The Six Key Elements to a Winning Budget Presentation
There are no two ways about it: presenting your district’s annual budget is hard. Effectively communicating your district’s financial state is difficult enough, and the differences in perspectives from key stakeholders only compounds that.
When you factor in the upheaval brought on by the pandemic, financial leaders in education are faced with what can feel like an impossible task. Despite of all this, it is possible to create a budget presentation that tells your district’s story in a way everyone can understand. Here are the six critical elements your budget presentation needs in order to be successful.
1. Offer a Balanced Perspective
It almost goes without saying: transparency is perhaps the most critical part of your budget presentation. Tell all sides of your district’s story, sharing both the good and bad. Don’t be afraid to expose those vulnerabilities – being upfront about mistakes actually serves to build trust between you and the key stakeholders you’re presenting to.
While it’s important to be open about potential shortcomings, that isn’t to say you should let them discourage your audience, or cast doubt on the rest of your presentation. Instead, outline the district’s plans to work on those areas of improvement.
Another major part of ensuring a balanced presentation is to compare your district’s outcomes to its peers. Don’t only compare your district favorably to other districts that aren’t doing as well. Everyone knows that no district is perfect. Comparisons to districts doing better than yours is in certain areas helps illustrate a realistic picture about the current state of your schools.
2. Tell a Believable Story
In both life and budget presentations, honesty is often the best policy. That means your presentation has to be a work of non-fiction. Figures should be concrete and reasonable, and statements should be backed up with solid data.
The good thing about data is its accessibility. Anyone can take the time to collect it, and indeed some of the people you present to will have their own data for reference. It’s up to you to provide truthful interpretations of your data, not just to be in control of the narrative, but to ensure that the trust you’re trying to build doesn’t erode.
Remember that engaged stakeholders will have questions – some of which will be difficult. Prepare to back up the claims you make during your presentation. If someone asks a question you can’t answer completely, tell that person the truth and let them know you’ll follow up with them once you have an answer. Crucially, make sure you do follow up!
3. An Understandable Presentation is a Good Presentation
You spend your days in the thick of your district’s data. You understand the financial landscape of your schools in a way few others do.
So it’s up to you to break down the complexities that otherwise come naturally to those in your position. Your audience is no doubt engaged and concerned about the matters discussed in your budget presentation, but they may not share the same level of understanding as your own.
Assume that your audience needs a thorough explanation about most of the concepts you cover. It will help them understand your perspective better.
Remember the adage ‘Keep It Simple.’ Jargon and unexplained abbreviations can be left in your office. By removing complexity from your presentation, you open the door for greater understanding.
4. Illuminate Your District’s Individuality (and Share Commonalities)
Every district has its own story, and no two years are the same. That’s why it’s not enough to simply dump this year’s data into last year’s presentation deck. Your budget presentation’s success this year relies on presenting new analysis conveying the triumphs and challenges of your schools. Demonstrate the unique position your district is in and watch your audience’s understanding grow.
Remember, though, no school district exists in a vacuum. Your district is similar in some ways to other districts. Fair comparisons can help illuminate the key differences between your district and others.
5. Consider the Major Intended Takeaways
Every great presentation starts with a plan. And that plan can only form after you understand its purpose. Think about the clear messages you want to deliver to key stakeholders during this presentation. Discuss these with key district administrators and determine together what major takeaways you want to elucidate.
It’s important to be aligned on these messages well before the presentation itself. You don’t want conflicting messages to come from other administrators.
Like any good story, your budget presentation should have:
A strong beginning
A substantial middle
A compelling ending
Each element should flow into the next. One example of how to do this is as follows:
Use prior year actuals to create the basis for the rest of your presentation
Summarize the projected results of your current year
Outline next year’s budget
Show last year, this year, and next year side by side as part of a multi-year financial projection
In each of these phases, use data when it makes sense to underscore your messages, but avoid bombarding your audience with too many numbers. A “data dump” might feel like the most thorough way to tell your district’s story, but key points can get lost in a flood of facts and figures.
6. Make It Interesting
The way you present is another major key to your success. The fact of the matter is budget presentations can be a little dry and obscure. Minds can wander. Do your best to bring energy to the proceedings. It will keep your audience engaged.
This isn’t to say you have to put on a show-stopping, award-winning performance (though that will certainly help). If you can communicate your enthusiasm for the subject, that’s enough.
If you have to make this presentation to different audiences, factor in their particular concerns, and which figures or key areas they may want to focus on.
Keep in mind, different people pick up information in different ways. Some may be satisfied with just graphs and charts. Others may want to dig into spreadsheets. You don’t have to include spreadsheets in your slide deck – in fact you should probably leave them out – but it may be helpful to make them available for those that request them.
All of this preparation and planning might sound daunting, to say nothing of the prospect of presenting. But if you take the time to get the details right and remember these six keys, you’ll put together a budget presentation that helps your audience understand your district’s story.
Kyle is a writer and member of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. A lifelong learner, he is passionate about exploring the ways in which we can make school better for students and the people who teach them.