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Soft skills for finance directors

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Then they discover that the financial acumen that has so far served them well is no longer enough. Finance directors need to communicate within and outside their department, present at board meetings and report to shareholders.

But they are often out of practice in these areas, and the stereotypical view of them as shambolic communicators does little to help matters. So how can they bring their ‘softer skills’ up to speed?

Made, not bornLuckily, these skills are not confined to a chosen few. Everyone has the potential to become an eloquent and confident presenter. Formal training is very helpful, but there are other ways to improve, too.

Identify opportunities to practise in a low-stress environment – an informal company event or meeting. Rehearse beforehand and, on the day, get a couple of colleagues to give feedback on speed and pitch of voice, and your body language, as well as the speech itself. Pay special attention to their advice on your next presentation and ask them to critique you again.

In more formal situations –  when presenting at external events, for example – find out as much information about your audience as you can beforehand, including their level of knowledge in your field, and what their main concerns might be.

Before your next meeting with clients or seniors, compare what you want to say with what you think your audience will want to hear. Find the common ground and initially focus here. So, if you are reporting to the board on your department’s results, pick out the pointers which will interest them most, such as figures relating to bottom line or financial progress. You can then back this up with additional information.Power of threeYou will be lucky if you get an audience to take on board more than three points. Therefore you should identify your three key messages, mention them in your opening, devote time to them during the speech and return to them at the end. Attaching buzz-words to these points will keep them in the audience’s mind and help establish a common theme.

When answering questions, try to resist the urge to give an immediate answer. Think about the questioner’s level of financial knowledge, and frame your answer in these terms. This will make your response seem considered, and the questioner will feel more important. This technique is equally effective for Q&A sessions and everyday business conversations.

Finally, little verbal tricks like using inclusive language will keep your audience alert – wherever possible, use ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, and employ phrases such as ‘it would be great to hear your opinion on this later’.

Nerves are a natural part of presenting, but rehearsal and preparation are the key tools that will turn a mind-bending exercise into one you can excel in.

*Professor Khalid Aziz is chairman of The Aziz Corporation, an executive leadership and development consultancy.

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