CPA Teachers: The Power of Story

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing

Jul 14

CPA teachers tell stories. Not lies, mind you. But real stories about life, work, pain, family—you know, the good stuff. 

Storytelling enhances communication, but most CPE classes are void of narrative. CPAs need more than information. We need (at least some) emotion.

This post provides information about the power of story in teaching CPAs.

Power of Story in Teaching CPAs

CPA Teachers Tell Stories

Think of your last educational class, particularly the slide deck. You recall the presenter saying, “Here’s all the information I have regarding variable interest entities.”

And the bullets began:

  • A variable interest entity is …
  • Obligation to absorb…
  • Scope exceptions include…

It’s here you said to yourself (in a Steve Martin tone), PLEEEASE!

Speakers must first remember we are talking to human beings, people with passion and fears and heartbeats. (Yes, CPAs qualify.)

If a speaker’s goal is to transfer knowledge, what’s the best way to do so? Start with a story.

I hear your rejoinder now, “About variable interest entities?”


VIEs are not tantalizing. But dig deeper and you will find the story. (There’s always a story.)

Start with Story

In searching for the spice, you ask yourself questions. Why do the VIE standards exist? What events led to their creation? The result: a story to wet your audience’s appetite.

In teaching the class, you start with Enron and its use of special purpose entities. You describe the immeasurable damage done by Ken Lay and his lieutenants, and that Mr. Lay never served a day of time–his life cut short just before sentencing. You tell the tantalizing story of the courageous whistle-blower, Sherron Watkins (a Time Magazine Person of the Year). And since your audience is full of CPAs, your Arthur Andersen vignette does not fall on deaf ears.

Boring? Not you.

Your story creates context and breathes life into an otherwise tedious set of standards.

Now your listeners are receptive.

The Formula

So your formula is: Story, then content. Create appetitive. Then feed.

Following this path, you find your audience listening, even leaning forward.

Brain Rules

John Medina, in his book, Brain Rules, suggests that teachers “bait the hook” every ten minutes. Medina says, “After 9 minutes and 59 seconds, the audience’s attention is getting ready to plummet to near zero.” Stories are one of those hooks. The book goes on to say, “Fear, laughter, happiness, nostalgia, incredulity–the entire emotional palette can be stimulated, and all work well.”

Brain Rules lists three elements of a hook (to engage your class):

  1. The hook has to trigger an emotion.
  2. The hook has to be relevant.
  3. The hook has to go between segments.

So I dare you CPA teachers: Tell a story. 

Four Steps to Delightful Accounting Presentations

Using stories is just one of four steps to delightful accounting presentations.


About the Author

Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.