could budget presentations be better?

Big financial slabs of text often make grim reading and even worse viewing. But do dry figures have to be dull? Not always...

by Jo Smith

It’s that time of year again.

Councils across the country are presenting their budgets. Decisions that impact millions of people for years to come will be taken in town halls over the next few weeks.

And apart from the major headline issues, who will actually understand the detail? Is it because no-one cares or is it because the process of presenting budgets just isn’t interesting enough?

Conspiracy theorists will argue that public sector budgets are deliberately opaque to provide a smokescreen for bad news. The devil is always in the detail – often buried on page 527.

But in most cases there is a genuine desire to be open, honest and accountable about the financial realities – especially as more services face cuts. No-one wants to discover by accident that a service they needed no longer exists.

So where are public sector budget presentations going wrong? With more channels available than ever before is the traditional town hall committee meeting format finished?

And if they have to follow the same old format could they be better?

What if it’s not the information but the presentation that could be improved? Delivering a huge amount of complicated, financial information in a way that’s interesting, understandable and engaging can be incredibly difficult. And nerve wracking.

But there are ways to make a difficult presentation more palatable for both presenter and the audience.

Set out expectations early

Let people know how long you think you’ll talk for. Divide your presentation into sections so people know when they’ll have the opportunity to shuffle in their seats – or take a break.

If you can’ read it, neither can they

Figures on spreadsheets are often very small. If you want people to really understand figures they have to be able to read them. Consider hand outs instead of trying to show financial tables on a screen.

Pictures really do say a thousand words:

You don’t have to use graphs and charts. Break up the text and the tedium with some well-chosen images. They will help keep the audience interested. Talking about adult care? How about a picture of a carer?

Wear it well:

Looking good improves confidence. So choose your outfit with care. Choose something comfortable and if you can, add a splash of colour. Will your speech be filmed? Stripes and patterns can play havoc with how you look on screen. Avoid fitting the stereotype of the faceless grey public sector worker – look interesting and people will find you interesting.


Run through your presentation at least once before you deliver it. This will help you work out the timings and help you find places where you can pause for breath and make eye contact with your audience. A steady glance from left to right and back to the centre gives the impression you are interested in your audience. They’ll respond and be more interested in you.

Ask questions

If you ask a question in your presentation your audience will be drawn in and subconsciously form an answer. It’s an indirect way of saying ‘pay attention’. By sprinkling questions throughout your presentation – and then answering them yourself, you will keep the attention of the audience and give yourself the opportunity to reinforce some of your important points.

Get help

If you’re still concerned you can’t get your message across then ask for help. Is there someone in your organisation who is a great presenter? Could they give you some coaching? Why not video yourself and watch it back – then you can give yourself advice. Or if the training budget allows, bring in the professionals. Book yourself on a training course. Or hunt out freebies. You Tube as ever is a great place to start. This is just one example of the thousand quick clips that are out there. Or look for free online courses like this one from specialist presentation skills trainers Skill Studio.

And if you’re not presenting anything but know someone who is why not pass this article? They might not thank you but their audience will.

Jo Smith is owner of Vindicat PR.

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