Can You Explain What You Do?

Note: This year’s CCH Connections: User Conference 2016 features 75 sessions in 7 different tracks. With so much great content, it can be hard to choose which sessions you want to attend. That’s why we’ve invited several presenters to preview some of their ideas in a series of guest posts. This post is by Mary Milla, Public Speaking Coach and Professional Speaker.  Her session, “Public Speaking for Real People” is available in the Emerging Leaders track.

Being good at accounting is only part of being a good accountant. You also have to be good explaining what you do, especially to people who don’t understand accounting. And that means getting good at public speaking, which many people resist.

In more than 20 years of public speaking coaching, I’ve received calls from partners in accounting firms asking me to deliver presentation skills training. I’ve often heard, “We have accountants who are terrific at preparing clients’ tax returns, but they’re incapable of presenting them to clients.” Professionals who advance up the corporate ladder aren’t just good at what they do, they’re good at explaining the value of what they do.

So what’s the secret to being an effective public speaker? Point, Personality and Practice.

  • Point: Have one or two or three. When you’re asked to give a talk, you’re not being asked to tell your listeners everything you know about your subject, just what they need to know. How do you figure out what your point is? Imagine the end of your talk. What is it you want your listeners to say? At the end of most presentations, listeners will say, “I don’t know. Lots of material. Seemed to cover a lot.” This is better: “George showed us a clear path to meeting our budget goals this quarter.”
  • Personality: Have one. Show it. No one will come up to you after a talk and tell you how much they loved your pie charts. But they will connect with how you feel about your subject matter — so if there’s a sense of urgency about your material, or sense of pride and enthusiasm, be sure to show it.
  • Practice: Out loud. Instead of thinking to yourself, “On this slide, I’ll summarize this table,” really say out loud your summary of the table. Your first try will be awful, but that’s what practice is for. Practicing aloud allows you to time your remarks, delete redundancies and improve sections that drag — if it’s boring for you to say, imagine what it’s like for your listeners to hear it. You’ll get better with each take, which boosts your confidence and reduces your anxiety.

The most unfair thing about public speaking is that it takes a lot of practice to look “natural.” The speakers who make it look easy are the ones who have put in the necessary preparation time. In the end, it’s all worth it, to make sure your message is heard and your expertise is valued.

CCH Connections 2016 will features seven different tracks, with more than 75 sessions that have been developed exclusively for CPAs to help take you and your firm to the next level. Register Today!


Mary Milla

Public Speaking Coach and Professional Speaker,

All stories by: Mary Milla

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