abundance of charisma. Of greater importance is identifying and concentrating on one main idea, and then making a compelling case supporting it to the audience. Successful presenting requires skills that can be learned such as clarity, persuasion, concision, and good preparation.

Wentworth then went on to describe in detail his five tactics for a good presentation. First is identifying the goal of a presentation. He gave as examples motivating the audience to action, changing minds, correcting a misconception, or simply gathering information back from the audience. 

With the goal set, the second tactic is to analyze the audience. Is it hostile or supportive?  Uninterested or engaged? Uninformed or well-informed? This may be a difficult step if the presenter has limited information, but may be inferred from factors such as the type, purpose or setting of the presentation. It is important because it will direct the tone of the presentation.  To address a hostile audience, the presenter should emphasize areas of agreement first and seek out areas the audience would view as “win-win”. Whereas, with a supportive audience the presenter should reinforce their enthusiasm and provide an action plan or tools that lead to tangible benefits.

Wentworth described his third tactic as crafting your story arc. He admitted this is the most difficult aspect of a presentation because it is an art, not a science. It begins with identifying the one main idea he mentioned at the outset. This idea should be boiled down to as few words as possible and repeated throughout the presentation to drive it home.  In must be articulated early in the presentation to allow for this repetition, and also to protect against the risk of running out of time. Other features of the story arc include:

  • Using empathy to demonstrate that the presenter understands the audience’s situation and can help.
  • Focusing on the benefits offered rather than features (a common trap for investment managers who often focus on a product’s defining characteristics or performance).
  • Highlighting differentiating factors
  • Making things tangible.  Avoid abstract ideas, or if they’re necessary, convert them to a more tangible concept via examples or anecdotes.

The fourth tactic is creating effective visual aids. This can lead to another common error of presenters: considering the slide deck to be the presentation. Wentworth says it is not.  Rather, slides are a visual aid, just part of the presentation along with the equally-important delivery, the message or theme, and the interaction with the audience. He followed-up with a list of Do’s and Don’ts for slides.

Slides should

  • Reinforce the main idea,
  • Illustrate statistics or relationships,
  • Explain complex ideas, and
  • Keep the audience engaged. 

Slides should not

  • Outline the full presentation (they are just an aid),
  • Serve as a teleprompter, nor
  • Be distractive (too busy). 

As an aside, Wentworth recommended that the slides a presenter uses be pared down as much as possible with the bulk of the information conveyed by the presenter directly.  He recommended to having a more detailed deck as a “leave behind” for the audience.

The final recommended tactic is to practice with purpose for which Wentworth had several helpful hints:

  1. Do a dry run alone to learn the material and time the presentation
  2. Repeat with a reviewer (e.g., a co-presenter, team member, or even a spouse)
  3. Prepare for a failure of technology and have a plan B in case of a breakdown
  4. Don’t memorize lines. You’re likely to forget them which increases tension and nervousness.

Wentworth concluded his presentation, not by asking for questions, but rather asking the audience to provide examples of roadblocks or challenges they had faced in making presentations. Many offered up cases which proved to be good illustrations of how to apply the five tactics he had outlined. The discussion naturally led into a robust series of questions that extended for over half an hour. The level of audience engagement proved that Wentworth had both talked the talk, and walked the walk in demonstrating how to make a good presentation.

Past Wentworth Financial Communications Events:

How to Improve your Quarterly Investor Newsletters

Do you ever feel stressed out when it’s time to work on your investor newsletter or other client communications? Do you wonder if investors understand the key points and theses you want to drive home?  If you answered “yes” to one or both of these questions, you are not alone.

Read on to learn about techniques and tips that will tighten up your investor communications while giving you confidence and peace of mind.

Why versus How

Many of us are technical writers and are used to expressing large amounts of details that investors can use to help inform a buy or sell decision. In his second writing event offered by CFA Society Chicago, Scott Wentworth, Founder and Head Financial Writer of Wentworth Financial Communications, offered a new framework to use when creating investor communications. He encouraged us to always think of the “why” versus the “how”. Thinking about why you are putting out your letter or communications and using this as an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of your investors and the markets can create a big win. What are the three key things we should focus on?

Three Focus Areas

One useful tip Scott offered was on engaging the reader by providing your conclusion first. This is different than the typical legal opinion approach of citing the facts first then following up with a conclusion.

There are three key areas to focus on when developing investor communications.

  • Telling a compelling story
  • Providing content that is easy to consume visually
  • Streamlining the process for creating investor communications

Final Tips for Stress-free Execution

During the question and answer session, we learned how to refine our communications. Below are some final tips.

  • Use questions to engage readers but be consistent with section headers. Make all the headers questions or not.
  • If you use infographics, make sure they help tell the story and are understandable.
  • Analogies are good but be consistent and don’t take them too far. They should be used to get attention and create branding.
  • Make your main thoughts actionable.
  • Keep it fresh. Look around the industry and garner ideas from communications you like.
  • Have a section highlighting a different perspective or a section you can change in each quarterly communication.

Finally, reading non-fiction and fiction can help you become a better writer.

Writing Tips for CFA Charterholders Video

How CFA Charterholders Can Become Investment-Grade Writers

How CFA Charterholders Can Become Investment-Grade Writers

CFA charterholders are by de facto investment writers; Writing is the primary way of communicating investment ideas and we are judged by the quality of our ideas in written format. Bad writing can be a major career risk and it is a skill that we should focus on. There are a few reasons why we financial types typically resist improving our writing skills. One, we say “I’m a numbers person, not a words person.” While you may be a numbers person, you live in a world where you need to be able to be both types of people. Two, you feel that writing is an innate skill and you don’t have it. This is not true, if you focus on writing and practice it, you can become a better writer.

On August 15th, CFA Society Chicago welcomed Scott Wentworth, founder of Wentworth Financial Communications, to help attendees learn how portfolio managers, analysts, and other investment professionals can enhance the returns of their writing efforts by following a disciplined, repeatable process.  Wentworth explained six keys to improving your writing.

  • Trust the Process
  • Tell your Alpha story
  • Don’t bury the Lead
  • Overcome the Curse of Knowledge
  • Attack the Misconceptions
  • Narrow the Scope

Mr. Wentworth noted that in the same way you have an investment process; you also need a process for writing. There are several steps to the writing process including brainstorming, researching, making an outline, writing, and editing. When brainstorming, putting ideas down on paper will help you start identifying themes. When researching, gather your inputs and narrow the focus of the article. Be sure to make an outline, which will help organize the ideas, identify headlines and sub-themes, and will create the roadmap for the article. For the actual writing portion, he suggested getting “chunky” and setting aside blocks of time to write. Writing takes a lot of concentration and you should eliminate as many distractions as possible. Find a different location or empty office, and then just pull the trigger and do it!  The last process of writing is editing. You should first take a mental break and then come back and read your piece out loud. Also have a friend or co-worker edit the article, as it is hard to edit your own work.

When you tell your Alpha story, you need to focus on a compelling way to articulate your thesis, explaining why it exists and telling where it came from in a qualitative manner. You can be more creative in this step. Story telling should incorporate anecdotes, examples, and analogies that help the reader visualize what you are writing about.

The headline is valuable real estate in your article, so don’t bury the lead. You need to be able to capture the reader’s attention span so that they read the article and don’t just skim it. You should write like a journalist: give the conclusion at the beginning and then back it up with your facts and insights.

To overcome the curse of knowledge, put yourself in the reader’s shoes.  Avoid writing over their heads and say things clearly and plainly; be sure to avoid jargon. When you make a complicated topic accessible, you appear smarter to your audience. Be sure to spell out your line of reasoning and take them through your thesis step by step.

When attacking the misconceptions you should be aware of what the audience knows. Then focus on completing their level of knowledge by addressing the myths and facts. It will also allow you to make the topic relevant to your audience. This also saves time and will keep your article focused and shorter in length.

To narrow the scope of an article, it is better to go deep into the subject to showcase your expertise. If the scope is too broad, your article will be too big and too long. Smaller pieces allow more specific insights and avoid high level general insights.

In review, the six keys to improving your writing are trust the process, tell your Alpha story, don’t bury the lead, overcome the curse of knowledge, attack the misconceptions, and narrow the scope.  If you are able to follow these key items, you will be able to produce good writing and improve your writing skills and communication with your clients.