For any CFO, the first earnings calls have the potential to be a daunting undertaking. It requires a distinct focus on every aspect. From facts and figures to word choice and pacing, the more attention and preparation you put in, the more likely it is to be a success.
But how do you make it a success? With so many components to factor into your call, it’s best to make this a team effort. That includes going beyond the scope of your fellow executives. I remember my first call, and here is how my team and I made it a success.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Let’s skip the first fact: the details. If you don’t have the correct figures in place, step back from the drawing board immediately and make sure the right numbers are on hand and to know them well.
Good. Now we can focus on the intangibles that might not come as naturally to CFOs.
My company brought in a scriptwriter to help craft our words so that they not only conveyed our message but did it in a way that would keep our audience’s attention. Some people don’t realize that the flow is just as important as the numbers and message. Numbers may not always excite everyone. Do what you can to make your presentation interesting and easy to follow. It should help create a better Q&A, or at the very least, an optimally informed group.
The scriptwriter also helped structure our wording from a visual setting. If your slides don’t state key messages, it’s time to revise. If you want a slide to explain how your company’s assets continue to grow, don’t title it “Total Assets.” It should be “Assets Continue to Grow.”
Once we had the right words where they needed to be, we prepped by reading the script over and over. I can’t stress how important it is to read the script to yourself and others out loud, and get as much feedback as you can. You don’t want a bored audience, but even more important, you don’t want a confused one. If you don’t test out the dialogue beforehand, you risking a tricky word choice that could veer your message off course.
Another good way to prepare is to sit in on some other calls. If you’ve risen through the ranks at your company, hopefully you’ve been able to hear how it’s been done in the past. If you don’t have that advantage or are new to the company, review transcripts from past presentations and get feedback from colleagues who were there.
Nuts and Bolts
With the proper flow and word choice, it’s time to prepare for what might happen. With other executives, analysts, investors, and the media all potentially on the call, it’s best to be as prepared for their questions as you are for the rest of your presentation.
The first step is to plan your agenda. How will everything run? Is it going to end with a Q&A portion? Will media be present? Knowing exactly who and what will be on your call is a can’t-miss part of your preparation.
With your message and key details cemented, you can anticipate most of the questions you will be asked. Take proactive steps to rehearse your answers. When asked a question, remember to pause and think, even if you know the answer right away. Going unprepared into a response can result in misspeaking or omitting a key point. Always pause, think, and then speak. Some questions may be tough to answer. Have your colleagues grill you on them.
Expect the Unexpected
Calls, as structured as they may be, don’t have set rules. Anything can happen. Technical glitches (even after checking your systems’ performance) and other slip-ups can happen.
Be sure to find a quiet area to make your call. You don’t want outside noise to become a distracting factor. Inside the room, remind yourself and everyone else to stay on script, because what you say is public record. What might be off the cuff and casual to one person might be a complete lack of decorum to another. Best to play it safe.
In the end, every call will boil down to your preparation. Know the facts. Know what you’ll be saying. And know that while the unexpected can happen, you can control only what’s within your bandwidth.
Best of luck.
Henri Steenkamp is CFO of Saratoga Investment Corp., a provider of financial solutions to middle-market companies. Follow him on Twitter and read his thoughts on his finance blog and South Africa blog.