Communication in FP&A Pt 2 – Think big picture to tell better stories

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I’m a marketing coordinator, not an FP&A expert, so I can’t tell you what on earth “horizontal analysis” means or how to balance a general ledger. What I can tell you about is storytelling, and how to use it to best shape your message and engage your managers.

Part one of this series highlighted the importance of storytelling for modern FP&A professionals. Providing valuable decision support for your business means being able to tell a meaningful and compelling story about your data.

The following article will offer some practical tips for effectively communicating your FP&A findings with managers, business leaders, and otherwise Excel-averse, FP&A-doubting staff.

How to tell better FP&A stories

Back them up with data

A prerequisite for compelling and meaningful storytelling is strong analysis. Be willing to do the work, and to really drill down into the science before we get to the art. Foster intellectual curiosity about what your data set is communicating and rid your analysis of data biases and pre-conceived assumptions. This is the part of the storytelling process you’re great at. It’s pure, unabashed numbers.

Strong data gives your narrative the best possible start.

Develop key messaging

Don’t muddle your strong analysis by launching into a tangential, information-dense PowerPoint. If you overwhelm your Board or CFO with graphs and data, you’ll dilute your key message.

Pick the three most important findings from your analysis – to do this, consider urgency, audience, and potential value-add to the business. Don’t stray from these points as you craft your narrative. Keep your messaging impactful and direct.

A useful strategy to achieve this is: condense the entirety of each of your points into a single sentence. It’s hard to do, but it will help you articulate the essence of your message from which to flesh out your more comprehensive case.

Address your target audience

Are you delivering FP&A insights to the Board or to the Sales team? Are you shooting the long-term forecasting breeze around the water cooler or are you giving specific insight to an underperforming department of the business?

Your “who” affects your “how” and “what”. Tailoring not only the content but the medium through which it is delivered is critical to meaningful storytelling. Develop messages that are relevant to your audience and convey it in a way that is engaging, appropriate, and encourages action.

Have a strong call to action

A weak or absent call to action is like ending a novel with, “It was all a dream” – which we consider to be a “Big No No” in the storytelling business.

You can deliver the most compelling, insightful, and visually scintillating presentation of all time – you could even win an award from the people at Microsoft for "Most Outrageously Good PowerPoint FY22” – but if your audience doesn’t leave knowing exactly what they should do next, then you’ve wasted everyone’s time. Clearly articulate how you want your story to inspire change, and make it as simple and motivating as possible for your colleagues to follow this plan.

Complement your storytelling with regular returns to your call to action. For example, CALUMO’s Publications product feature delivers specific reports directly to a team member’s inbox, so they have all the data they need to act regularly delivered to them.

Data visualisation

Choose the dataset that is most relevant, insightful, and important to your report’s narrative, and present your findings in a way that is compelling to managers. When visualising your data:

  • Reduce noise and the number of colours.
  • Keep a clear and consistent style, aligned with the branding of your audience.
  • Incorporate standardised notation to simplify your data where possible.

Remember to empathise with your audience, and to have visuals that specifically cater to them. A CEO may want to see charts that demonstrate how different departments intersect. Finance-savvy executives would appreciate a deeper dive into the data. The sales team might need a different approach entirely – don’t be afraid to experiment!

CALUMO is designed to provide consistency across a range of mediums. Create visuals that deliver a quick understanding, and visuals that help initiate action.

Final tips and tricks

Some quick, universal storytelling tenets to keep in mind as you go forth:

  • Less is more. Capture the essence of your report and articulate it quickly.
  • Have a clear structure to best serve your narrative.
  • Tailor your message to your target audience. Tell a story that they understand and that helps them.

Go forth, intrepid storytellers

Don’t be afraid of storytelling – it’s a business tool, and a vital life skill, that will help you extract the most value from your FP&A reporting. Your analysis is central to effective decision support, and you need to articulate it clearly and compellingly to members of your organisation.

Have good data, clarify your key messaging, and present it in an engaging way. Strong storytelling will transform the value of your financial planning and analysis.

To learn more about how CALUMO can help with your FP&A and storytelling, get in touch with us on +61 2 8985 7777 (AUS), +1 214 387 6030 (USA) or info@calumo.com.