How to Get the Most from CPE

Young businessman sleeping on the keyboard in the officeYour mindset makes a difference.

By Ed Mendlowitz
The CPA Trendlines Practice Doctor

QUESTION: Like every CPA I need to take continuing education courses. However most of what I take

  • are not relevant to me,
  • are things I know or
  • are things I don’t really want to know.

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Also, many of the speakers are boring. Yet, CPE is big business. Are there any suggestions you can give me to get better use of that time?

ANSWER: I am willing to bet your practice is also in a rut and is stagnating. The purpose of CPE is to help us become more effective, to grow, to be introduced to areas we are not familiar with and to keep us updated in what we do. You can approach CPE as you do, which is as a chore, or as I do, which is as an opportunity.

Here are some tips:

  1. Take CPE that are appropriate to what type of work you. For example, if you do compilations and reviews but not audits, seek out courses taught by practitioners from smaller firms. Do not take a course taught by an academic or Big 4 auditor. If you do audits but do not do governmental audits, do not take a GASB update – root canal is probably better.
  2. Take industry-specific courses. Many State CPA Societies give such courses such as construction contractors, professional practices and manufacturers. These cover a range of topics – A&A, tax, and consulting.
  3. Go to conferences where seven or eight one-hour programs are presented and this keeps the interest level up. BTW, Peter and I invented the “eight hour eight program” conference format in 1989 when we presented our first all-day CPE program (which became the forerunner of the Partners’ Network). We wanted to design a CPE program for fellow professionals who we felt would not want to sit through eight hours of deferred income taxes or accounting for debt restricting after a Chapter 11, so we invented this format, which has since been adopted by most State societies and other organizations. I am in the process of developing a similar format for a national CPE provider except that I will present all eight one-hour programs.
  4. Take courses presented by larger CPA firms for smaller firms.
  5. Take courses designed for controllers that qualify for CPE credit. These courses usually are geared toward a smattering of updates and some practical applications. Many larger CPA firms offer these for free to their clients’ controllers. If you know a partner at a firm that does this, ask to be invited.
  6. Search out the programs that will specifically help you in what you do – there are so many opportunities for growth. Take advantage of them!

Life’s too short to spend time doing chores that provide no benefit, excitement or fun. Don’t waste your opportunity on something just because it is cheap or in a convenient location.

I present a lot of CPE and webinars. Here is a list of my goals in teaching:

  1. To teach new things
  2. To confirm and reassure what attendees already know
  3. Show practical applications of theoretical principles
  4. Illustrate new uses of what is customarily done
  5. Demonstrate how to leverage what is known and what is done
  6. Provide insights on practice management
  7. Give a wake-up call
  8. Motivate
  9. Inspire

I try to do every one of these for everyone but if I accomplish only one thing for each attendee, I consider it a successful program.

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