In this article, I provide you with four steps to delightful accounting presentations–even if you are a CPA. Yes, this can be done!
If you’ve read the book Presentation Zen, you know that many speakers–without intending to–hide their message. In watching CPE presentations and board presentations, I have noticed that (we) CPAs unwittingly hide our message. How? We present slide decks that look like intermediate accounting textbooks–chock full of facts, but too much to digest. And do we really believe that those attending will take those slides back to the office and study them?
My experience has been those slides end up in the office dungeon, never to be seen again. We have one chance to communicate–in the session.
It is the presenter’s duty to cause learning. So how can we engage our audience (even those sitting on the back row playing with their cell phones)? Let’s start with the slide deck.
Make simple slides.
I try to have no more than two points per slide, and I leave out references to professional standards (at least on the slides).
What happens when you see a slide that looks like it contains the whole of War and Peace? If you’re like me, you may think, “Are you kidding? You want me to consume all of that in the next three minutes. Forget it. I will not even try.” And then you begin to think about your golf game or your next vacation. So, how much information should you include on a slide?
Nancy Duarte recommends the glance test for each slide. “People should be able to comprehend it in three seconds.”
Include a picture.
For example, if I am presenting to auditors, I might display a picture of someone being bribed. Verbal information is remembered about ten percent of the time. If a picture is included, the figure goes up to sixty-five percent. Quite a difference.
Tell a story and ask questions.
People love stories. If your presentation is about bribes and you have not audited a bribery situation, Google bribes, and you will find all the stories you need. If you can’t find a story, use a hypothetical. Why? You are trying to draw your audience in–then maybe they will put that cell phone down (your most triumphant moment as a speaker!).
Telling your story at the right pace and volume is also important.
Also engage your audience with questions. Stories get the juices going; questions make them dig. And, if they answer you, there is dialog. And what’s the result? Those talking learn, the audience learns, and, yes, you learn.
Move. Not too much, but at least some.
A statue is not the desired effect. Moving like Michael Jackson is also not what you desire (moonwalking was never in my repertoire anyway). But movement, yes. I walk slowly from side to side (without moonwalking) and will, at times, move toward the audience when I want to make a point. So, am I constantly roaming? No. Balance is important.
Now, let me provide a few thoughts about presentation software and handouts.
If you have an Apple computer, let me recommend Keynote as your presentation software. I do think PowerPoint (for you Windows users) has improved, but personally, I prefer Keynote.
Another option—though there is a cost—is using Canva to create your slide deck. Your creativity is almost unlimited with this software—pictures, graphics, templates, colors, resizing, and more. Once the slides are created, you can download them as a PDF. Then present the slides (in the PDF) using the full screen option in Adobe Acrobat. I’ve done this a lot lately. Love it.
Here’s a sample Canva slide:
If you need to provide detailed information, give your participants handouts (examples of what you are discussing).
I prefer not to provide copies of slides. Why? Your participants will read ahead. You want to keep your powder dry. If they already know what you’re going to say, they’ll stop listening.
What do you do to make your presentations sizzle?
Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty-five years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention, The Why and How of Auditing, Audit Risk Assessment Made Easy, and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.