Public Speaking Lessons for CPAs from Comedians

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Learn how comedians connect with their audiences to make a powerful presentation, even without the laughs.

Comedians don’t have much to do with accounting, but they can still be great models for how to connect with an audience. Think about it – with no props, no notes and no lectern to hide behind they still manage to engage viewers. In an article on Open Forum, Mike Michalowicz analyzes their strategies and how to translate them into success in your next public speaking opportunity.

  • Be someone the audience can relate to on a personal level. People tend to identify with stories that are personal, embarrassing, humbling or simply recognizable as a situation we’ve all experienced. By letting your audience see you as a human being who’s faced the same situations they have, you’re inviting them to connect with you. Everything you say from then on is much more likely to be heard and understood than if you stand before them as an expert in accounting. Help forge a bond by letting them identify with you at the outset.
  • Don’t be a PowerPoint addict. Your presentation may be accompanied by one of these very useful slideshows for a visual map to reference points, but make sure to focus your attention on the audience instead of the slides. Let them see you looking at them and responding to their cues rather than giving your attention exclusively to the slideshow. It should be a useful tool, not the star of the show.
  • Non-verbal communication. Up at the front of the crowd you may be visually indistinct to audience members toward the back of the room, so this is one place it’s good to be a drama queen. Let your posture, gestures and voice be dramatic enough to convey what more subtle channels of communication might in a smaller setting.
  • Feel the rhythm. To keep your audience at its most receptive, vary the pace to establish a pattern that works for you. Engage them all in a story that ends in laughs or shared gasps of horror, then move on to the lesson or serious point they should take away with them. After a moment of oxygenation and group emotion, they’re ready to sit quietly and really hear what you have to say. Make that point, then start again with something to get them moving and follow up with another teaching moment. The pattern will help cement the real messages you’re hoping to impart.
  • Don’t hide behind the lectern. It only serves to falsely separate you from your audience and make them feel like bored third graders. It may be there and you may end up speaking there, but your body language and eyes should be engaged with the audience. You want to be speaking with them and not to them. You’ll be astounded at the effect this makes on the reception you get and the way you feel as you’re presenting.
  • Work without notes, or as close to that ideal as you can. Practice your speech enough that you’re comfortable presenting it from where it lives in your head. That way you don’t have to look down and break the connection with the audience. As long as you’re connected to them, they’ll be there too. Rehearsing to a notes-free level of familiarity also ensures that you’re comfortable with everything you have to say and lets you focus on the other aspects of public speaking, like eye contact and body language.
  • Reference yourself in closing. In your conclusion, try to make reference to an earlier point or, if possible, to a memorable story or joke that the audience responded to strongly. This serves two purposes: first, it will help them remember that point when the day is done and they’re home. Second, it helps to foster that sense of shared experience, i.e. laughing as a group, which will help them think of your presentation as one they learned from and enjoyed. That’s likely to turn into positive reviews and more speaking requests from audience members when they’re putting together other conferences or seminars.

An accounting presentation is a far cry from a night at the comedy club, but adopting these techniques from the comics can let you become a popular and memorable speaker in your niche. At the very least, it allows you to spend some time watching your favorite comedians under the aegis of strategic professional research. Now that’s comedy.

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Sarah Warlick is responsible for making us and all of our clients sound professional and eloquent as the content director at bbr marketing. In this role, Sarah is in charge of ensuring that all copy is well-written, accurate and free of pesky typos before it heads out the door. Additionally, she is a prolific writer and a frequent contributor to bbr marketing’s blog sites. She spends a good deal of time writing copy for our clients and has a unique way of crawling into our clients’ heads to create ghostwritten copy that sounds as if it came directly from their pen.
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