Steve: I understand that you spoke to a live audience of 7,000 financial advisers at the Tokyo Million Dollar Round Table. How did you connect with such a large group?
Bruce: With five different first languages in the audience, I did the one thing I knew would connect and that was to speak visually.
Steve: Speak visually?
Bruce: I mean evoking a picture in the mind. “Imagine you’re just starting out in business …” or “What would it look like if you …”or “Put yourself in this situation ... “ . When you evoke a mental picture, the listener completes that picture with what you say next.
Steve: Are you suggesting accountants don’t use this technique?
Bruce: The smart ones do, at least when presenting ideas to non-accounting colleagues. They recognise that accounting knowledge is enough up to a certain level. Beyond that it’s well you get your point across.
Steve: So, as you move up the ladder, you’re communicating with decision makers with different backgrounds. Any more suggestions for bridging the communications gap?
Bruce: Listen carefully and memorise the points your colleagues make. Be able to briefly re-state them before making your own recommendations.
Steve: So they know they’ve been understood?
Bruce: Yes, it’s very reassuring and this increases the flow of ideas. Your recommendations will be far better received if others can see you took full account of their point of view.
Steve: What if you don’t agree with that point of view?
Bruce: Just look at every suggestion through the eyes of the person making it. At least adopt their perspective even if you don’t adopt their recommendation.
Steve: Please elaborate.
Bruce: Perspective shift is an advanced thinking skill but essential when multiple disciplines are represented at the meeting. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask how you would see things if you knew what they know.
Steve: A paradigm shift, in other words. Not easy thing for highly specialised accountants. Can you give us something we can apply right away?
Bruce: Well, start by understanding and using the vocabulary of your senior colleagues. Choice of words matters. So does the right amount of eye contact.
Steve: Eye contact is essential but it’s sometimes difficult to know where to look to break it up a bit.
Bruce: The trick is to always take a sketch pad into meetings. You can have direct eye contact then make a few notes while they’re speaking. This gives you somewhere to look apart from the other person’s eyes while still indicating you’re paying attention.
Steve: I’ve spoken at conferences and audiences get a surprise when I make accounting more interesting. Is there an assumption that accountants will be boring?
Bruce: Financial accountants are on the back foot in the charm contest because their subject matter can appear pretty dense. The marketing manager announcing a new product or ad campaign is talking about something inherently more exciting.
Steve: So how should accountants in the corporate sphere handle that?
Bruce: Develop a great-sounding voice and expressive speaking style. When your voice and speaking style are interesting you command attention and give more weight to your point of view.
Steve: We can’t all sound like newsreaders.
Bruce: Most people can improve their voice significantly. II devote a chapter in my course to voice production and elocution. If your opening words sound believable, that first impression carries over to the rest of what you have to say.
Steve: As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Bruce: True. And it’s not just a matter of sounding believable. Positive first impressions are formed if you look like a leader in your dress and posture.
Steve: Dress I understand, but posture?
Bruce: In every culture, stooping is a sign of humility or submission and standing tall a sign of authority and confidence before a word is spoken.
Steve: Your online skills program for financial accountants has a lot to say about making first impressions. How about sustaining those favourable impressions?
Bruce: Making a great first impression creates favourable presumption that outlasts the first impression that created it. Sustaining it requires agile innovative thinking. People always respect agile innovative thinkers because they move things forward quickly.
Steve: I understand you’ve taught thinking skills in 6 countries including the US. Does your course suggest accountants change their thinking?
Bruce: No, keep the thinking skills you have and add a repertoire of thinking tools that foster rapid idea generation.
Steve: So creativity can be developed?
Bruce: Recovered, actually. We’re naturally creative as children. That’s why children can acquire a language far quicker than an adult. Creativity can be re-discovered and I cover this in two of the twelve skills sessions in Charm School for Accountants.
Steve: Charm School for Accountants? Doesn’t the name trivialise a senior level skills program?
Bruce: High level international diplomatic missions or business pitches are often called ‘charm offensives’. Charm School for Accountants covers far more than just being charming. But being charming alone still gives you more wins when you’re relying on colleagues’ support. Accountancy has evolved. Once you say you’re ‘strictly a numbers person’ you put a cap on your career.
Steve: Bruce Alexander, thanks for talking to us.
Bruce Alexander is a writer, creative thinker and marketing strategist. He created the Caltex brand Starmart seen in 13 countries. Three videos on the skills in this article are available free at charmschoolforaccountants.com
Steve McMahon is a partner at McMahon Worth Forensic Accountants