INVESTOR presentations can provide some of the most useful information on an IR website. They often present companies to investors in a compelling and direct manner, something that is rarely achieved in other investor communications.
As far back as 2000, surveys have shown that investors and analysts place a high value on having access to presentations on IR websites. A survey by the CFA Institute, the international association of portfolio managers and analysts, found that investors’ demand for past presentation materials was second only
to regulatory filings.
However, it is also clear from this survey that investors need and want access to presentation information in more usable formats than is currently standard practice on IR websites. In fact, less than 5% of the Global Benchmarks companies meet the needs of investors as expressed in the CFA Institute survey.
These guidelines discuss how to treat investor presentations on your website, including how to position presentations so they are easy to find, how to preview presentations and how to archive them once they’re over. Finally, we look at a few practices to avoid.
Note that these guidelines deal with broker-sponsored presentations and company-sponsored presentations like analyst days. We draw a distinction between investor presentations and earnings conference calls. Although many of these guidelines apply to earnings calls, please see our separate guidelines for earnings webcast archives.
Position investor presentations prominently on your site
An IR website should provide a prominent link to Presentations or Events in its main navigation menu. It is acceptable to include presentations in a broader News and Events section, but the presentations should be a distinct content category.
To avoid confusing users, do not have separate sections for broker presentations, webcasts, earnings webcasts or executive speeches in the IR website’s navigation. Consolidate all events and their related materials in one Presentations or Events area of your site. By doing so, anyone looking for presentations, earnings conference call webcasts, analyst days and speeches only has one place to look on the site.
Preview your presentations on your site and in a news release
All upcoming presentations need to be promoted in the broadest possible way. There should always be notices about upcoming events on the IR homepage, on the main presentations page, and in the site’s events calendar.
When investors arrive on any of these pages, they should have the option to go to the most recent presentation or obtain details about what presentations are coming up.
It is important to clearly separate information about future presentations from past ones, especially in event calendars. Often sites are confusing because they post information about upcoming presentations in the same manner as past ones, including external URLs where users can access the webcast. This can result in users who want past presentations wasting their time looking for events that
have yet to be staged.
News releases are a good way to pre-announce your investor presentations. They can protect a company from running afoul of selective disclosure rules like Regulation FD in the United States because they help to ensure broader public awareness of the presentation.
Preannouncements via news releases can also increase traffic to your site by raising your company’s visibility on the Internet. They do this because news releases are typically distributed to many sites on the Internet, including prominent investment sites like Yahoo! Finance. Links to your site from these
high profile properties can boost your site’s ranking in search engines.
Links to your site from news releases on third party sites can also help to attract potential new investors to your company. A site like Yahoo! Finance or MSNMoney attracts millions of users per day. Having your company’s news release appear on these sites increases the likelihood it will be noticed.
The conference sponsor typically will issue a news release announcing which companies will be attending its event and providing information on how investors can access presentations via the Internet.
Companies should also pre-announce presentations in a short news release two or more days before the event. Send out the release via email alerts and RSS to subscribers at the same time or immediately after it has been distributed.
The company news release should provide the correct date and time, both local and Greenwich Mean Time. Providing GMT times is handy for international users. If your company has a lot of investors in specific countries in distant time zones, provide the time of the event in the local time zones.
The release should include a deep link, not a top level link, to a page where investors can easily access the webcast. It is best to link from the news release to a page on your website rather than directly to the conference sponsor or webcast vendor’s website. Doing so allows you to gauge the level of interest in the event through your site traffic logs and reports.
The page you link to from your release should be used to preview the event and also for later archiving the presentation. During the preview period, indicate the date and time that the event will be held. Tell users how soon before the start they should log on and announce if you will be providing presentations materials on the page prior to the presentation beginning. You might provide contact information for an IR contact and a photograph of the company presenter as well as a link to his or her biography.
Only link to the external conference provider’s page on the day of the event. This will prevent people mistaking upcoming events for past events and wasting their time visiting the external site, registering for an event and then finding out it hasn’t started yet.
Requirements for live online presentations
When investors are accessing a presentation in real-time, their needs are fairly simple. They need easy access to streaming audio or video as well as the slide presentation the speaker is using.
Conference organizers use a variety of webcasting platforms. Review these ahead of time so that you are familiar with the format the broker is using. If the platform doesn’t include synchronized or user-driven slides, you will need to provide them separately.
Take note of media player formats, help pages and system test features to be sure that you are comfortable they will meet your users’ needs. If they are inadequate, you may need to provide supplemental help instructions on your site’s related presentation page.
Know as much about the technical details of the webcast as possible, including access requirements, privacy, archiving turnaround times and, very important, expiration dates. You will need these to manage your site effectively.
Promote the presentation heavily on the site on the day of the event. It typically should be the main item on the IR homepage and stay the main item until subsequent events or news supersede it.
Investors looking for the presentation immediately before it starts, will expect to see it announced on the IR homepage. Don’t expect them to go to the presentations section to find it, although it should be the most prominent item in the presentation section as well on D-day.
About 30 minutes before the event is due to start, provide a copy of the speaker’s presentation and speaking notes on the presentation page for investors to download in PDF. This is especially important if the webcasting platform the conference sponsor uses does not include slides in the webcast itself. Users will be frustrated if the company presenter refers to information on slides that they can’t see.
Most broker presentations require users to register before they can access a webcast. Requiring registration before people can access information is generally a bad idea, but it is more acceptable for live events than for archived ones. This is simply because someone accessing a live event is more motivated to obtain the information than someone coming to the site a day or so later.
Investors accessing a presentation via a live webcast will appreciate having access to the slides while they listen to the presentation. These should be offered online about a half hour before the presentation is scheduled to start.
Slides should never have a dark background as this makes it hard for investors to make notes on them. If the presentation includes a lot of colored graphs, make sure they are still understandable when printed in black and white.
An excellent practice is to incorporate speaking notes with the slides. The speaking notes make it easier for webcast attendees to follow along online and can be most helpful if the audio quality is poor or if the speaker is difficult to understand. American executives tend to speak too fast for many English as a second language listeners, while native English speakers
and others can have difficulty understanding non-English speakers’ accents.
A speaking note a slide package also makes for an excellent way to archive presentations. Even if the audio recording is indexed in detail, a speaking notes and slides package is easier and faster to use. Users can print it out to read offline. Speaking notes and slides are also easier to skim through for pertinent facts. Audio is time consuming and mostly non-portable.
A slides and notes package can be implemented in one of two main ways: in HTML and/or in PDF. Either is acceptable. Although the HTML approach is leading edge, it probably doesn’t add much more value to the user experience. Avoid using Flash Paper, a format from Macromedia, for your presentations and notes packages.
The Flash Paper player introduces a new set of interface controls, something that will slow users down and make your site harder to use.
Freddie Mac, the U.S. mortgage giant, and PotashCorp, a Canadian fertilizer producer, use HTML slides and notes packages for presentations. Freddie Mac’s presentations are particularly well done.
PotashCorp uses a similar approach, but embeds smaller images of slides in the text. By clicking on a small graphic you can view a larger one. The company also uses a maximum of two slide images per page. This allows for quick page downloads, but it can be frustrating if the slide you want is the last one in a long presentation. There’s no way to skip to a specific page without going through each intervening one first. This is something that you can address by providing a navigation scheme for your presentation.
Some companies use a slightly different approach in what would best be described as an annotated slide show. They link slide images together in an online presentation. Each slide is captioned and users can navigate the show using a detailed menu on the left or right of the screen. It’s important that the navigation scheme be detailed and not rely only on arrows and “next” and “previous” buttons.
One company that seems to have perfected this technique is Placer Dome, an international gold producer. Its archive of annotated online slide shows should be studied by anyone considering this technique.
Instead of using HTML for your slides and notes package, you can do the same thing using only PDF. Since the PDF file produces a printable file for investors and is quick and easy to create from PowerPoint’s notes view, this may well be the best approach for both investors and companies.
The most important part of any presentation, conference call or other event from investors’ perspective is the question and answer period. This is usually where interesting information is elicited from executives by
informed members of the audience asking pointed questions.
Some companies provide complete transcripts covering both the formal portion of the presentation and the Q&A that follows. Microsoft has uniformly provided complete transcripts of its presentations, including the Q&A sessions. Similarly, TD Bank Financial Group provides complete transcripts of all of its presentations.
However, we don’t think a complete transcript of a presentation is necessary if you have provided a speaking notes and slides package and investors have access to the archived webast. It is best to provide a slides and notes package and a separate transcript of the question and answer session.
With the two items separated, investors can quickly go to the information they want — the Q&A or the prepared slide presentation and notes. Full transcripts tend to lead to long slabs of gray text on the Web. Depending on the quality of the transcription, there may be gaps, misspellings and speakers may use terminology or abbreviations that they don’t explain, or they may speak in ways that are difficult to transcribe. Transcribing only the Q&A reduces the amount of work required to verify the transcript’s accuracy.
If there is no question and answer period at the end of a presentation, say so in a note alongside the archived materials. Often companies provide speaking notes but no Q&A transcript. This leads investors to wonder if there was a Q&A or if the company is trying to hide something that might have been said in the Q&A.
Avoid links to expired webcasts and remove registration requirements.
Given the choice between accessing past presentations in printable form or via audio or video archive, investors will almost always prefer the text version. However, the webcast archive is still important as it provides investors with additional context and corroboration.
By listening to or watching a webcast, investors can hear the tone with which something was said or see the speaker’s demeanor during the presentation or Q&A. The webcast also acts as an official record of the proceedings.
Oddly enough, archiving webcasts is often where mistakes happen that severely damage the experience of investors on IR websites. Too often, we find links to broker presentations that have expired. These are irritating as they waste users’ time, especially if they are forced to register to access the expired webcast.
Sites with links to expired webcasts leave a strong impression that they are not being managed properly. This can undermine users’ confidence in other information on the site.
There does not appear to be any standard archiving time for broker presentations. We have seen presentations that are several years old, while others expire in as little as a week. It’s important for site managers to know the conference sponsor’s archiving plans ahead of time. If possible, the company should try to obtain a copy of the webcast to stream from its own servers.
If you have some negotiating room with the conference sponsor, ask them to remove any registration requirements for the webcast replay. According to a usability study of IR websites by the Nielsen Norman group, investors are less likely to use past webcasts of presentations if they are have to register.
If it’s a company event, there should be not registration required to access the archive.
It is good practice to offer the Q&A section of the webcast in a separate file or index the Q&A by question to make it easier for people to listen to individual questions and answers. Of course, this is only feasible if you have input or control over how the webcast is archived — such as company analyst days and tours — but it seldom applies for third-party events.
Archive presentations for a minimum of two years.
Some companies have extremely conservative archiving practices for presentations. They post them for as little as five days in some cases. This makes it extremely difficult for investors to monitor or research these companies.
It likely also makes these firms seem less transparent than other companies, especially when you consider that 57% of the more than 500 benchmark survey companies we covered in November 2005 had two or more years of presentations archived. Some, like IBM shown below, archive presentations for five years or longer.
We recommend that companies provide transcripts of captioned slide packs and Q&A transcripts for minimum of two years, but preferably indefinitely. Audio and video recordings should be made available for 12 months or for as long as they are available if this is controlled by a third-party conference host.
This advice is certain to make some corporate lawyers’ nervous, while others are comfortable as long as presentations are clearly dated and contain the required forward-looking statement disclaimers. When discussing archiving practices for presentations, be sure to point out the potential reputation costs if investors perceive your company is less transparent than its peers or even
companies in other industries.
Provide sorting tools for past presentations
If your company does a lot of presentations per year and/or you archive presentations for several years, provide the ability for investors to view available presentations for specific years or just a certain type of presentation. For example, you can let investors view broker presentations for a specific year or for all years
in the archive, or earnings call information for the past 2 years.
If you don’t have slides
This is a common challenge with executive speeches, fireside chats and panel discussions that do not call for visual aides. For speeches, you should provide a copy of the speech and a webcast archive. Reformat speeches for the web using headings, bullet lists and emphasis to make it easier for users to skim the
speech for information. See more on writing for the web.
For fireside chats and panel discussions, which are essentially question and answer sessions, provide a transcript.
Things to avoid.
Best practices are one thing, but knowing what NOT to do is perhaps even more important. Here are three practices to avoid.
1. Captionless slide shows.
We still see these quite often among old CCBN clients, now owned by Thomson Financial. These are a complete waste of time and money. They have poor, linear navigation and, without accompanying notes, often are difficult to understand.
2. PowerPoint downloads
PowerPoint can produce extremely large files that take ages to download,
especially for dial up users. Forcing someone to download a large file which they likely won’t understand anyway is a sure way to put them off your company.
Also remember that many home users don’t have PowerPoint on their systems because Microsoft does not include the program in its basic office package. Requiring potential investors to download a plug-in before they can discern your story throws up unnecessary barriers to effective communication.
If you are going to use a PowerPoint download, have it edited and reformatted for the web. Strip it of superfluous graphics and use text on a web-safe color background wherever possible. Make sure that charts, tables and graphs have clear captions and that bullet points make sense in isolation.
3. Presentation notes in a Word file and the slides in a separate PowerPoint file.
While this approach does provide users with both text and visuals, it has extremely poor usability. First, it requires
users to have two plug-ins. And second, short of opening two windows there is simply no easy way on earth to get value from this setup.
What’s more, this configuration will make you look bad to anyone with a slightly advanced knowledge of Microsoft Office. That’s because they know that for the sake of 30 minutes of formatting, you could easily paste the slides into the Word file and then convert it into a single HTML file.
4. FlashPaper complicates the picture
FlashPaper is a PDF-like format that uses Macromedia’s Flash standard to convert print documents to a web format. The format shows promise, mostly because it doesn’t require a new program to open since Flash is installed on almost all computers.
However, you should avoid using FlashPaper because it introduces a new toolbar and and interface controls that will be unfamiliar to users. IR website users already have to contend with PDF, Excel, streaming media, Word, PowerPoint and even .zip formats. They don’t need another format to complicate the user experience,
even a rather simple one like Flash Paper.
Presentations are a key resource for investors, but are one of the weakest areas on IR websites. Managing presentations effectively requires:
- Promoting upcoming presentations to inform the broadest possible audience.
- Ensuring users have access to the materials they need on the day of the event, including downloadable slides, speaking notes and access to an audio/video stream.
- Provide slides captioned with speaking notes, a separate Q&A transcript and direct access to the webcast archive of each presentation.
- Presentations should be archived for two years or more.