By Beauty Zindi, Immediate Past Finance Manager District91
If you are one of the 64 percent of UK employees who says your work bores you, and you have to do presentations about your work, you may find it really hard going. According to a survey carried out by Emolument.com (https://www.emolument.com/career_advice/most_boring_jobs), the top five boring professions are law, project management, customer support, financial management and consulting/accounting. Ouch! I am an accountant.
When I ran my own accountancy business I attended many networking events. When people asked me what I did, my answer “accountant” was usually met with a response which sounded like a grunt. Basically it meant, “oh one of those” and the conversation would immediately become awkward.
This, as you can imagine, was very disheartening and I realised I had to find ways of being engaging and interesting. Even though I had been a Toastmaster for a while, I found this challenging. Years of grappling with this issue and much trial and error led me to finding my “funny side”. An example of how I used this approach is the finance report I delivered at the District 91 Council meeting in May 2018. Many people came to me afterwards and said how refreshing, funny and engaging they had found my presentation. At last!
So what are the lessons I applied?
- Start by acknowledging that the subject is considered boring.
Right at the start, I referred to a survey that had been carried out by the District’s PR Manager which found that Finance Updates were the least favourite topic for the newsletter – bottom out of 12! I then followed this observation by saying with slightly exaggerated glee: “It gives me great pleasure to have you as my captive audience”. This was entirely unexpected and raised a laugh at once. The atmosphere in the room changed. I wanted my audience to believe that this was going to be a finance presentation like they had never experienced before; they could see that this was going to be different and they wanted to hear what I’d say next.
- Find meaning in your profession, and share it from your heart.
I find it very sad that so many people find the work they do day in and day out, sometimes for years, boring. Every job fulfils a purpose, and it is up to you to find it, believe it and communicate it. For my report, I used the fact that money is at the core of everything we do – whether we like it or not. And yet, many people fear to engage with finance. I quoted statistics about debt and financial illiteracy and declared that my audience owed it to themselves to listen to what I had to say. G.K Chesterton, the English philosopher, is quoted as saying, “There are no boring subjects, only disinterested minds.”
- Evoke the audiences’ sympathy.
They should feel sorry for you because you do such a thankless but important job which if you stopped doing the whole world would come crashing down. I exaggerate for effect, but Do You See What I Mean (DYSWIM – I thought I would throw this in for my Gen-Z readers)? What does it take for you to do the job? In my case I was presenting a one-page Finance Report but I explained to my audience how much time and effort it had taken me to produce it. I had their sympathy, their hearts and their ears.
- Interspace boring facts (necessary when presenting a Finance Report) with interesting explanations.
I could have just read out the numbers. For example, actual income was £x, budgeted income was £Y, giving us a difference of £Z. If I had done this for all the lines on my Profit & Loss account, I would not have blamed my audience if they had started taking bathroom breaks. Instead I came up with a story behind each line: for example, “You may think that because we spent less money on Education & Training than we budgeted this is a good thing. In my view this represents an under-investment in our members.” In other words, what the numbers really meant and why they should care.
- Avoid jargon
No matter how many times this advice is offered, many presenters use jargon. This is a bullet-proof way of losing your audience. Take doctors for example, and how they communicate with patients. They may think renal (huh) when they could easily say kidney or they may say chronic to mean persistent but the word chronic is usually understood to mean severe. These were observations made by the Royal College of General Practitioners. Recently a member at our club delivered a speech on UX (who knew that this was User Experience?) and he talked about “cookies” – I still don’t know what they are and I am fed up with them popping on my screens! All I know is that I have to accept them or else! But why or why are they called cookies and can someone tell me why my life depends on them? Using jargon, even a little of it, means that your audience may be busy working out what you meant and not hear the rest of what you say.
- Be willing to fail.
I took some risks, and fortunately they worked, but they were building on earlier presentations when I improved my ability to inject humour in my speeches. In psychology they talk about the humour effect. People pay more attention to humorous information and this in turn helps them remember it. It takes some practice but it is worth it. You may try my tips and find that your presentations are still a bit dry and yawn worthy, but do explore different angles and tactics until you too find your funny side. This will bring you much joy and fulfilment. What’s more, your audience will “get it”, love you and thank you for it!