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ICAEW Excel tip: Back on the road again

8th Mar 2017
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On the road

Before joining ICAEW, I was an Excel support specialist and trainer for BDO.  I would often travel to different parts of the country to run Excel training, and found I would always learn something new while doing so – usually while trying to puzzle out a keen learner’s unusual problem. It’s one of the parts of the job that I liked best, and which I miss most now.

So imagine my happiness to be out and about again last month, visiting the ICAEW Regions team in Wales to present two sessions on Excel – in Swansea and in Cardiff.  Not only was it nice to meet colleagues and members in a new part of the country, but getting back to my roots and addressing an audience (and their Excel foibles) again was a sincere pleasure.

Teaching is something that’s often misunderstood as being all about an instructor imparting knowledge to students. While that’s certainly a part of it, a successful training session has to build on a dialogue, and allow students to build their own understanding with the support and guidance of the teacher. Most Excel users are entirely or almost entirely self-taught, and a couple of hours with a trainer won’t make a big change to that – to be a successful Excel trainer, you have to acknowledge that most of the student’s knowledge will be self-taught both before and after you see them. Instead of trying to mould them into clones of yourself, you have to offer them the tools they need to build to their own kind of competency.

The other part of teaching which is a surprising joy is how much you can learn from teaching.  Learning something well enough that it makes sense to you is one thing, but to be able to communicate it to others you have to see it from many viewpoints, and learn to explain it in many different ways. There’s no faster way to learn something than to try and teach it!

And finally, there are some great chances to learn new things when people bring you interesting problems. I had one particularly interesting question – a member had a list of dividend payments for various different entities, and needed to know in each case, for how many consecutive years there had been an increasing dividend amount. This was something I would have never thought about without prompting – but the process of figuring out a solution was rewarding and taught me a few tricks that I can use again in the future. Have a go at it yourself – I’ll show my solution next month.

All in all, if you are an Excel expert and you aren’t teaching – even informally to colleagues – I highly recommend giving it a try. Not only will you likely find a willing and interesting audience, but you will find it very personally rewarding as well.

Tip of the Week highlight – Sparklines

This week’s tip is based on Tip of the Week #178, which is all about Sparklines.

Added in Excel 2010, a Sparkline is a tiny, one-cell chart, attached to some nearby data.  They aren’t designed for in-depth analysis, but just adding some at-a-glance readability to a series of numbers


You can add Sparklines easily from the Insert menu, and can also copy a Sparkline from one cell to another to create a similar Sparkline for another piece of data.  What’s more, you can also use the Sparklines menu to customise what you see, or group multiple Sparklines together so that they all use the same axes and presentation.


Sparklines are a very small and somewhat limited tool, but they can add some nice splash to a dashboard or report. Well worth learning.

Principle of the Month

This month’s selection from the Twenty Principles for Good Spreadsheet Practice is #19:

Build in checks, controls and alerts from the outset and during the course of spreadsheet design.

Features such as error checks, data validation, user alerts, and other mistake-proofing aren’t just nice-to-haves, but are essential elements of any good spreadsheet. 

Adding them as you build a spreadsheet lets you make sure that you are actively considering error-proofing and controls in each and every part of the spreadsheet and looking for opportunities to build in vital functionality. What’s more, you can test both the spreadsheet and the controls incrementally, helping you to catch any design errors as you go.

David Lyford-Smith is a Technical Manager in the ICAEW’s IT Faculty and blogs for the ICAEW Excel Community.  The Excel Community is an Excel content hub that encompasses webinars, blogs, member Q&A, fortnightly bulletin updates, and more.  Find out more at this link


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