Managing Director PTP Ltd
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Accountants: Tips for speaking with confidence

15th Aug 2019
Managing Director PTP Ltd
Columnist
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Microphone awaits public speaker at seminar
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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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Fundamental skill

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.

Replies (6)

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By Red Leader
15th Aug 2019 16:22

Don't speak when you're eating. Or eat when you're speaking.

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By dialm4accounts
16th Aug 2019 10:39

Giles was one of my lecturers while I was training for my ACA and he was one of the best teachers I had - he could make tax not only interesting but fun.
When he talks about presentation skills, listen to him, cos he's brilliant!

Thanks (4)
Caroline
By accountantccole
16th Aug 2019 11:44

I was taught to have a glass of water on standby. If you are speeding ahead to fast or forget where you have got to, take a drink to pause. People don't notice you have got lost.

Thanks (2)
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By Justin Bryant
16th Aug 2019 13:47

Yes; Giles is obviously very good and the problem with being good at something is that often you don't know the reason you are good at it.

In my view Giles is good coz unlike most speakers he does not talk in monotone or mumble to the point of inaudibility but expresses himself loudly, clearly and enthusiastically (theatrically almost) and is not boring but jokes a lot (like a comedian almost).

So it's more important avoiding monotone mumbling and being boring in my view than what he says above. In short, make them laugh (it's pretty hard to dislike someone who makes you laugh)!

Thanks (1)
Replying to Justin Bryant:
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By Joe Alderson
16th Aug 2019 14:39

While that's very true, you're more likely to make people laugh and be natural if you aren't tied to your notes and you are comfortable with your surroundings. I wouldn't dismiss what Giles has suggested, it can all help/

Thanks (1)
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
19th Aug 2019 12:55

The lesson I learned from the Hodgson Impey training courses at say Hull or at Warwick University run in the 1980s, where trainees from all Uk offices would attend and where we got to do some public speaking practice, usually on the last day of a week long training course, is be prepared to be heckled by those from the South who have difficulty understanding a Scottish, North East, North West or Liverpool accent. (At least they did not throw things)

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