I don’t like public speaking. There. I said it. Few things strike fear into our hearts more than when someone asks us to speak in front of a group of people. In fact, people fear speaking in public more than spiders, heights, darkness, and even death. But speaking publicly, particularly in the accounting profession, is how we learn, demonstrate our subject knowledge, and advance our careers. So, grab my hand, sweaty palms and all, and let’s talk about some key characteristics of successful public speaking.
Public speaking is often just a dialogue, albeit with a room full of people rather than just one individual, and nothing is more engaging than talking with someone who is being their authentic self. Of course you should rehearse your presentation, multiple times actually, but not to the point where it become rote and mechanical. Especially when you are dealing with accounting topics, which can often be…let’s say “dry”…, it is important to engage with the audience. Inject humor into the presentation when you can, but keep in mind it’s not an open mic night at the local comedy lounge.
Tell war stories
Few things capture an audience’s attention like ripped-from-the-headlines stories. Whether they are your personal experiences or those you’ve researched, true life events will always captivate an audience more than theory. Did the person committing fraud get caught? Did they go to jail? They’re doing bookkeeping for a company in Tallahassee?? You audience will come along with you on that journey, and war stories are a great way to engage them.
Keep your messages concise
Accounting literature can be overly dense and difficult to digest. It’s a lot for the listener to hear, and it’s even more burdensome for the presenter. Audiences expect that you will have read through the pertinent information and distilled it into easy-to-understand, useable pieces of information that can be brought back to their respective offices for implementation. A presentation that relies heavily on excerpts from the authoritative literature or, worse yet, a presenter that simply reads the literature to the audience is a sure-fire way to lose the group within the first five minutes. Thoroughly research your topic and work from an outline or bullet points of key items. These should jog your memory and help keep the presentation more personal and fluid.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
The magic number is seven. Seven times. As a general rule, we need to hear something seven times before it really begins to register with us. The seven-times-rule is a fundamental aspect of advertising, and the same holds true for presentations in public. Admittedly, it may be difficult to work a topic or specific point into a presentation in seven different places, and with an engaged audience, seven references may not even be necessary. How many times do you need to hear something before it sticks? Seven.
The more often you present to audiences, the more you will develop your own personal style. Speaking also comes a little easier with more experience. The butterflies never truly go away, and it is helpful to remember that the audience generally will be friendly and sympathetic to you if things go awry. Why? Because even if things are less than perfect, you’re still up there and not them. So, breathe, relax as much as possible, and have some fun. You got this!
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