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Watching management deliver a presentation at an investor conference or investor day can often feel similar to watching The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But what makes a presentation good or bad? And what can we do as speakers to ensure “success”? At Sharon Merrill, we define presentation “success” as communicating your story in a way that attracts investor interest and builds confidence in your investment thesis. No two successful presentations are exactly alike, but they are all compelling, informative, and leave audiences wanting more.
Throughout Sharon Merrill’s 37 year history, we have cultivated a deep expertise in what it takes to prepare investor relations officers and the C-suite for success in these pivotal moments. Our process is built upon three key pillars: messaging, materials, and delivery.

Hone in Your Messaging

One of the most common problems in investor presentations is the lack of powerful messaging. Perhaps this is because messaging itself exists at a somewhat abstract level, as the core points and ideas of your pitch. At the end of the day, your audience has limited time and limited capital to deploy. Effective messaging provides compelling answers to the “So what?” question. Follow these tips to ensure your messaging strategically supports your broader business goals.

  • Study your audience and what is top-of-mind for investors prior to finalizing your core messaging. To short-circuit this process, try conducting a perception study and soliciting the opinions of vetted third-party counsel.
  • Compose an outline once you have a relatively good idea of what you want to say. This is not a moment to strive for perfection. Even if you are unsure, the process of putting pen to paper can be immensely helpful.
  • Aim for 3-4 core messages to keep your presentation succinct and appealing to the human brain’s desire for simplicity. In the words of Steven King, be willing to “kill your darlings.”
  • Consider audience demographics. Ask yourself, who is my ideal investor? Am I being overly technical? Am I going too broad or too narrow?
  • Employ storytelling through narrative structure and personal experiences. Humans are wired to listen to and learn from stories, similar to our desire for simplicity. In addition, investors want to feel that you have passion for your business, and leveraging this technique is one of the most powerful ways to achieve this outcome.

Craft Compelling Materials

Once you have your key messaging set, it is time to begin the materials creation process. In addition to slide production, materials also could refer to executive videos, sizzle reels, fact sheets, websites, social media posts, and more. Consider the following to make the most out of your presentation materials.

  • First, decide on which materials format best supports your messaging goals and the environment you will be presenting in. Remember, form follows function. Slide decks are ideal for investor conference webcast presentations, while a physical handout might make more sense for an exclusive, in-person fireside chat.
  • “Fact sheets” should not go longer than two pages! Keep these documents high-level and focused on your investment thesis to reiterate the key facts and figures of your story.
  • Consider incorporating video into higher production events where the subcontracting of a film crew makes budgetary sense. Videos should be professionally produced and authentic. Some effective uses of video in investor presentations include short interview clips, customer reviews, product demos, and more.

When it comes to crafting presentation materials, slide decks, for better or worse, still reign supreme. Consider the following tips on how to get the most out of your slides.

  • Keep the bullets to a minimum! Conventional wisdom says no more than six bullets to a slide and six words to a bullet. That may not seem nearly enough to communicate everything you have to say. But remember, the slides are only visual aids that support what you are saying. Use too many words on a slide and the audience will not even give it a second glance.
  • Look at each of your bullet slides and ask yourself, “Can a graphic demonstrate this concept better than words?” I hate to be cliché here, but a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Let’s face it, bullet slides are always boring.  Try to avoid them.
  • Ensure that every slide has one key message that will resonate with investors. Emphasize that message clearly in the slide’s headline. Why make investors search for the key message you need them to remember?
  • For financial slides, ask yourself what story the numbers are telling. Instead of simply pasting tables or non-descript graphs, pair this data with a key thought for each slide. Finance and accounting are the languages of business, so use numbers to tell an impactful story about your business.

Master a Dynamic Delivery

The final element of your presentation that can be good, bad, or ugly is your delivery. A common mistake is spending 95% of your time creating a presentation, and only 5% practicing your delivery. This is a strategic misstep, and one that we commonly work with management to remedy. If your presentation inhibits the delivery of your key messages, you have not done your job as a speaker (and some nicely assembled slides may have gone to waste).  Below are five tips on how to get the most out of your presentation delivery.

  • Speak with clarity and confidence. How? First, as your parents told you long ago — stand up straight. Nothing says “lack of confidence” like a slouching speaker. And let go of that podium! Don’t use it as a barrier to your audience or grip its sides like your life is depending on it.
  • Use your hands. The lack of hand motion will make you appear stiff. Try to keep them in a motion that feels comfortable to you and use them to accentuate your key points. Remember, nervous fiddling with your hands will distract from your delivery, so avoid playing with your wedding ring, keys, pens, etc. while speaking.
  • Prioritize making eye contact with your audience. Speak as if you are having many individual conversations versus just scanning the room with your eyes. Try slowly moving your eyes from one audience member to another to draw the audience into your conversation.
  • Maintain a conversational tone with the audience. Don’t try to sound like a U.S. president delivering the State of the Union Address. Speak with the audience, not at them.
  • And lastly, don’t kill your audience with acronyms. While IRS, SEC and even LOL are widely recognized, many of the acronyms that you use at your company every day are probably not as widely recognized as you would hope. Avoid the alphabet soup!

Wrapping Up

While I have just laid out the basics for delivering a successful investor presentation, I don’t mean to suggest that any of this is particularly easy. Today’s modern IRO and executive team are short on time and long on priorities. Messaging, slides, and delivery that help to effectively sell your story and firm up your valuation require a significant amount of strategic thinking and a lot of hard work. We have developed a reputation for helping our clients overcome these hurdles and lending a hand where it’s needed most. Reach out to us today to discuss how we can help you with your investor presentation or in one of our other practice areas.

Sharon Merrill has decades of experience helping executives to build and deliver compelling presentations. Contact us here.
David Calusdian

David is an accomplished communicator with more than 30 years of experience in advising and coaching CEOs, CFOs, IROs, and boards of directors through a range of critical communications events, including IPOs, quarterly earnings results, executive transitions, and M&A. David is an acknowledged authority on executive presentation coaching, investor relations strategy, investor day execution, and strategic messaging.