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Derwent Water and the fells | AccountingWEB | Keeping cool on the big stage

Keeping cool on the big stage


As someone who finds value in getting my ducks in a row before a day in the mountains, how others prepare has always been of interest. With so many professionals in one room at the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping, it seemed too good an opportunity not to pick their brains.

15th Mar 2024
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My life revolves around the hills. I was often in the Lake District as a kid and rediscovered my love for the mountains a few years ago.

It was a bit of a learning curve. The idea of parking up and just getting on with it seems simple but in reality, it would be careless. My backpack has a lot more in it now than it did on my first hike back.

A few things I carry with me that I didn’t used to include a tick tool, a headtorch, boot spikes and hand warmers. There’s a story behind each of those but they’re all for another time.

If you’re prepared, it’s much easier to keep your cool under pressure. It sounds obvious but when a storm rolls in, you really want to be ready for it.

Keeping cool

As I’ve spent more time hiking and fell running - especially the latter because it’s another world of planning - I’ve become more and more interested in how people prepare. How do different folks get ready for the same thing?

When the question is applied to the accounting world, several subjects come to the fore. Are you primed when self assessment season rolls round? Can you prepare yourself for a series of Budget announcements? What value do you place on ensuring you’re ready for a first meeting with a new client?

Being prepared and keeping your cool on the big stage was a recurring theme at the Festival of Accounting & Bookkeeping earlier this week. Many speakers took to many stages and did what they were there to do.

My curiosity got the better of me and I spoke to a few of those who got in front of the crowd and held the room to see what their preparation was like both in the event hall and in business.

Pulling from experience

Kayleigh Graham, head of partnerships and growth at Telleroo, was a prime example of one size not fitting all having taken a different approach to her two talks.

For her session on The Great Debate stage - where she argued for working from home - she “pulled from experience”

“This is my topic. It was slightly more informal so it wasn’t written out or scripted,” unlike her second talk of the day, which was on the need for diversity in the accounting industry.

“That to me requires much more thought because it’s a very uncomfortable topic for a lot of people. So I draft it, go away and write a second draft. Tweak it. Then for the third draft I typically pitch it to someone and get their feedback on what bits felt sharp. Do they need to feel sharp? Or is that something that actually I want them to think about and engage with, in which case should it be softer?”

The theme of getting involvement from elsewhere as part of preparing came up more than once, with James Wright - programme leader at University of Lincoln - spending time amongst the audience chatting before taking to the stage.

“They’ve already spoken to me then, so when you go on stage they think ‘oh, we’ve already spoken - he’s not going to give me a hard question or a hard time’.”

In the zone

He also touched on focus, including going for a run to help him plan ahead.

“How do you get in the zone? How do you get in the mindset? My phone’s on aeroplane mode - no-one can ring me. It’s full focus.”

Away from the hall, Wright said preparation has “always” been part of his work ethic.

“What gets managed, gets measured. Every hour of my day is mapped out - with some flexibility - but I already know what I’m doing the night before.”

Heather Smith, accountant and storyteller at ANISE Consulting, was arguing for the human touch over AI in her session on the first day of FAB.

She talked about the value of having time to prepare.

“I drove over from Market Harborough to here, so I knew I had time to mull over and figure out the structure of what the argument was going to be.”


Smith was also an advocate of getting others involved in her planning process, having made a video asking people what their opinions are on the subject, posting it on LinkedIn and various social media groups, before drawing on that feedback to help shape the argument.

It’s the same approach away from FAB too. “I’m very much a community-focused person. My way may not be the right way. I may not always have the answer.”

Preparation is key for Ryan Hill, director at First Intuition.

“A day may only have three meetings but that’s then half an hour before and half an hour afterwards,” he said, with the former giving him time to research clients and know what it is he wants to say, and the latter allowing him time to make good on promises from that chat.

“I’m definitely not a fan of winging it. When you’re selling a service, every client’s different. Their needs are different. So I always want to research the people that I’m talking to and research the company we’re interacting with. It just means you can have a much more constructive conversation.”

Detailed processes

Finally, Penny Allard - whose firm WILD Bookkeeping is inspired by her love of open water swimming - “definitely” values preparation in business.

“Systemising is absolutely key for everything. I’ve got really detailed processes written down, so if I wasn’t there, there’s a basic instruction manual so someone could just step in.”

Allard is “always changing” her workflows too. “Every single day, if I think of something that’s happened in my business or something’s gone wrong, you need to tweak the systems and make sure they’re all in place.”

Each to their own

There’s a whole host of benefits in preparing. While speaking to professionals with years of experience in the industry, some genuinely seemed surprised that I was even asking. But that was a given - the real interest lay in the different approaches.

I have a certain way of making sure I’m ready for a big day on the fells and it works - but it doesn’t look at all similar to how I’d prepare for the same adventure three years ago.

There’s no one way - but however you do it, there’s clearly value in it.

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