Comment – Talking your way to the top.

I could see that the hotel staff were having trouble adjusting. A group of people, who had just checked in, had all looked the receptionists in the eye, had all spoken their names clearly, smiled warmly and expressed their thanks for the information given to them. The professional speakers were in town.

You didn’t have to know the location of our meeting rooms – you just had to follow the sound of spirited chatting. Professional speakers do not sit in corners sipping their tea.

If you’re new to the business, you can’t be alone at our gatherings for more than five seconds before someone will step forward, thrust out his or her hand in greeting and say: ‘Hi, my name’s … and you are?’ Half a dozen of us were, or had been accountants but that didn’t deter the communicators.

‘How interesting, tell me more about what you do.’ So began an amazing first annual convention, a couple of weeks ago, of the Professional Speakers Association. It occurred to me that accountants and other business people were professional speakers, even if they didn’t see themselves that way.

The skills the delegates were helping each other develop further (grabbing your audience’s attention, giving clear information, using humour, how to keep improving, how to use stories to enrich your presentations and many more topics), would be as equally valuable to accountants who impart complex information verbally, and manage people.

All my evidence from helping professionals improve their spoken presentations, formal or informal, indicates it is the good communicators who get promoted, who sell their ideas, and who make the most money. Not the cleverest technicians.

The content of the convention was lively: motivating talks offering laughs, experience and inspiring messages; specialist workshops; and coaching sessions led by experts in their fields on many topics, including professional image and how to be an expert who speaks.

It would be great to see business people leap across the stage like Kriss Akabusi or crack a whip like Max Hitchins from Australia. I’m not sure accountants would take to singing jingles to their clients, like one of our speakers, but it would be fun to watch. One of the accountants had tried to get accountants jokes posted on the firm’s website, but it had been vetoed. Surely none of you did that, did you?

As I checked out of the hotel, delegates for another conference were checking in. The receptionists were back on familiar ground – dealing with grunts, sour faces, little eye contact and a cursory ‘thank you’.

– Ann Baldwin, FCA, is a business speaker and scriptwriter.

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