Tax lecturer Giles Mooney outlines three simple steps accountants can take to improve their presentational skills.
The skills required for a successful career in accountancy are growing as the world moves around us. As well as the obvious analytical and logistical skills, the ability to present business and financial findings to clients, boards and other stakeholders is now considered a key part of a professional’s work.
Sometimes this will be a straightforward desk-based chat, sometimes a PowerPoint presentation for the board or perhaps a lectern-based talk for trustees or tenants. Whichever it is, advisers need to be able to advise.
And as a career develops, more public speaking may be expected. Chairing events, client budget briefings, prospective client meetings and, these days, radio or TV interviews, promotional clips for the firm’s website and even clips or live streams for social media.
Many people dread the thought of public speaking of any kind, others love it. Those who know me will be unsurprised to hear I’m in the second group and always have been. But what might be news is that I have spent many years working with others to help them develop as speakers, studying the art of speaking and how different people can use their voice and their delivery to get their message (or someone else’s message) across more effectively.
Accountancy firms spend tens of thousands of pounds to speak to the outside world through marketing, advertising, profile-raising and websites and yet rarely invest in their personal presentational skills. Many businesses miss out on opportunities to promote their expertise and services or disseminate information because their key people are not confident to talk in front of others.
I have worked one-to-one with many advisers (and a number of politicians) to help them develop and fine-tune their speaking and interview skills, and while everyone is different and needs different help, there are three simple tips which anyone can follow to improve their presentations.
- Stick to the plan
The most common mistake is people failing to say what they set out to say. This can be because of a lack of preparation but quite often it is abandoning the preparation mid-speech, resulting in the speech becoming muddled and going off on tangents. This is often caused by a feeling that the speech isn’t being well-received or being put off by a questioner.
Sticking to your plan requires confidence in your message and a clear speech structure which you can keep to no matter what. Trying to predict what questions will crop up does help, but even better for nervous speakers is to ask for all questions to be kept until the end of the speech. This allows you to keep on track until you’ve delivered your message.
- Notes are fine
The development of teleprompters and the skills of many broadcasters have seen many people convinced that the best speakers don’t use notes. This is far from the truth, with some speakers reading word-for-word, some using keynote cards and some (but very few) preferring to go freestyle.
The risks of not using notes are obvious but, in many situations, having a full speech written out makes the speech too monotone and disjointed as the temptation to read aloud is too great. Most people find that somewhere in the middle works best. Start off with a fully written speech and gradually thin the document down to key phrases and reminders of what comes next.
For some, this will remain as almost the full document, for some it will be five words for a 20-minute speech.
- Know your room
When delivering a speech, always get to the room in advance to know where you will stand and where the audience will be sitting.
Once you know that, decide where you will feel most comfortable and, where possible, change the room to suit you. Move flipcharts and tables out of your way if they’re not as you want them. Is sunlight a problem for you or the audience? If a sound system is being used, where can you walk without causing feedback? Can you comfortably see all of those in attendance?
Knowing your room helps prevent being knocked off stride by the unexpected or realising halfway through your speech that the back row can’t see your presentation or are sitting behind a pillar.
As I said earlier, these aren’t definitive answers to all problems, they’re just a start. That’s why when we’re coaching we spend time working one-to-one on projection and delivery techniques, in TV studios practising interview techniques and walking line by line through speeches with clients before AGMs in conference halls.
Being able to speak to various audiences through multiple media was once the realm of broadcasters and politicians but is now a fundamental business skill and one which all advisers and their clients should invest in to impress clients and take the opportunities to speak to non-clients when they present themselves.
As social media and online broadcasting develops, firms need to consider who will present the firm to the outside world and how well prepared they are.
For more information on Giles’ 1-2-1 and small group sessions, helping with all aspects of public speaking and media interviews contact PTP Limited on 01327 317607.