How Improv Can Help Accountants

Businessman looking up answers in a bookTwo must-read books on communication and networking.

By Ed Mendlowitz
The CPA Trendlines Practice Doctor

QUESTION: I am a very good accountant but have problems when I speak with people I meet whom I do not know. Do you have tips for me?

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ANSWER: There are many ways to break the ice when you meet new people that I could share with you, but I read a book about that so will recommend it to you and will now provide a brief summary of the book.

The book is “improv is no joke / Using Improvisation to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life” by Peter A. Margaritis, CPA. A thought before I start is that many people believe being an accountant is solitary in that we do not deal much with people but, rather, spend our time hunched over our clients’ computer screens. That is certainly not so.

Also, being a professional in any area requires myriad skills, many of which need to be learned. Our required CPE covers the technical proficiency. Reading articles and books fills in the gaps with many of the so-called soft skills. Peter’s book is a great resource for that.

For starters Peter is a CPA and spends significant time speaking before CPA groups. I never met or heard him speak but the three initials after his name piqued my interest. When I looked at the acknowledgements he thanked a professor friend of mine at Case Western, Gary Previts, for the support that enabled him to become a CPA, so I was hooked before I read a single word.

The book uses the technique of improvisation to teach the ability to react to and interact with others by showing how to overcome natural reluctance and self-consciousness to have richer conversations and to build relationships. This is not a how to become a comedian book, but how to develop basic skills that will enable you to be

  • more poised,
  • a better listener and
  • more successful in communicating with others.

Success in interacting with people begins with listening. Peter writes that you need to listen to understand, not to respond. It is about the speaker’s agenda, not yours.

Waiting your turn to show how smart you are is not communication and won’t get you the sale.

Listening to understand puts their agenda on the forefront. Peter also provides a tip on how to listen with your eyes.

The author covers two words that changed his life: “Yes, and…” instead of “Yes, but…” This is similar to a technique Benjamin Franklin developed to remove some of his brashness and for him to be able to better get his point across.

Also covered are

  • eliminating buzz words and speaking plainer,
  • providing clear instructions and delegating better,
  • getting new business,
  • why bad ideas lead to good ideas while no ideas lead to nothing,
  • leveraging your vision,
  • dumping SALY

and many other gems. This book is required reading for those wanting to be able to communicate better. Read this book!

After you finish this book, then get “Turn Small Talk into Big Deals” by Don Gabor, which I also highly recommend. Networking success is essential for moving forward. Three of the many super tips I got from Don’s book were

  • how to develop great ice breakers – I always have trouble with that first sentence;
  • extricating myself tactfully from time wasters, which is a perennial problem; and
  • requesting a guest list to a dinner in advance, which is a simple suggestion that never occurred to me and proved immensely helpful.

This is a must-read book for anyone wanting to improve their techniques in gaining new relationships. Also, Don is a business writing coach I have used and recommend to clients, so if you want help in that area, he is someone you can reach out to.

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