Be True to Your School

Yesterday I attended an alumni event at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), where I spent my formative years as an accountant. It was my first alumni event in longer than I care to admit, which was a big mistake. Several people I remembered from the good old days attended and I met several others. It’s easy to meet people when you have so much in common. I actually ran out of business cards. My advice to you: if a firm you used to work for has an alumni event, go! Of course they see it as an exercise in relationship building (i.e. selling services), but it is a relationship that is mutually beneficial. You get to strengthen personal relationships as well as getting some Professional Development hours.

While we’re on the subject of PD, could we talk about accountants presenting to accountants? Yesterday’s talk was “The Economic Downturn: Practical Strategies and Ideas to Protect Your Business.” It was an excellent subject presented by John McKenna, a partner in PwC’s Corporate Advisory & Restructuring Group. McKenna is clearly an experienced, roll up the sleeves and get to it kind of guy. He had a bank of slides that analyzed the topic, dividing it into long term and short term tactics. He emphasized the defensive side of protecting your business, then he turned it around and gave some great tips about using a downturn to go bargain hunting.

The thing that was missing was the war stories. I love it that he broke down the topic into logical chunks and put them on the slides, but I can read slides too. What keeps me on the edge of my seat is the real life kind of stories, like the entrepreneur who was down to financing his company on his personal credit card and was about to call it quits when he landed the big sale, or the little company that managed to swallow the big one. I want to hear about the personalities of the players and the cool solutions to apparently unsolveable problems. The sort of story you’d tell to a bunch of colleagues over a beer.

One thing I’ll say about McKenna is that he really came alive when asked a question. Someone wanted more information about dealing with bankers. McKenna had an excellent response off the top of his head and he had some good advice about how it’s not enough to present a plan to the bank, you really have to believe it. Bankers are good at what they do; they can smell BS a mile away.

This change when someone gets off-script is actually normal. Many people are too formal when making presentations. For example, a lawyer friend of mine had to make a presentation to the International Olympic Committee as part of a bid. There are no second chances in something like that, so all the participants were professionally coached in how to make presentations. Here’s what he had to say about that experience:

“At first they told me that they had to set up the cameras, so we just talked. They asked me questions about my background and the bid. Then they started filming and I did my presentation. Afterwards we had a long debrief using the footage they had just shot. They showed me that I was too stiff and wooden in my style. Then they said they had some video of how I should do my presentations. It turned out to be me answering questions at the beginning. They had been filming the whole time. They showed me how my hand motions and tone of voice were much friendlier and sincere when I was just talking. And that was the style I needed to maintain when giving a prepared speech. Really, I just had to be me.”

It isn’t easy presenting to accountants. We tend to be an unresponsive audience. It is often difficult to get us to participate or ask questions. But it’s worth it. If you can just be yourself and talk as though you were among friends, it’s surprising how quickly the audience will warm to you and what you have to say.

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