Art of Accounting: Giving a speech and getting feedback

I give a lot of speeches. I further attend a lot of speeches and I try to notice the speaker’s style, delivery, temperament, empathy, connection and ability to convince or teach. This got me thinking about three things:
1. Who the great speakers of our generation are;
2. Whether the speakers I hear are effective; and,
3. What I accomplish or attempt to accomplish when I give a speech.

As to the great speakers of our generation, I only came up with a few people. They are primarily political figures, so I will skip this list. I also tried this at lunch with a bunch of friends and we also came up short on names. Occasionally I listen to some classic speeches, TED Talks or celebrity business leaders on YouTube. While I think some are great, most of what I hear is not from regular speech-givers, so I don’t include them in this category.

In terms of effectiveness, I find most people I listen to are not as effective as I would like them to be. They are either long-winded, ramble too much, get facts wrong or are simply not prepared. Some also have a hidden agenda and think they are subtly converting their audience to their way of thinking or belief or trying to hustle us to become their clients or customers. I won’t get involved here discussing these boors. I also find that some of the most knowledgeable and brilliant technical speakers are fantastically great for the first third or two-thirds of their presentation, and for the last portion they get mired in minutiae and esoteric illustrations, almost making me wish I had not attended their session.

I also find too many “teachers” trying to impress their audience with what they know who are not really concerned about whether their students learn what they expect to and need from the presentation. These ego-driven types waste the time of the attendees. When I get stuck with such a speaker, I either leave or tune them out by pulling out some notes to work on until the next speaker’s turn.

So, I am now left with what I attempt to accomplish with the speeches I give. I could start by saying “none of the above.” I think it goes without saying that I need to be prepared, to build on and develop the program so my knowledge can be conveyed to the audience and engage them, to speak in a way that they will learn what I am trying to teach.

I give various types of speeches. Some are intended to teach technical issues or train people in certain processes. With these, students need to walk away understanding the topic and issues, and have a research source from my handouts.

The purpose of practice management and similar presentations is different. Here my audience is usually pretty well-versed in what I am speaking about, so the teaching part is subservient to other purposes. I try to present new ways of looking at things or expose the audience to new ideas. I’ll share successful techniques that I or colleagues use, introduce some best practices, suggest change management methods, or offer a new path or way to accomplish goals. I’ll try to motivate the audience or inspire action, give them some wake-up nudges, help refuel their energy, counterbalance any malaise, or support the initiators of change. Sometimes I’ll just validate and confirm what they are already doing.

I usually can tell if I was effective and usually am, in my modest opinion. But no matter how well I do, there occasionally is someone that I either didn’t get through to or who just did not like me. These are the ones that fill out the evaluation sheets with their negative comments. Well, they are the ones doing me a favor since I can now learn from the comments and sometimes their ramblings. I read and consider every comment. While it is nice to get high ratings and wonderful comments, it is the negatives I really can and do learn from. These people who didn’t like me are doing me a favor by telling me that with the reasons why. Of course, too many negative comments will knock me off the speech circuit … .

Presenting a speech is a great thing to do, and I appreciate every opportunity to do so as I consider it a way to give back. Additionally, when speaking to a new audience on technical topics, it can also be an effective marketing tactic. However, presenting a speech is a serious responsibility and must be approached that way. That means understanding the audience and the intended purpose of speaking, knowing the subject matter and all recent updates thoroughly, and being fully prepared. I’ve done well with this, and hopefully you will too.