Can accountants be entertaining speakers? You bet they can

Halina shares tips on presentation skills with civil servants in Richmond, Virginia
Halina shares tips on presentation skills with state government officials in Richmond, Virginia

by Halina St James

In our public speaking training programs we tell people to simplify their language, talk as they speak, tell more stories, and avoid cluttering slides with masses of text.

So what happens when a client says things like:

“I’m expected to use big words, so I impress my audience.”

“I’m an accountant. We don’t have stories.”

“We’re encouraged to put everything on the slides.”

I can’t tell you how many times we at Podium Coaching hear things like that in the course of a year. Our basic response is something like:

“Do you want people to understand you, and support you?”

“Do you want people to remember your message , and spread the word to others?”

“Do you want people to believe you?”

“Do you want to feel good about your speaking skills, knowing that you words will come easily and you will be seen to be authentic?”

These thoughts are prompted by a wonderful trip I just made to the United States, to work with a client in Richmond, Virginia.

Halina (right) with participants in one of her presentation skills workshops in Virginia.
Halina (right) with participants in one of her presentation skills workshops in Virginia

In one workshop I worked with a Director of the Budgetary Division from one of the state government departments. Her reports to state officials were complex and full of numbers. Her slide shows reflected this density.

Here’s an example of how she proposed to open a presentation:

“This year the consensus medicaid forecast projects a surplus of $74 million GF in fiscal year 14 for the bill and a need of $675 million GF in the fiscal year 15 and 16 biennium.”

We worked on simplifying her language by using simple words and simple sentences. Because the audience needed to follow and comprehend, we wanted to deliver information in bite-sized chunks… one thought per sentence. The numbers are important. So I asked her to use only one set of numbers per sentence.

The result was great a opening:

“Ladies and gentlemen. The number you are waiting for is… (pause) $675 million. (Pause) This is the official forecast projection. (Pause) It’s the general fund need for the medicaid program (pause) for fiscal year 15 and 16. (Pause) I’m going to explain to you how we came up with this number.”

We loaded this with strategic pauses, to help the audience follow her thinking and understand the content.

We re-worked her content using the TalkitOut Technique. Then we worked on her slides. When we teach presentation skills, we encourage people to create their slides after they’ve talked out the content. (Rather than creating the slides first, and writing a script that duplicates everything on the screen).

In my client’s budget slides, we removed all but the critical information the audience needed to get. She used the reveal button to strategically deliver information to the audiences. (To ensure the audience got all the relevant information, she provided a summary on paper).

The result? An informed audience, and a delighted presenter.

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