[IMGCAP(1)]Louis Plung, managing partner of Louis Plung & Company LLP, believes in serving the community in which he lives and works.

He is involved with numerous nonprofit organizations throughout the Pittsburgh area. In his role as board member, Lou has been in the position of interviewing accounting firms. He has seen a broad range of presentation skill levels from accountants he has interviewed. He knows firsthand how important these skills are when it comes to firms’ demonstrating their value to prospective clients. He decided to offer a customized public speaking and presentation skills training program to his own management team.

He selected me to provide a customized program that would address the obstacles of public speaking. Early in my own career, I too avoided public speaking, refusing once to introduce one of our CPA partners to a group of business owners at an event that I had arranged.  Years later, I regularly address large groups of people at national conferences, and I have learned how to overcome those obstacles.

The professionals of Louis Plung & Company received five half-day training sessions over three months.

Several of the attendees shared their insights. Audit manager Tom Culleiton explained, “I think that there are two types of CPAs. The first is the quiet, reserved type that sits behind a computer crunching numbers all day. The second type is a more dynamic and confident type. The second type gains trust, earns respect and advances the profession. Unfortunately, the public thinks of CPAs as the first type. Presentation skills allow us to show who we really are. We can grab the attention of the public and change this image.”

Relate to Your Audience
Understanding the perspective of those you are addressing is key to connecting with them in a way that answers their questions or meets their needs. Anastasia Belashova, CPA, supervising senior auditor at the firm said, “Our training program required participation immediately. Our facilitator got each participant introducing another, using a patented formula (secret sauce and all). That set the stage and energy level for the remainder of the program.”

(The “secret sauce” refers to asking a few personal questions of someone to foster rapport with their target audience).

Richard Fischer, a partner at the firm, agreed that considering your audience is an important first step. “When talking about employee benefit plans, if my audience is made up of administrators I will focus on slightly different issues of importance to them, which would be different if I were addressing company sponsors.”

Tom Culleiton added, “The training taught me how to present myself to a wide range of audiences. In the beginning, I was most comfortable speaking in front of my peers and that was about it. The training taught me how to alter my delivery based on who my target audience is. This was very important because it makes me more versatile and opens up a wide range of opportunities that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable pursuing in the past.”

Define Key Points Using an Outline
Participants were taught how to craft an outline by establishing key points to be delivered, in the appropriate order. Each key point is introduced, embellished upon, and then restated. Ways to embellish key points include storytelling, surveying audience members, asking questions of the audience, and relaying personal experiences of interest.

Developing an outline eases the way toward putting together a compelling, focused presentation. Presenters are encouraged to memorize their key points, which builds confidence, ensures focus and helps manage their time in front of their audience.

Relaxation Techniques
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74 percent of people suffer from speech anxiety, also known as glossophobia. It is not uncommon for new presenters to stammer, stutter, sweat or physically shake when standing in front of an audience. Even seasoned presenters can learn some new tricks. Rich Fischer is a seasoned professional with over 25 years of experience. He is very involved with the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs and speaks often at local and state-wide conferences. “I thought I was good at presenting and that I didn’t need any training,” he said. “I was wrong. I learned several effective breathing techniques that helped me to relax and better engage with my audience. Since the training I have done four presentations and I have never received so many compliments!”

“Breathing relaxation techniques really work,” Tom added. “My confidence has increased and I feel more at ease when standing in front of a group. I do not get anxious. I feel relaxed and ready to take on the topic I am speaking about.”

Can Someone Really Be Taught?
How do you become a confident, engaging presenter?

Tom shared, “The most surprising discovery to me was that presentation skills can be taught. I didn’t have very high expectations for the training. I believed that people either had the skill to present, or they didn’t. Presenting wasn’t something that could be taught—and certainly not by sitting in a classroom. But witnessing my co-worker’s progress, through practice, it became apparent that they were acquiring skills that they previously didn’t have. They went from boring, fidgety, reserved CPAs to confident, knowledgeable and dynamic speakers. It really was astonishing watching this transformation unfold over the course of a few months.”

There are a number of extra benefits of training accountants in public speaking and delivering presentations:

Enhance your personal brand: Attendees agreed that public speaking and presentation skills training aids in building strong reputations as expert service providers. “Personal branding has gained a tremendous footing in our professional due to relevance in a socially connected business environment,” said Anastasia Belashova. “I can’t emphasize enough how important this kind of training can impact a professional’s personal brand.”

“I want the public to see me and let my personality and expertise shine through,” Tom added.

Recruiting and retention of talent: Anastasia reports, “I had recently joined the firm and was pleasantly surprised to hear of the presentation skills program because typically CPA firms only focus on the technical training. I found the soft skill effort to be both a differentiating point and a bonus.”

Leveraging efforts: The use of key points via a formal outline can aid firm-wide marketing efforts. Every presentation outline can also be used to write articles. Success stories can be used in educational brochures, conversation points and e-mail content, etc. Julie Germeyer, director of marketing at the firm, noted, “As a result of this training program, we have many more commitments for articles and presentations scheduled, as well as a library of client success stories that we can leverage across the board.”

Public speaking and presentation skills can be learned. CPAs can adopt polished presentation skills and public speaking techniques to strengthen their reputation and credibility—and more clearly communicate their value to prospects and clients.

Tom Culleiton summarized, “Presentation skills training is going to prove very valuable to my career. The things I learned can be put into action now and I can reap the benefits immediately. I wish I had this course earlier in my career. Public speaking and presentation skills are what accountants need to break out of the boring, reserved stereotype toward a more dynamic, confident one.”

Lisa Tierney, CSLC, is a certified life strategies coach and consultant to the accounting profession. Tierney Coaching & Consulting, Inc. serves CPA firms across the country, developing and strengthening individuals, teams and groups through a unique combination of coaching and consulting. Lisa can be reached at (267) 468-7115 or Lisa@CPAMarketingConsultant.com.

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