Ep. 6 – Jennie Scheel | How to Translate Accounting: Communicating the Story Behind the Numbers

My guest today is Jennie Scheel, CFO of Five Nines Technology Group and a previous attendee of my Financial Storytelling seminar.


After the seminar, she sent me an email with a nice compliment about the class and asked if I knew of any great summaries that I could share with her for taking accounting data and turning it into a powerful story… but at that time, and even still, I didn’t know of any.


Instead, I helped Jennie develop her story for the organization in exchange for using this exercise as a case study for my upcoming book, Taking the Number Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity.


The big problem with presenting accounting information to non-accountants is the language barrier – not everybody speaks the foreign language of Accounting.


But on top of that, most of Jennie’s co-workers speak a different foreign language: engineering. So she has to learn a second foreign language and translate that into accounting, then translate all of the relevant information into plain English for executives and clients.


So the big question: How do I communicate complex financial information to those who do not speak Accounting?


The information is often complex – accounting is difficult! – so our goal should be to make it as simple as possible. Your audience probably doesn’t need to know anything about accrual, debits, or credits. They just need to understand enough about the organization to make the best possible decisions for their business.


As John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, says: numbers are boring.


Luckily, there’s always a story behind the numbers! And the more you can evoke emotion with that story, the more you can keep people awake and attentive, the more impact your presentation will have.


After my class, Jennie was able to take a presentation about the balance sheet for her organization and tell a story using a dollar bill to help them understand what the costs were and how the organization became profitable.


It might seem like an extremely simplified way to present a balance sheet – and to a degree, it is – but it was a huge success.


Jennie received a compliment from one of the employees in the room after that presentation: “She said usually when you used to get up in the meetings, you would smile and act like you were happy about the numbers. So I thought they must be great. I had no idea what you were saying, but then you were smiling so I thought great… But she said this time, when you put the dollar up there, I actually understood what you were talking about – I could understand the business.”


You see, when you take the NUMB out of numbers, it leaves you with ERS: effective, relatable stories, which leads to confidence and clarity.


So I challenge you to look at your financial presentation and ask yourself: Is it time for a change? If so, give me a call or send me an email: petermargaritis.com/contact.


And I’ll leave you with just one more thing, a video that Jennie used to frame a discussion about budgeting:



Download this Episode MP3.



Click to download the full Transcript PDF.


Peter: [00:00:00] Welcome to Episode 6 and my guest today is Jennie Scheel, CFO of Five Nines technology group located in Omaha, Nebraska. I met Jennie last year when she attended my seminar titled Financial Storytelling. After the seminar, she sent me an email with a nice compliment about the class and was inquiring if I knew of any great summaries that I could share with her that take accounting data and turn it into a powerful story. At that time, I’d not run across any but I did suggest I’d be willing to help her in developing her story for the organization, in exchange for using this exercise as a case study for my book “Taking the Number Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity.” Well this is the basis for our conversation. And without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Jennie Scheel.

Peter: [00:00:49] It is so great to have you on my podcast. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for quite some time. Thank you so very much for carving out some time in your very busy hectic schedule.

Jennie: [00:01:02] You’re welcome thank you for asking me to join you.

Peter: [00:01:05] We met last year at Nebraska Society CPA event, and in full transparency, in my upcoming book Taking the Number out of Numbers, Jeannie allowed me to do a case study on her organization and the role that she plays as CFO within this organization, and we’ll have that kind of little bit of that discussion right now. But before we get into that, if you could give the audience a little bit of background of yourself in your role at Five Nines.

Jennie: [00:01:35] So I am the CFO of Five Nines technology group. We are an outsource I.T. company. So we are the I.T. department for many small and mid-sized companies, and we mainly focus on business in Nebraska. And I have the privilege of overseeing the accounting here and also I am currently in charge of marketing and a few other areas, which is a really great well-rounded experience.

Peter: [00:02:00] So you wear many hats within your organization.

Jennie: [00:02:03] Yes, many hats. Every day is a new adventure.

Peter: [00:02:07] And I hear that all the time when I when I interact with CFOs it’s like are you just in charge of finance or accounting? Well that’s just what are that I wear. I’ve got H.R. or I’ve got I.T. reporting up to me as well. So you stay very very busy.

Jennie: [00:02:22] Very busy. Yes.

Peter: [00:02:24] So at your organization. It’s a technology company. You don’t do like the big shiny objects I think you described it at one point in time, where you would go into a part of a construction process of like building an arena and going to build that I.T. infrastructure. You’re more on the other side the server side working with small organizations, providing them their IT support.

Jennie: [00:02:45] Correct. Yes we used to do both. And now we found that our best skill set is being the I.T. departments, so doing their day to day I.T. work, all of their projects and everything related to, we are there I.T. departments.

Peter: [00:02:58] And I imagine that’s a lot easier on your workforce per se because of — I’m assuming when you do these like large projects and you said that you tried to focus primarily in Nebraska, there might not be that many and I would assume like planning and cashflow and aspects like that were a real challenge for you versus the way things run today.

Jennie: [00:03:19] Right. It’s better for training of the staff so that they always have similar type of environments and understanding what our hiring process should be. We’re way better able to understand what the workflow will be coming in from the new clients that we win versus the off the wall project. Also our our partnership is the big thing that we focus on to ensure that we partner with companies, so if we’re working with a bigger company just to come in and do a project, that’s not a true partnership. So we come in, they beat us up, and then we leave, and that’s night and weekend work, you know which isn’t in line with our mission which is to give everyone a nice work life balance.

Peter: [00:03:55] Yes. And having that project by project type of work is a little bit kind of what I do because there’s times that you know there’s something about accountants in the months of January, February, March, and April that they really don’t want to learn because they’ve got stuff going on, and planning that cashflow and trying to manage that can be somewhat of a challenge, as well as affects the morale of the office.

Jennie: [00:04:22] Right exactly. We have three parts to our mission: one of them is to love what we do and the best at it, and it was hard to be the best at that particular style of work and to truly love it.

Peter: [00:04:34] And you’ve been with the organization for how long?

Jennie: [00:04:36] Five years.

Peter: [00:04:38] What did you do before that?

Jennie: [00:04:40] I was in charge of accounting department at a larger company in Lincoln, and then I worked at an accounting department for a global company, and I started my career in public accounting.

Peter: [00:04:51] So who did you work for in public?

Jennie: [00:04:54] BKD.

Peter: [00:04:54] Oh BKD. Okay okay cool.

Jennie: [00:04:57] Yeah.

Peter: [00:04:58] And so I always like to ask this question for those who started their career in public accounting and have now moved to business and industry: Would you ever go back to public accounting?

Jennie: [00:05:09] I don’t think so. Haha.

Peter: [00:05:11] I get that a lot. Every now and then someone will say, no, I’d go back. I kind of miss the diversity. But–

Jennie: [00:05:20] There are lots of great things about working in public accounting. The diversity is one of them, where it’s great where you can go in and help many different types and style and size of businesses succeed, versus just focusing on one. But also the demands and the travel of that career are also very challenging.

Peter: [00:05:37] Yes it is very much so. And you have a family and two small children and I know you like to vacation and all that stuff, and that’s a challenge when you’re working in public accounting versus an organization like yours.

Jennie: [00:05:50] Very true.

Peter: [00:05:50] Your workforce. When I think of I.T., I don’t think– you’re the only accountant CPA in the building. Correct?

Jennie: [00:05:58] I’m the only CPA in the building correct. I have an accounting team so I have more accountants, but they’re not CPAs.

Peter: [00:06:05] So your primary workforce– I think you told me at one point that they are engineers. Is that correct?

Jennie: [00:06:11] Correct. Yes.

Peter: [00:06:12] Do you speak engineering?

Jennie: [00:06:15] Reboot your computer is the extent of my engineering skill. So I can tell them that I successfully rebooted my computer and the problem still occurs. So I have to escalate it.

Peter: [00:06:29] So you know to reboot and escalate, reboot and escalate.

Jennie: [00:06:32] Right. Yeah that’s exactly my skillset.

Peter: [00:06:35] And the and the rest of the organization doesn’t speak accounting?

Jennie: [00:06:39] They do not.

Peter: [00:06:40] And I would assume that that is a challenge in your day to day life working there — it is how do I communicate the complexities and the financial information of this organization to those who do not speak the same language?

Jennie: [00:06:59] Correct. That is a significant struggle.

Peter: [00:07:02] And in the past, what type of audience response have you gotten when you’ve had to present this information or share this information to the other departments and department heads, and even to the owners?

Jennie: [00:07:14] Well I don’t love– I used to definitely not love being in front of the room presenting. So my strategy was to get up there, put all my beautiful spreadsheets up there with lots of numbers, talk as fast as I could, smile, then sit down and hope there was no question. I would occasionally even in meetings sit down and say just look at the numbers. Those are the important thing. It was you know it’s hard to communicate because if you stood in the front of the room, you could see there were the disconnect between what I was trying to communicate and what they would like to hear and try to be able to understand. But we talk in completely different languages so I was unsure how to solve that problem.

Peter: [00:07:56] Yeah that is a tough problem. I had a gentleman in one of my courses in the Philadelphia area, he worked for an engineering company and he said It dawned on him one day that he has to learn the foreign language of engineering and be able to translate that into accounting and be able to translate both of those into plain English to talk to the CEO to explain what is going on within the organization.

Jennie: [00:08:21] Yeah it is very tricky to work on all of those languages.

Peter: [00:08:25] And it’s funny that you know we tend to– because we all speak you know within our organizations, we all speak English. And when we’re speaking engineering, accounting – they are very much foreign languages to those who have no idea what we’re talking about.

Jennie: [00:08:40] Right.

Peter: [00:08:40] And the other thing that goes there is when you’re trying to explain something, maybe even to your staff, you’ve got the ten plus years, you’ve got a lot of experience, and that staff doesn’t have that same depth of knowledge. But you’re cursed – because you’re cursed with that knowledge and it’s because you’ve got that knowledge– You don’t remember– you can’t unlearn what you’ve learned, even though how much you try to unlearn you can’t unlearn. I’ve tried to get some of this accounting stuff, technical stuff, out of my head, but it won’t go away – it just stays in there and hangs out. But we forgot what it was like when we first started to learn this language, and the ability the ability to recognize that and be able to put things in context that those who might have part of our knowledge but be able to explain it to them so they understand and bring that conversation out of the technical side and into something with a little bit more context and analogies. However I can see that that light goes on.

Jennie: [00:09:45] Exactly.

Peter: [00:09:45] So when we met, you were an attendee in my financial storytelling class and you probably gave me one of the best testimonials or thank yous in an e-mail that I think I received the next day. Do you remember what you said?

Jennie: [00:10:06] Yes. I mean I remember generically that I thanked you for the training because to be honest lots of the CPEs that I attend…. you know you’re in the CPE and you learn things here and there, but you’re also working because there are many things maybe that they cover that you’re already an expert in. Or you know things don’t necessarily pertain exactly to the industry you’re in or your job at the time or things are of higher importance to the office, so I am you know glued into the training a little bit and really into into the work. Because it’s hard when you’re gone. No one is back in the office doing your job. So to ensure that you don’t get too far behind, you’re multitasking. And during this training was the first time that I think a few people on my team wondered are you actually paying attention? Because you’re not replying to my emails. You know this was– presenting to the staff and significant area for improvement that I had for myself. So when I saw this as an option, I was excited and hoping that the presenter would be excellent and be able to help me on something that I had set for a goal for myself to become better at.

Peter: [00:11:17] And I had that email and I have shared with other folks. I appreciate that. That was a great. That made my day my week my year. But then we get into the dialogue because you asked me if there’s any templates or anything like that out there that I could send to you or whatever. At the time there really wasn’t that many templates and I still believe that the really are because each situation is so different. And that’s why that’s why I posed to you: How about if I help you accomplish what you’re trying to do, with your staff and whatever, and in lieu of payment, I will include this story in my book, to which we agreed upon.

Jennie: [00:12:01] Mhm. That was a great trade.

Peter: [00:12:03] It really was a great trade because it was a lot of fun – because I remember as we started talking, you sent me a variety of spreadsheets and files.

Jennie: [00:12:12] Weren’t they beautiful?

Peter: [00:12:14] They were – actually they were beautiful. But when I opened them, it was like an avalanche just falling on my computer, and all of these numbers and graphs and things. But it did it did make me start thinking – OK so we’ve got this voluminous amount information, and I begin digging in and looking for maybe some… Why does this increase versus that? One, to try to understand the business. And then we started talking and you said my biggest challenges is, as you’ve already described, is I get up in front of them, I just plow through it. My spreadsheet is up there. There’s a lot of numbers. And I sit down and I don’t think anybody– I don’t think I’m connecting with anybody in that audience because they don’t speak this language.

Jennie: [00:13:06] Correct.

Peter: [00:13:06] So working together, the first time that we went through a bunch of different processes and conversations and getting to the understanding because there’s always stories behind the numbers, as well as the more that you can evoke emotion into that story about the numbers about whether, that helps people stay awake. That impacts them. Just just the numbers and the data… As John Medina, who wrote the book Brain Rules states, you know data’s boring. Numbers are boring. There’s nothing exciting about it versus telling that story behind those numbers. And whether you did this or your marketing people did this, when you sent me the slides that you used for the first time that you did this presentation, they were they were wonderfully done. They did a great job. And I believe I included a couple of them in the book. But the one thing that you did, which which I talk about in the book and in the class, is when– you know most people within an organization, especially managers, they kind of get the income statement but they have no idea about the balance sheet.

Jennie: [00:14:27] Right.

Peter: [00:14:28] But we tend to go over the balance sheet so I always say you know if we can avoid that but focus on the income statement and have them understand how we become profitable, and where our costs go and stuff. And you used a similar example that I had: taking a dollar bill and breaking it down.

Jennie: [00:14:49] That was a huge success. People still talk about it and are excited even for the next meeting to see my dollar break down. The best compliment I got was from one of the training employees, so she trained all of our staff, and she said usually when you used to get up in the meeting you would smile and act like you were happy about the numbers. So I thought they must be great. I had no idea what you were saying. But then you were smiling so I thought great. What you’re saying must be good. But she said this time, when you put the dollar up there, I actually understood what you were talking about – I could understand the business, that break down like you taught us in the class of a dollar or something, everyone can wrap their brain around and understand. So we have a Slack channel that people can give other employees high fives and one of the employees you know gave me a hi five right away saying that it was an excellent financial presentation, and many other people commented on it so that they were actually able to understand and know what I was talking about instead of my spreadsheet. That has huge numbers. You know lots of commas. All these big numbers slapped on a spreadsheet that no one can understand what I’m saying, let alone it’s not a good visual to see a spreadsheet up on a screen.

Peter: [00:16:09] No that just evokes sleep when he see a spreadsheet on the screen. That’s like an anesthesiologist.

Jennie: [00:16:17] Right. Right. Yeah it sure is.

Peter: [00:16:19] I haven’t asked you, but you– I mean you can read body language and I just wonder what was going through your mind when you put that dollar bill up and you could see the audience going what, this is different– and as you’re talking, they’re getting it. You had to be giddy inside.

Jennie: [00:16:37] Yes I was– For the first time in five years, I was excited to be doing a financial presentation. Because usually I get up there and pray for it to end as quickly as possible, but this time I was really you know I was really excited to have such an engaged audience.

Peter: [00:16:57] In the class, we talked about less is more. We, as CPAs, love to give all this information. But really if we can just give the most important things and don’t put so many words on there on the slide and have some picture with it. You also are doing stuff with I think you had like a word bubble that you did. And you also had a real cute video and it was about explaining budgeting, I believe.

Jennie: [00:17:21] Oh right. It’s that adorable girl. Mila, I think her name is. Her mom had her do all sorts of fun videos and there’s one that she does that says Watch the budget. And it’s very funny so it took a couple clips from there because it’s cute to see in the eyes of a child, as most people can relate to what is a budget? And I go there and talk about all of those numbers.

Peter: [00:17:44] And actually I’ll put the link to that video into the show knows if anybody wants to see that because I thought that was brilliant. It is cute. It’s very funny. But it gets the point across. And the thing with the word bubble– what what was that? What were trying to convey there?

Jennie: [00:18:00] I think that that was when we were talking about the change between the years and so we tried to emphasize the negative feelings that people were feeling when we had the big project. So all this stress, night and weekend hours, just the demanding clients coming to beat us up, and then how we were able to change it positive and focus on our target clients and how we could– we’re training the staff so that they know what to expect and can be successful for us. To have great hiring, to have overall good financial success because you’re able to forecast.

Peter: [00:18:35] And obviously this– that aspect has had a huge piece in the overall morale within the organization. Even though when you guys began to transition into more of the Shared Services type of work, there were some folks who’d who liked the big shiny projects and they believe in the organization. Correct?

Jennie: [00:18:53] Right. I think that happens when any company makes a change. Whatever you’re passionate about, if you’re passionate about, the clients that we serve and want to do the managed services, then this is a great thing. And we have a lots of longtime employees here and new people excited to join the company. And then some people, their skillset, it’s better for them to work on bigger companies or different type projects that excite them and they were able to find opportunities to fulfill that as well.

Peter: [00:19:19] That’s great, and everybody in the end ended up happy and and the company is moving forward. And are you having to take your pink bat out and say no?

Jennie: [00:19:32] Haha. Uh huh. I mean there will always be great shiny products that come our way that it’s sometimes hard to say no to things that are outside of what we’re trying to focus on and do and drive. But I’ve used the bat less than I used to, I think.

Peter: [00:19:45] I thought about you the other day. I was looking through something out of Louisville Slugger and they said for Mother’s Day, give her a pink bat. Oh I know somebody who has one of those.

Jennie: [00:19:58] I do and it says on it: mess with cash, get the bash. So. Yeah it is. It is a great thing.

Peter: [00:20:08] [laughs] Oh that’s funny. We also talked about doing this as how do you better connect with the audience. Because that’s the key. You may have the best story out there, but if you can’t make that connection with them, it’s still going to fall on deaf ears and–

Jennie: [00:20:26] Right.

Peter: [00:20:27] Prior to us having a conversation, when you would come and present and the others would come and present this financial information or the state of the business to the rest of the organization, can you talk about what people are wearing dress wise in the audience and what you guys were wearing?

Jennie: [00:20:44] Sure. So our employees obviously are all over the place. Installing hardware software different things where they could be you know crawling up or on the ground or different things, so they are a lot of times wearing jeans or khaki clothes that you know make sense for a lot of the work they do. Jeans and a polo is a typical attire for an engineer. And then when we would come in to present for a meeting, you would think OK we should dress up so we look nice, we look respectable, and so I would usually wear a nice dress or suit and the president would also be in a nice suit. So we thought we could dress up for the meeting and also see behind the podium. And one of the things that hit me during that presentation was that you should – And I think you mentioned you had experience in this as well – dress to be in line with what your staff is wearing. So now I’m always wearing you know Five Nine gear with jeans and so is the president, to ensure that we’re better able to connect with them. We try to get out and move around. You know sitting behind the podium, especially for my nerves presenting, was always my safe place. But like you said, get out, walk around, have it feel like you’re not hiding anything and that you’re truly connecting with the audience – and I think that that’s been really well received.

Peter: [00:22:06] Yeah it’s true. I’ve come to realize it’s very important and we always want to be professionally dressed. But sometimes we need to dress like everybody else so there’s not this oh there they are up on this pedestal and just we’re just the worker bee, us and them. And in my instance, I was presenting to a group and I walked in. There was somebody before me and he was in a suit from the from the international headquarters. And I looked around and everybody else were like jeans, shirts, polos. Nobody was really dressed up. And I had on almost like a suit, but didn’t have a tie. And I told myself walk out, go put on what you flew up here with, which was jeans and shoes and– but I didn’t do it. And I could immediately tell when I went up to do my presentation, they were looking at me like oh my god we’ve got another suit coming up.

Jennie: [00:23:00] Hahah. Yup.

Peter: [00:23:01] And body language just told me that I wasn’t connecting, nobody said anything to me afterwards, and I had to present the next day and I changed my attire and even wore a sport coat up on stage but I took it off and rolled up my sleeves. I had about 10, 15 people come up to me afterwards you know talking to me about the presentation. And three weeks later I got a call from that international group and they booked me for speaking engagements.

Jennie: [00:23:29] Mhm. Amazing.

Peter: [00:23:31] So what we wear does have an effect on making that connection with that audience. And I try to remember that but I think because I present so much to the accounting profession that I’m usually in a sport coat you know I call them dress jeans and not blue jeans but dress jeans and shoes and stuff that when I present to groups that are outside of the profession, I really do ask a lot of questions to the meeting planner to figure out what’s my appropriate attire to come in with.

Jennie: [00:24:04] Right. Mhm.

Peter: [00:24:05] So you have seen success and then you had another another quarterly meeting and you use some different slides and you had a you had like two beakers pouring into some containers that you were talking about revenue and costs and how it was broken down, and it seems to be it’s working.

Jennie: [00:24:26] It is working. Yes. The pictures are doing an excellent job of telling the story, instead of my spreadsheet. So obviously I love all of my spreadsheet and all of the data, but those are not what will relate and people will not be able to understand. So what I have learned through training and by actually utilizing it is that the pictures really resonate with people. So people were having a really hard time understanding when I would say the revenue and the cost and then you know the net income — easy, but not when you don’t look at it. And even understand… So we have new employees always starting and so I have to remember don’t they COGS because they have no idea you’re trying to say Cost Of Goods Sold. You know that’s not an engineering term. So I have to remember and try to say OK so here’s our bucket of revenue, here is a bucket which you know is hopefully not nearly as full of expenses so that when you mix them together, that’s the number that makes up our net income and so they can kind of see how those flow together and in proportion to each other. So I tried to show the difference between the two so that they can really understand the numbers not just the thousands and hundreds and millions of dollars, but that they can actually see pictures and see how that works out. And that seemed to go really well. So I’m actually planning for meeting on May 22nd. We were talking about okay how are we going to break down this particular item to show them where we’re at on our quarterly goals and what what could we use. So we were joking today about using pizza or donuts or something that are always well appreciated by the by the engineers.

Peter: [00:26:10] Yeah that’s great. And I know this probably hasn’t asked to you. But somebody in one of my classes, when I was doing the dollar bill, somebody said that’s not correct. What do you mean? Well you know we’ve got those non-cash items that are in the expenses that really don’t affect the dollar bill. How do you address that? I don’t. That’s called advanced accounting for them.

Jennie: [00:26:38] Right

Peter: [00:26:38] I don’t I don’t want to confuse them anymore and get into the whole accrual basis of accounting or anything like that. And and yeah we might not be given the exact detail, but as long as I have an idea, a picture, without confusing them. That’s all they need to know. And you know maybe over time when they become a little bit more sophisticated in the knowledge that they’re gaining through that you might talk about that other stuff, but that’s probably way down the road and it may never come up. But you know that other aspect of being a CPA and accoutnant is is that precision and accuracy. You have to kind of let that go when you’re doing this to a group that don’t have that same background that we do. You’ve got to got to make it as simple and as easily understandable as possible.

Jennie: [00:27:30] Right. The second that I say the word accrual, I think that they automatically go straight back to their phones or lose you know any idea to what I was what I was trying to say.

Peter: [00:27:43] I’ve done some teaching accounting to non accountants, and what I try to do when I do that is not mention the word accrual. I stay away from debits and credits. I just try to keep it at a very 10,000 foot aspect and have them just kind of understand the flow of information, the flow of what we do, without getting so much into the detail because it’s hard.

Jennie: [00:28:09] It is hard.

Peter: [00:28:10] If accounting was easy, everybody’d doing it. And it’s a complex language. And the more that we can translate that and put it in context as you’re doing with the dollar bill example or how we’re mixing this or pizza or whatever that visual aspect of it, that’s going a long way for them just having an understanding – and that’s really all you want is for the whole organization to understand how you operate, how you drive revenue, and what things that we do that takes away from that revenue, and even to the extent of benefits that we provide the organization.

Jennie: [00:28:53] Mhm. Yes. That was a great eye opener to show them as a you know when you break down the dollar bill, the large percentage of salaries and then show the other big percentage is benefits, and how that even compares to our tools, because we obviously to be successful company have a lot of technical tools to provide to our clients and so it was really cool and a great eye opener for them to see you know six cents out of every dollar is spent on tools, and that’s the same amount that we spend on all of these excellent benefits that we provide to you. And I think that the really great way to break it down.

Peter: [00:29:25] Yes I remember you sharing that with me about the benefits and you had it benchmarked, and basically you guys are way above that benchmarking norm and what you give in benefits to your associates. And I think after you said tha,t I asked you can I apply for a job?

Jennie: [00:29:43] You did. Yes. Haha

Peter: [00:29:45] In this day and age, how much health insurance and all this other stuff that you guys cover. I hope they understand that we’ve got a great benefit here that we didn’t recognize for a while.

Jennie: [00:30:01] Right. Just when I go up there and would inform them we spend you know hundreds of thousands of dollars on insurance. OK. You know that’s hard to wrap your brain around, versus to show it as a break down compared to a dollar and say you know of this dollar this amount of money goes to your benefit and all of these tools that we need for our clients, and that was really a much better way for me to present it and for them to understand and really appreciate all the great things that Five Nines offers.

Peter: [00:30:30] From what I’ve what I’ve been able to ascertain from you as well as research, you’ve got a very cool company and it’s been very successful and it looks like that will maintain that success for quite a long time and grow as well.

Jennie: [00:30:44] Yes I think we have great growth potential and it is a very fun company with a great culture.

Peter: [00:30:50] Fun. You said– an accountant said fun, CPA said fun?

Jennie: [00:30:54] Oh man. Once every blue moon. Haha.

Peter: [00:30:57] Exactly. So as you as you’re moving forward, are you thinking about — hat you kind of alluded to this a little bit — What are we going to do next? Because we can’t keep showing that same dollar bill. We’ve got to break it up and show it in different ways. Have you begun to think about maybe some other ways of presenting this information, whether it be visually, whether it be through creating a video or some other type of vehicle?

Jennie: [00:31:28] Yeah, I’m always trying to analyze what pieces of information they’re looking for and then how we would break it down so that they can understand it. So I’m always just kind of listening to them trying to interpret their questions as to what the true meaning of this question. What details do I need to present to them so that they can understand the company or their role or that financial why, and be successful with the decisions that they make? But it’s always hard to do left brain / right brain and put the numbers into something that I can communicate clearly. So the dollar bill has definitely set me up for success to figure out new ways to break down information so that people can interpret it and understand it and make decisions that are enginnering decisions, but they’re better able to have the dollars and cents to do that.

Peter: [00:32:18] Well that’s absolutely great and I wish you guys the best of luck. I wish you tons of of of of luck, and not so much luck of this opportunity to to help the company grow through the way of communicating the financial information to them as well as to the owners and stuff. Because you know you’ve got a lot of different audiences that you have to report to, as well as I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to take your company and yourself and take this information and have it be part of my book. I’m very grateful for that and I look forward to seeing you hopefully in September. But I did tell you that once the book comes out, I will be sending you guys copies, and if it happens be around the time that I’m out there, I’ll hand deliver them to your office.

Jennie: [00:33:09] That would be wonderful. I’ve talked to very highly of you and so I know that the owners who have also complimented my financial presentations will be very excited to meet the person who actually gave me the confidence and the background to be able to present to the staff.

Peter: [00:33:25] That’s great and I can’t wait till our paths cross again very soon.

Jennie: [00:33:30] Sounds great thank you so much.

Peter: [00:33:31] Thank you. I want to thank Jennie again for sharing her story on how she transformed her financial presentation into an event that was a huge success to the entire organization. You see, when you take the numb out of numbers, it leaves you with ERS: effective, relatable stories, which is the confidence and the clarity. In episode 7, my guest is Cara Silletto, who’s the author of “The Millennial Mindset: What’s Next in HR” and her most recent book, “Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave and How to Keep Them Longer.” This episode will be available on July 23rd. Thank you for listening. And begin the process of changing your mindset and getting out of your comfort zone and develop new skill sets to become more future ready. Your call to action is to look at your financial presentation and ask yourself: Is it time for a change? If so, give me a call or send me an email. I would love to help you. Remember, part of being future ready is becoming an improviser so go improvise your way to success. Thank you.



Ep. 5 – Rich Stang and Brad Hoffman | The Future-Forward Culture Behind DeLeon & Stang

My guests today are Rich Stang and Brad Hoffman, who are partners in the Maryland accounting firm DeLeon & Stang – and it is not your average firm. I have included a case study on DeLeon & Stang in my upcoming book, Taking the Numb out of Numbers, and I brought Rich and Brad on the podcast so they can talk more about their fascinating firm.

DeLeon & Stang is very much an anticipatory organization. They have created an exceptionally positive culture and go beyond traditional services by providing clients with a future-forward look at the financial situation. In this episode, we’ll examine how their future-forward approach applies to creating a mission statement, deciding to open a new location, rolling out new benefits in 2018, and more.


Why is DeLeon & Stang different?

When Rich Stang and Allen DeLeon started the firm, neither of them had worked in public accounting. So as they started the firm, they didn’t quite know how a CPA firm typically ran. “In some respects, that maybe hurt us a little bit. But in a lot of respects, I think it helped in that we didn’t have some of the idiosyncrasies that you hear about in traditional CPA firms.”

So they put employees first, they said yes before no, and they had fun – because they didn’t know any better.

Just recently, this has led to two key decisions that a lot of CPA firms would not make:

  • They opened a new firm in Frederick, MD, without an existing book of business or acquiring a new firm. Frederick is definitely a good market to be in, it’s a growing market, but that wasn’t the main reason they opened the office: it was a huge commuting benefit for employees! Traffic in the D.C. area can be bad, to put it mildly, and this office can save some people hours in their daily commute. On top of that, it’s the kind of modern office that you probably don’t associate with CPAs, and it’s likely to appeal to a younger generation.
  • DeLeon & Stang recently introduced an unlimited PTO policy. It’s still a work in progress, they knew it wasn’t going to be perfect. “We still have strides to make, but we thought it was the best thing to do. We just want people to do their jobs… It doesn’t really matter when they go home, as long as the clients are happy and as long as things are getting done.”

I think DeLeon & Stang is one of the most interesting firms in the country – and hopefully, we’ll see a lot more firms that look like this in the future.


Download this Episode MP3.


Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

Peter: [00:00:00] Welcome to Episode 5. My guests today are Rich Stang and Brad Hoffman, who are partners in the Maryland accounting firm of Deleon and Stang CPAs and advisors. Deleon and Stang is not your average accounting firm. For example, they’re very much an anticipatory organization where they go beyond traditional services by providing clients with a future-forward look at the financial situation. Their future-forward approach is seen in their mission statement, core competencies, decisions when opening a new location, and in a rollout of new benefits in 2018. I am almost guaranteed that you will stop, rewind, and have a listen to this whole entire episode as you begin to understand how future-focused they are. Two of my favorite quotes from Sir Richard Branson founder of Virgin Airlines describe this firm, and they are: “train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to” and “clients do not come first – Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” This is the essence of Deleon and Stang, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other three partners in this firm and they are Allenn Deleon, Jeanie Price and Dan Dellon. Now you can visit the website at deleonandstang.com and learn more about this future-forward accounting firm. So without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Richard Stang and Brad Hoffman

Peter: [00:01:33] Rich and Brad, welcome to my podcast. I appreciate you taking time. You have a little bit more time now than you did maybe back in March or February to spend some time with me talking about your firm on my podcast. So thank you guys for taking the time and being here this afternoon.

Rich: [00:01:51] Thanks for having us.

Brad: [00:01:53] Thank you.

Peter: [00:01:54] Let’s just start the conversation. Just kind of give the audience a little bit about your background. Let’s start with you Brad. And then we’ll get to Rich.

Brad: [00:02:02] I started in public accounting in I guess 2001 and spent 12 years in a pretty typical accounting firm. It was a very very structured organization, a very good organization. But I realized that I didn’t fit in really, as far as the culture went. And when I came over to D&S, It was kind of a breath of fresh air in that there was a… oh wow there’s other people that function like I do. So 2012 came over. And you know we started talking a lot about you know the evolution of the firm and where things were, and it was it was very interesting to me as as we had these talks that you know all of the conversations weren’t met with no.

Peter: [00:03:09] Hahaha

Brad: [00:03:09] You know I told someone in the beginning I said I’ve got to be careful when I come up with a new idea or new though because there is a chance that, within two weeks, we might be rolling with it. And you know that was pretty abnormal given where I came from, which was a more traditional accounting firm.

Peter: [00:03:31] So let me ask Rich. Let me ask you this: So you started the firm and Brad’s over saying that he came from a traditional firm and yours was not a traditional firm. Can you explain that, as you describe your background?

Rich: [00:03:49] Well I can explain it in the sense that when Allen Deleon and I started the firm, neither one of us other than maybe a summer internship that he had done in college had worked in public accounting. And as we tried to start the firm, we didn’t have perhaps the knowledge of how a CPA firm runs. In some respects, that maybe hurt us a little bit. But in a lot of respects, I think it helped in that we didn’t have some of the idiosyncrasies that you hear about in traditional CPA firm. So I think things like putting family first and you know having fun in a business was what we started out to do, not really knowing exactly what a public accounting firm did. So I think in the long run, that helped build a business that, hopefully, is seen as a very good opportunity for our staff outside of some of the traditional things you hear about accounting firms.

Peter: [00:04:51] You know my introduction to your firm. I knew– I’d met Jeanie and knew her but I didn’t really know the firm as much. And then I came in and did that course for you guys and really my eyes just got huge because you guys are different. I mean you guys are are really innovative. As Brad said, he’s used to hearing no and I cut my teeth in public accounting where no was the– but you guys say yes, and the culture that you guys have created – I find it refreshing. I find it something that I’ve always said I’d love to have– if I had a firm, I would love to have something like that. And just for the listeners out there, I have included a case study in my upcoming, Taking the Numb out of Numbers, on their firm because it’s so fascinating and that’s why when you get them on the podcast so they can talk more about that. So you didn’t grow up in a public accounting and your business model– But even back when you started with I think maybe 10, 15 years ago, when you were doing your mission statement and your core values, you had shared with me that– Because you had at the time like 15 core values and you said you had the whole firm participating in this decision making, which I find refreshing, but it’s also very unique that we get the whole the whole company together, get the whole firm together, to help make these decisions and provide this input.

Rich: [00:06:16] From my perspective, I think if everyone is involved, I think you’re going to have a better buy in to living those core values. Plus in our case, I think part of the– part of the yes, part of it moving forward, is the sense that if somebody has a good idea then let’s put it into place. Let’s not wait around and you know see who’s going to pump up and get the most credit for it. Let’s just get it done. So I think we’ve always been looking for good ideas and good information from from all of our staff. That’s just been the way we’ve operated.

Peter: [00:06:51] And then you brought Brad in and as said, he came from a typical accounting firm and he’s got a lot of ideas. He’s had a lot of energy. Brad I assumed it was very easy to assimilate into this culture.

Brad: [00:07:03] Yes. Oh absolutely. You know and it’s it’s still relevant today, an example, it was on Tuesday last week. It was like the first day that it was actually like just gorgeous outside. And we just landed a new client, got back to the office. There were several folks there and you know I checked everybody’s calendars. And like you know what? Guys let’s let’s go grab a happy hour. It’s gorgeous out. And you know that was like three o’clock. And I said I said to one of the staff, who just happened to be Rich’s son, I guess it doesn’t help that you know I’m I’m more of the problem when it comes to this than the help. And Chris looks at me and says actually it’s almost like an unspoken fringe benefit to have this type of behavior. I was like excellent.

Peter: [00:08:05] You’re non-smoking fringe benefit. That’s awesome. [laughs] But it’s so– just all this culture that you guys have created really empowers people, and it has to distill upon your clients in such a positive way. Can you share some of those stories, things along those lines?

Brad: [00:08:26] Well you know just as recent as last week, we had picked up a new client in the Frederick market. And it was from– We got them from one of the larger accounting firms in the Frederick market. And after meeting them and we talked about you know entity selection and blah blah blah, but we spent a lot of time just talking about what their plans were and what they what they thought they saw the future being. And you know their workforce, their fleet, their you know things that had nothing to do with numbers really.

Peter: [00:09:07] Right.

Brad: [00:09:08] And we got we got you know halfway through that meeting and they’re like this is this is stuff that you know that the other firm never even thought to ask us. And you know it just kind of continued on. They they said on that and they come in, they hang out. We took we we did a couple of promotional things that we had them come to. And they– you know we didn’t even have to sell ourselves. They were they were the ones speaking to the other folks in the room telling them how fun we were and how awesome we were to work with, and that we’ve talked about stuff that they never even thought to consider. So you know the clients feed off of this environment and you know they stop by and will just stop in and say hi to Danny or Chris or whoever else is in the office. And you know if they’re walking past or whatever because they know it’s you know it’s an environment that that is fun. You know they just hope they don’t get hit with a stray nerf gun bullet.

Peter: [00:10:15] So I love that story. The question I have is this culture – I feel, maybe I’m wrong here, that with your core values, your first core value is putting your people first, not putting your clients first but putting your people first. And I think by doing that – because you care about your people – that same care goes into when you’re having conversations with existing clients, with prospects, because it sounds to me that you want to know them as a person, as a business, what makes them tick, where their passion is. And where the other firms are traditional firms are going in just looking at the numbers, you’re trying to find out that the whole the whole entity and how it’s evolved as as a unit, which is quite unique in that process. Would you agree with that Rich?

Rich: [00:11:15] Yes I would. I mean we’ve had the opportunities– you know the clients notice that in our case, and we did make a change in our mission statement to put staff first and then clients, and I’ve had a few conversations with clients about that and they were intrigued as to why we did that and what that meant for us. And it means that if we take care of our staff first, that they’re going to be here from a you know continuing with us, there’s not as much turnover. And so that’s ultimately going to be good for the clients as well, especially in the market, the job market that we’re in right now. I’ve had the opportunity to sit with clients that actually have gained some services for clients to talk about what we’ve done as it might relate to them, especially other professional services businesses.

Peter: [00:12:03] I love that and it sounds like you have a dialogue. For lack of a better term, a rich dialogue when you’re having these conversations with your clients, and I assume you’ve got long term clients and they’ve got to be some of your best referrals as you continue to grow your business.

Rich: [00:12:20] Yeah definitely.

Peter: [00:12:22] What’s the biggest strength that you see in your firm?

Brad: [00:12:24] It goes without saying the culture the environment from which we work in. You know we had staff this tax season actually say man I’m glad it’s tax season, I get to hang out here more. That’s kind of unheard of.

Peter: [00:12:45] What?! Wow. So they like to come to work because you provided a great culture. And you know when you guys said you put your people first. It reminds me of Richard Branson, the Virgin Airlines guy. He says if he hires the right people, they will take care of the customers. Kind of the same philosophy that you guys use.

Brad: [00:13:09] Absolutely

Rich: [00:13:10] So yeah I think it is. You know I think when we give everybody we give everybody a voice, they know that their voices are heard. Yeah so that drives you know that’s a little bit more detail. I think they feel it, and I think that’s what drives culture.

Peter: [00:13:24] And thinking about that and you’re empowering your people just from the simple act of listening to them and gaining an understanding of what they’re trying to say, and then acting on it.

Rich: [00:13:40] Yep

Peter: [00:13:40] That’s unique in so many ways because you know the improv guy in me… you know I hear the word no and I cringe, but you guys are really going yes, and tell me more verses No I’m sorry we can’t do that. It’s much more of a positive attitude in the firm.

Brad: [00:13:59] Well and I mean– The clients… You know so I know you love Yes And. I would like to say that I’ve used that a lot. But really it’s well maybe, let me hear. You know the same same philosophy, but you know having children you learn that if you say yes, you’re in.

Peter: [00:14:23] That that is true. I taught my son yes and early on and he’s gotten away with a lot of stuff.

[00:14:31] [laughs]

Peter: [00:14:31] But along those lines, Brad, thinking back to a conversation that we had for the book, and you were telling me – and I use this all the time and I give you credit for it – sometimes you’ll come up with an idea and they said we can’t do that. And what’s the phrase that you use?

Brad: [00:14:50] If someone says no that won’t work, you say well if it did, what would it look like?

Peter: [00:14:54] If it did, what would it look like. And you’re giving them permission at that point to explore an idea that they initially poo poo’d.

Brad: [00:15:04] That’s right. Well and it’s kind of to some degree, it’s combining many different philosophies on on this whole consulting thing. I mean there’s you know Burrus has the you know if you’re stuck on a step, skip it. And this one was from one of my teachings earlier on and it was you know that you know that won’t work, but if it did what would it be? It’s kind of the same thing, you’re skipping the No it won’t and moving on to the– you’re really trying to get to the root of their desire, and that works real well in sales meetings too. If you get in front of a client who is very pessimistic, you can you can kind of get down to what they’re really trying to have what they really want, and get them there without you know telling them they’re wrong. You know. And that happens a lot. I mean a lot accountants– You know Rich and I had this conversation earlier in the week of Why are we different? You know so many folks want to go in, they meet the client, and they tell them what they need and they tell them what they don’t need. And it’s just insane. We’ve had so much success just sitting, listening to the client, talking to them, asking them lots of questions, and you know finding out what they really want. What I mean you know it’s… if you provide great service but they didn’t want it, there’s really no value.

Peter: [00:16:33] Right. Clients, prospects, organizations are looking for that value. But a lot of times, they can’t put their finger on it until they see it or experience it.

Brad: [00:16:45] Yeah

Peter: [00:16:45] And when you guys provide this service and this opportunity and this ability to sit down and listen to what their needs are what they need – And I think you shared this with me and I’ve heard many times before – Tell me one entrepreneur, one business owner, who doesn’t want to talk about their business. If you just let them talk, they’ll tell you everything you need to know. So then you can formulate an opinion and provide them what they need, but you have to allow them to talk and tell and describe.

Brad: [00:17:17] Yes sometimes they’re willing to pay you just to listen to them, if you let them. As crazy as that sounds. You know they want to just unload on all the good stuff they’ve done or all the problems they had. You know. If you don’t interject with a solution and you let the you let the conversation flow, you get a whole lot from them.

Peter: [00:17:43] Exactly. And Rich I have a question that I want to ask – the teacher in me is coming out now, and it’s how do you teach, or how are you guys teaching this – the skill set that you all have – to the younger staff.

Rich: [00:18:03] Well actually Brad has been very instrumental. It is just simply you know as we get these client meetings and get in front of them. It’s it’s really asking everyone to take someone with them into these meetings so they can hear and listen to what’s going on. Brad has done that since day one, taking one or two of our staff people out to sit in on these meetings and just hear what we’re doing. There’s you know a lot of it is that you’re just doing it off the cuff and sometimes you can’t just sit with someone say here’s what you do. So it’s it’s just more having them experience it.

Peter: [00:18:38] I think that’s great. And I can imagine some of the clients go why do you bring in all these people out here? What are you going to bill me for every individual?

Rich: [00:18:46] Yeah.

Peter: [00:18:46] But you really get them on the job training, as well as I think a lot of the value there is the car ride out and the car ride back.

Rich: [00:18:53] Right

Brad: [00:18:54] Especially the one back.

[00:19:01] [laughs]

Brad: [00:19:01] I mean you know the reality is you have if you have a Rcih you have an Al, someone who has you know 35 years of experience of being in front of clients and doing this, it’s to me – it would be a crime to not have as many as possible, the younger staff, you know watching and following and seeing that happen in real time. Yeah there’s some time burn on it, but the value for the firm down the road is so huge.

Peter: [00:19:36] And I don’t know– some other firms that I know they’re still not really doing that as much, there’s still the layers and this is what you do at this stage in your career. And I’ve always been a firm believer that if someone walks a new employee, after they kind of figure things out in the office, just get them out in the field and have them observe the conversation that’s going on. So by the time they become maybe a manager, they’ve obtained some of those interpersonal skills and have seen it live and in person, where they can bring a bigger bang to the organization, versus not seeing it and getting thrown into the fire.

Brad: [00:20:13] Yeah well, and sometimes the fire is not bad as long as they have backup. I mean seriously. Like if the whole like– empowering is awesome and I love empowering the people that work with me, but they have to know that you’ve got their back and you know it’s good for them to feel you know the sweat every once in a while when the client calls and asks the question. Because they really – you know and that’s what I refer to as the fire – that really drives home then the need of understanding, and not just moving the product along because then they know wow I need to know this. So the next time Sally Smith calls, I can answer this right away and it instills the understanding that that they need to understand.

Peter: [00:21:03] The experience of this, them going through this, experienceing the burn, also as you describe it as a motivator to avoid that burn again and to be prepared and to be able to have recall almost immediately in order to answer the client’s question that they have.

Brad: [00:21:21] Yeah and once a client calls the staff, you know that’s what client interaction with staff is, as early as possible that that isn’t it… You don’t want to put them in a bad situation, but the more that the staff has to interact with the client or get to interact with the client, I mean at least our staff, the vibrant millennials that we’re getting a hold of, they want to know you know. And that just drives them more, when they can when they can then call the client and give them the answer and not have to go through a manager or a partner. So you know it goes full circle.

Peter: [00:22:00] That says a lot. So Rich I have to ask you this question. You said you’ve been doing this for about 35 years.

Rich: [00:22:06] No Brad said that. I didn’t say that.

Peter: [00:22:11] Hahaha. You’ve been doing this for a number of years and you’ve gone through a number of quote unquote busy seasons. How did this one go for you guys, as compared to some observations that you saw from them this year versus maybe prior years?

Rich: [00:22:27] Every year we’ve evolved a little bit. And I know that this year, you know especially with what’s fresh in my mind now, between really good communications with our clients and having our staff prepared, we finished at the end as smoothly as we ever have. All the extensions were done, all forms are back from e-filing. Literally Thursday or Friday before the 17th, you know at that point we were finished. So you know Saturday we were we left early, Sunday I didn’t come to the office at all, Monday we just were you know chasing down a final few forms. So you know I think also our use of electronic means, portals, and getting you know encouraging clients to scan. And this year electronic signatures. It really did go as smooth as it ever has.

Peter: [00:23:20] Wow that’s great.

Rich: [00:23:22] And you know in spite of the tax law change and everything else that was on people’s minds too.

Peter: [00:23:29] Oh that’s right. I Forget about that, that little change in tax code. So as busy season began to ramp up and the tension began to get a little bit more heavier in the office–.

Rich: [00:23:41] What tension?.

Peter: [00:23:44] I think he just had to my question because I still hear stories and I remember as we started getting into February, the tension level within the office you know would get extremely high and you know people’s nerves would be weared upon and tired and working, and ultimately something would go sideways, and sometimes something will go sideways pretty large that had a major impact. But it sounds like that never happened to your organization.

Rich: [00:24:15] People work harder. People get a little more tired you know in that time you know towards the end of March, but as far as everybody pitched in and worked together. I think I said in our post-season meeting we just had, I think our teamwork this year is best it has ever been. Whether it’s allowing our staff to get the data that they need or making sure that we were there for them, I think our teamwork was better than it ever has been.

Peter: [00:24:46] Brad anything to add to that?

Brad: [00:24:48] I mean that’s that’s it. It’s it’s everyone working in a similar manner right. I mean everyone’s planning correctly, everyone’s pulling data in, everyone’s shooting for the same goal, and you didn’t have that you know you know a couple outliers that you would in a normal organization that could you know kind of sabotage the planning, good planning, of others. So you know they keep on burning burning burning burning up to the bitter end and then you know they’re asking for the help of everybody that did plan properly. Everybody was on the same page and working cohesively.

Peter: [00:25:27] How rich put it, the what you’ve just described, in my mind when I’m thinking about a team, the best teams I think every individual in the team knows that somebody has got their back. If they make a mistake, they fall down or something, there’s someone there to pick them up, dust them off, and move them in the right direction. And I think that’s what you guys are saying, that the teamwork and the I got your back, I’m here to support you, was instrumental in this very fluid and best ever busy season at your organization, at your firm.

Rich: [00:26:03] I think it’s a great way to describe it. You know next it extends beyond just our tax teams. I mean it extends across every every facet really.

Brad: [00:26:12] I mean it fascinates me that you know we’ve hired many people from many other accounting firms. Clint Lehman and Michele Mills, they came in from other organizations and they were previously partners of those organizations, and they both during – and this is Michelle’s first tax season and Clint said this similarly in his first year – he walked around and said, “when’s it get ugly? When do people start getting crazy?” And you know I’m grabbing her out of the office to come out and join us for a happy hour. Like tension only exists if you let it. Like if you can handle it correctly, you don’t have to have tension. Sure we had similar urgent scenarios and things of that nature that that other firms would have. But if you don’t let it escalate to a a you know a a bad situation – use it as an opportunity. If it’s a client relation, you use whatever went wrong as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship. You know you know be forward, call them. You know there’s there’s plenty of ways to diffuse tension.

Peter: [00:27:28] Yes. And and transparency and honesty and all of that goes into that diffusion. But I think also the big piece is they know everyone is there to support them. Nobody’s nobody’s walking around looking at you like you want to punch that person out, or you know you just avoid people in the office because of something. But it doesn’t sound like that you know existed, or if it is, it’s very minute within your organization. Even at the most busiest time of the year when panic leads to stress and all of a sudden all the wheels are falling off. It sounds to me that when something happens, and even if somebody had made a mistake, that’s an opportunity to learn versus a punishable offense.

Brad: [00:28:17] Well yeah. The other element – and this is going to sound not as positive – but you know the right people on the bus, sometimes you have to remove folks that don’t buy into your culture and who you know can on a regular basis cause that type of environment because they’re you know they’re deteriorating what you want, what you want to grow. And ultimately you find that most people are very appreciative that you’re maintaining what they love.

Peter: [00:28:48] Yes. Yeah. It’s it’s interesting to watch organizations. There was a woman who wrote the book Stop Knocking At My Door: Drama-Free H.R. and she describes that within an organization they were having high turnover, and they spent some time working on the mission, vision, core values, and they flipped the hiring process. So it used to be you know we will post for job. Here’s an application, fill it out, interview. So on so forth. They flip the process so your first interview, first process here, is to go to our Web site, read our mission vision core values competencies, and then we’ll have a phone call. And if you can articulate how you would fit into that structure, that culture, and what it means, then you would get the application and go through the interview process. They said their attrition went down almost to nothing. They were able to retain because everybody they hired understood the culture of the organization and were able to articulate it at the very beginning, and as well as through the interview process. Now I don’t know how you guys hire whatever, but finding those people that are right fits – that’s tough to do. And if I don’t fit– I applaud you guys. If somebody doesn’t fit, hopefully you’re not waiting until after busy season or whatever for the first time maybe to say this isn’t going to work out versus doing it sooner than later.

Brad: [00:30:14] Want to talk that on Rich?

Rich: [00:30:14] I would say that you know you can always look back and say boy you know we waited way too long. So we’ve been a little nice in that regard. That’s saying it mildly. We did have two people leave during the season this year and you know simply the time it took to get that to happen became a little stressful, but ultimately it was the best thing that we could do. And I would say that you know it is– we’re getting better at recognizing those that are better fits for our culture and I think we are looking there first, regardless of background or other things. At least that we’re trying to very hard and like when you look back, the best people that we have are the ones that we brought in using that as our target first, and letting the other things take care of themselves.

Peter: [00:31:12] That’s a great approach. Someone said — I don’t remember who it was or whatever — but I can teach anybody accounting, I can teach them how to do this. But a lot of times I can’t teach them these intangible skills.

Rich: [00:31:25] Right.

Brad: [00:31:25] Can’t teach personality.

Peter: [00:31:27] No you can’t teach personality, and you can’t teach engagement to some degree, but that that fit in, let’s get the job done, let’s take care of our clients is something that sounds easy – but for some, hard to adopt and execute on a consistent basis.

Rich: [00:31:44] Yeah I mean I remember there was a hiring period that we really needed to hire some folks back in 2013, 14. And Rich made the statement then that in his in his past — and I won’t go into how many years now…

Peter: [00:32:01] Hahaha!

Brad: [00:32:01] That every time he is hired for a position, it’s been horrible. And when he’s hired the human, it’s worked. And that’s that’s you know that’s really it, that’s really true. And I mean all that meant was you know when when you hire them to fit into the organization and you like them, it’s going to work out. Or it has a better chance.

Peter: [00:32:29] I love that. Don’t hire for the position, hire for the human being – and then they all fit into that position. That’s that’s a great philosophy. And speaking of this culture and hiring and stuff, you all have rolled out earlier this year your mission, core values, and how you serve. But you also did something quite unique within an organization as a benefit to your associates: You kind of changed, from what I heard, the vacation policy. Can someone speak on that?

Rich: [00:33:03] Well we have, yeah. In fact we really been talking about it for a number of years. We have an unlimited PTO policy. It is still a work in progress. But we decided that we were going to implement it even though we hadn’t you know talked about it for 100 years. We knew it was going to be perfect and that it would all be over time, but we thought that that would be you know best for the firm. So there isn’t any more this counting you know do I have enough time, do I not have enough time? You know we still have strides to make, but we thought it was the best thing to do. We just want people to do their jobs. And we’re… especially with you know everybody grates about the millennials. It doesn’t really matter when they go home, as long as the clients are happy and as long as things are getting.

Peter: [00:33:57] So unlimited PTO, they can take vacation time, personal time, throughout the whole 12 months, or is it carved out after busy season?

Rich: [00:34:06] We are certainly flexible during the busy season, although you know somebody is not going to come in and say I’m going to take this week off during busy season, that’s not going to be approved. But this year for the first time, we said look you know, if you’re if you’re at home working and there’s not a client coming to the office you have to be with, then work at home. We have some core hours on Saturday still, we haven’t done away with those, but you know people were working from home in that case. Whatever they whatever they felt most comfortable with.

Brad: [00:34:37] Just to elaborate on that. First off, Rich spearheads the flexibility train. There’s no doubt about that. So even on Saturdays, the you know the funny part was as we as we were introducing the non-mandatory in-office Saturday, we went around the room and you know I think sometimes there’s there’s apprehension when things like this are introduced as to who’s going to poopoo it and whatever. I was wondering if I was the one that was feared to pooh pooh it. And I looked at him and I said I thought that’s how we were already doing it. And Richard looked at me like well I guess that’s good for him then. So the reality is you know there is core hours on Saturday. But even then, we… if you have some you need to go do, you do it a different time.

Peter: [00:35:35] So I think I heard you correct. Did you say that you also part of this benefit you have non-mandatory Saturdays.

Rich: [00:35:45] In effect, yes. I mean like I said this is really about for the most part making sure that our clients are taken care of and people are getting their jobs done, and so there’s a lot done as to you know what that plan looks like. Like I say. If the client… The only time they can come in and see us is on a Saturday at 11:00, then you know everybody accommodates that, that’s not an issue. But yes there are there are not mandatory saturdays.

Peter: [00:36:15] Not mandatory saturdays, unlimited PTO. If I was 35 years younger, I want to join your firm.

Rich: [00:36:23] Well actually–.

Brad: [00:36:24] This is what you talked about earlier. The having the back. So you know if that client that Rich mentioned that has to come in and meet on that Saturday, really needs to come in, that client if everything is working correctly, has already met one or two other people on their team. And if one of those other two other people were there, they take the meeting. So you know it’s kind of like the full circle effect of that teamwork process. You know it manages to scratch its back.

Peter: [00:36:59] That’s what makes you guys so unique. And like I said if I was younger and I was coming out of college and I had a chance to be with your firm, I would be blown away. I imagine you have more people knocking on your door down than not. Yeah. People talk and clients talk and it’s just it’s it’s it’s a great culture and it’s a great testament to the hard work you guys do and what you have created. And as we wrap up, I do want to ask this question because when I was out there, it’s been just a little bit over a year, when I did that course. Were you guys able to – because one of the takeaways afterwards is how are you going to hold people accountable. Because you wanted to have much more of a smooth busy season than maybe in the past, and it sounds like some of that that we talked about back in April of 2017 actually worked. How were you able to hold people accountable after the fact, after the even, and not let them get back into that rut?

Rich: [00:38:01] I think part of it is just covering the plan– that their execution plan, whatever it might be, up front, and hopefully having more discussion around what the expectations are. As well as allowing them you know the freedom or the growth opportunities to get out with those clients and be involved in taking care of those clients, and then they get excited and want to make sure that they’re accomplishing their plan and their goals or whatever.

Peter: [00:38:28] Brad, anything to add?

Brad: [00:38:28] A lot of them are starting to — and I see a lot of them — they’re starting to really buy into this teamwork approach. And so they don’t want to let their others down. So there’s a lot of them holding each other self accountable. And you’re you’re leading not managing, which is way more fun. You’re encouraging, you’re strengthening, you’re doing that stuff. You’re not standing over top of them telling them what to do. They’re holding each other accountable without you know a whole lot of oversight.

Peter: [00:39:08] Exactly. And that is the beauty of what you guys have created. And I just one last question I want to ask. I understand that you guys opened a new office. And is that the office in Frederick?

Rich: [00:39:25] Office in Frederick, yeah.

Peter: [00:39:26] And you’ve got an office in Gaithersburg.

Rich: [00:39:29] Yes.

Peter: [00:39:30] And Frederick and what else?

Brad: [00:39:32] Leesburg.

Peter: [00:39:33] Leesburg. So you have three locations, but what was the reasoning behind opening an office in Frederick?

Rich: [00:39:41] Well it’s a great market. It’s a growing market. But in reality, as we looked we looked at a couple of of firms to acquire there, you know we thought well we need to have a book of business before we go there, it became really a commuting benefit. We have a number of people that live in the Frederick area and you know for those that are familiar with the Washington D.C. area, traffic is not fun.

Peter: [00:40:09] Haha

Rich: [00:40:10] I mean literally. And the office is incredibly well done. Brad spearheaded that. It’s it’s it’s an incredible office environment, but we really opened it more as a commuting benefit when it came down to it. And the people there that go to that office are thrilled with you know the quality of life that comes around their commuting time right now.

Peter: [00:40:31] That by far blows me away. We started, we opened an office– we should maybe get a book of business or acquire a firm — but we opened this office so our folks and have to commute on a daily basis and lose maybe two or three hours of their life stuck in traffic. Or they can get to work, they can do the job. And with technology there’s no there’s no walls, there’s no borders or anything like that. And that one – when when when Jeanie told me that that’s what you guys did, that was the cherry on top of the whipped cream. That by itself is so unique and it shows how much you care about your staff, the people that you hire.

Brad: [00:41:12] There’s more to it than even that. And I encourage you to stop by the place and see it. To say that– I mean it’s well done and I can’t take all the credit by any stretch of the imagination. When we asked several times was asked you know why make it this nice? Why spend this on this? And the reality is many firms struggle with how to interact with the millennials, and we want to be… We want to be the first to the race with those guys, with the Millennials, because they’re going to be the future of the firm and they want cool space, they want flexibility. They want the stuff that we’re offering and that we that we work so hard to to offer because you know it’s not actually easy to keep this culture moving. This space was just kind of the next step in that… in that statement. The bullet point on we’re here to accept and challenge the millennial workforce, and we want them part of our team.

Peter: [00:42:16] So it’s it’s a benefit and a great marketing tool, a recruitment tool, for folks to come and work at your firm because of how cool it is. I’ve seen some pictures of the Frederick office and when I am up in the D.C. area I am going to come and visit. But yeah nobody really wants to work in a drab environment.

Rich: [00:42:38] Right.

Peter: [00:42:40] We work in a nice environment that’s got some excitement, some energy to it that… the days of think of the old hardwoods darks and all of that have kind of gone wayside. It’s much more this open atmosphere and cool setting and it is an attraction. I mean this firm will continue to grow, continue to survive. You will have folks within your firm who want to be a partner, who what they have that ownership, who want to continue this firm. And you guys are doing all the right things. Yeah you probably have a mistake here, but they’re probably not even close to the win and gains that you guys have seen over the years.

Rich: [00:43:19] Well we kind of figure if we’re not making a few mistakes then we’re not pushing the envelope far enough. So that’s kind of always been our culture as well.

Brad: [00:43:27] Rich loves that one. He’s always pushing to be willing to do that. You know that’s just it’s really just a testament to those guys, the ones that were here before me, the willingness to take a risk and the willingness to say yes instead of No. It’s just created an environment where I could thrive and others will as well, and others have and are going to continue to thrive.

Peter: [00:43:57] Well Brad and Rich, I want to thank you so very much. I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I think people are going to be fascinated by what you guys– what has been created within D&L firm. I want to thank you very much for allowing me to include you and your firm in my book. It was a great story. And allowing me to learn more about your organization, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think you got one of the most unique firms in the country. I wish you all the very best and I look forward to when our paths cross that’s not virtual but in real life.

Rich: [00:44:32] All right. Thanks very much for having us.

Brad: [00:44:34] Thanks Peter. Appreciate it buddy. Lets go have Margaritas.

Peter: [00:44:39] Hahaha. I would like to think Rich and Brad, along with Allen, Jeanie, and Dan, for opening up your firm and sharing your story with my audience. Greatly appreciate it. Thank you all. In Episode 6, my guest is Jennie Scheel, who’s a CFO of Five Nines technology group, located in Omaha, Nebraska. This episode will be available on Monday, July 9th. Thank you again for listening and beginning the process of changing your mindset and getting out of your comfort zone and develop new skill sets to become more future ready. Your call to action is to determine if your organization is future ready, and if not start now. Part of becoming Future Ready is being an improviser. So go out, improvise, and look to the future. Thank you.


Ep. 4 – Dr. John Molidor | The Science Behind Brain-Friendly Presentations

My guest today is Dr. John Molidor, a Professor of Psychiatry and Community Assistant Dean at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine as well as a past president of the National Speakers Association Board of Directors. John shares his extensive knowledge about how to prepare a presentation that takes your audience’s brain into consideration and provides a richer learning experience, or a “brain-friendly” presentation.


John came to the NSA Ohio chapter in February 2017 and delivered a presentation on this topic and it was absolutely life changing for me – this knowledge has been the biggest game changer in my professional speaking career.


John emphasizes that the job of any speaker is sharing what you know, creating a safe environment to learn, and inviting your audience into that safe environment, and we need to understand how the brain works, consumes information, and processes it to achieve those goals.

What Presenters Should Know About the Brain & Learning:


  • Your cells will eavesdrop on what you’re sending your brain. So if you’re sending your brain negative information or positive information, your cells tend to pay attention to that, which then can cause a chemical reaction resulting in a cascade of chemicals, either for good or for bad. So try to keep pessimistic thoughts out of your head!


  • Dr. Molidor says we don’t refer to people as left or right brain anymore. Brains are hemisphere. They have both right hemisphere and left hemisphere. There are also a lot of redundancies, meaning when one side is working the other side is also active. So if you’re speaking to just one side of the brain, “you’re wasting opportunities.” Talk to both hemispheres: Tell the story, show the emotion, give the data, give the numbers.


  • Contextual cueing teaches the audience to associate a symbol with an action. Everything from your header size to image choice to font color creates a contextual cue, and you should make sure those cues are consistent and conducive for learning. When you do that, the brain can focus on what the presenter is saying because you have cued it to do so


  • The brain loves stories. “The oral tradition has been part of how the brain structure, if you will, has evolved over time.” Not only that, but different parts of the story are stored in different parts of the brain. So to access that information, you’re actually going to access different parts of the brain, and in doing that, the brain actually is more activated. And when we active more of the brain, we have a higher probability of things being remembered.


  • Give your audience “commercial breaks.” If you’re putting out a lot of info, you have to give the brain a break so they can process it. We’ve also taught a generation of learners that they will receive these breaks, through the way both schools and entertainment like television are structured.


  • Brains love oxygen, so you need to get the audience moving or inhaling oxygen occasionally. Asking them to stand up and do jumping jacks may not make sense, but even just getting the audience to yell or shout forces them to inhale more oxygen.


  • The brain looks for patterns… and it looks for patterns even when they don’t really exist, so you have to be wary of that. Similar to contextual cueing, you should consider how the patterns in your presentation can help the audience actually figure out what you’re presenting to them.


Download this Episode MP3.



Click to download the full Transcript PDF.


John: [00:00:00] Cells will eavesdrop on what you’re sending your brain. So if you’re sending your brain this negative information or positive information, your cells tends to pay attention to that, which then can cause a whole chemical reaction, whole cascading then of chemicals being dumped, either for the good or for the bad, in certain instances.

Peter: [00:00:34] Welcome to change your mindset podcast, formerly known as improvs is no joke, where it’s all about believing that strong communication skills are the best way in delivering your technical accounting knowledge and growing your business. An effective way of building stronger communication skills is by embracing the principles of applied improvisation. Your host is Peter Margaritis, CPA, aka the accidental accountant, and he will interview financial professionals and business leaders to find their secret and building stronger relationships with their clients, customers, associates, and peers, all the while growing their businesses. So let’s start the show.

[00:01:19] [music]

Peter: [00:01:19] Welcome to Episode Four and my guest today is Dr. John Molidor, who is a professor and community assistant dean at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and past president of the National Speakers Association board of directors. Our conversation focuses on how you design your PowerPoint presentation so that it’s easier for your audience’s brain to process this information. John came to the NSA Ohio chapter in February 2017 and delivered his presentation, which blew me away, along with other chapter members. When I first started teaching back in 2000, I was that person who filled the PowerPoint slide with bullet points and words and with no pictures. Over eight years, I’ve been moving in this direction, just a few words on a slide with a picture. However, the information that John provided about how the brain reacts during a PowerPoint presentation – For me, it was absolutely life changing. In my upcoming book, Taking the Numb out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity, I write about this approach and the impact it will have on your audience. So without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Dr. John Molidor.

[00:02:41] [music]

Peter: [00:02:42] Welcome everybody and a very special welcome to my guest today Dr. John Molidor, and he’s a very busy guy and I greatly appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to have a conversation with me today on my podcast.

John: [00:02:54] You’re welcome. Excited to be here.

Peter: [00:02:57] And I’ll say this. I will probably say this in the intro and I’ll say this now. When you came to our chapter of NSA in February of 2017 and did the presentation about the brain and how it works with PowerPoint presentations. I mean that was the biggest game changer in my professional speaking career. And I was heading in that direction. But man you just – spot on. And that’ll be the basis of our conversation today. But can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself and your background before you get into the nuances of the conversation?

John: [00:03:34] Sure. First and foremost, one that qualifies me fairly well is I’m a professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. I’m the immediate past president of the National Speakers Association. And when I presented last year then obviously I was president of the National Speakers Association. Always been interested in the brain how it works, how people are influenced by different things in their life and how the brain processes that. So I knew during my year of service as the president of NSA, I’d be invited to go to the chapter. I thought well what would chapters and obviously its members want in terms of a presentation? So I thought about it and then decided to hit upon doing a little research and the area of neuroscience. So I looked at about 40 neuroscience principals, chose seven that I think really stood the test of time and would be applicable to speakers. There’s a bunch of other principles we could have used that have stood the test of time, but I don’t think speakers would be like I don’t know that I really care about the hippocampus. So I was like can I find principles that literally one could walk out of that session and go You know I can apply this.

Peter: [00:05:09] Oh and you did.

John: [00:05:11] And I wanted to make it simple but I didn’t want to dumb it down. I wanted to honor the science. But at the same time, the sub-agenda, if you will, was how can I also help individuals try to figure out what was going on in the minds of their audience, whether it was a one-on-one conversation, whether it was a small group or even large group presentation? And so that’s kind of how I started putting the plan together. So you saw in your experience the result of that session.

Peter: [00:05:49] I love what you just said. You put it in the mind of the audience and what they’re experiencing. And and I’ve been using that as well. It’s like when we think about do you know your audience, what does that really mean? And they go Well you know we’re profession. But we also need to understand how their brain works and consumes information and processes it because that’ll just help us and our getting our message out.

John: [00:06:16] Absolutely. One of the things that I noticed is that a lot of time presenter, speakers, or even in a conversation, one on one conversation with your partner, you can get in your own and try to figure out oh this is what I want to say. This is what I want to do, how I’m going to organize it. And not so much what’s going on in the head of the person that is going to hear or see or feel the information, and one of the things we did discover, and I think it’s it’s important, especially in the communication process, is that– so here’s here’s probably the the lay person’s way of saying it. Is that your cells will eavesdrop on what you’re sending your brain. So if you’re sending your brain sort of this negative information or positive information, your cells tend to pay attention to that, which then can cause a chemical reaction, whole cascading then of chemicals being dumped, either for the good or for the bad, in certain instances. So one of the things that we try to tell people when they’re communicating or present is, to a certain extent, get out of your head. Because if you keep sending that message, your brain and body are going to react probably in that same way.

Peter: [00:07:43] How do you get out of your heads though? I mean a lot of us we live in there all the time and sometimes we can’t get out of our own way.

John: [00:07:51] I know. It’s one of the things is like like if I know I’m about to present or I know it’s an important presentation, again whether it be my board, whether it be to a loved one, or to a chapter let’s say, one of the things I try to do is set – I’m going to call it a mantra if you will – before I speak. I will tell myself all I can really do here is share what I know. That’s so much easier for me to go I’m just going to share versus I hope they like it or not. Or are they getting it or oh you know I’m not getting the reaction that I wanted or oh what’s going on – and so then if I’m in my head, I can mess I can mess it up. My job is just to share. So when you and I are talking, again, my mantra will be you know can I just share with Peter? That’s all I can do is share. And I’m not perfect, I’m going to mess up, I’m going to make mistakes, but in the end it’s like am I sharing it and am I doing it in a way that’s real? You know I’m not judging myself as I do it.

Peter: [00:09:06] Wow that’s great advice because I’ve had speakers come up to me because I know a lot of my audiences are financial professionals, CPAs and accountants, and their body language during their presentation is very much introverted. There’s not a whole lot of of of… it’s just kind of there and they get inside their head think oh my god I’m dying. I’m bombing. This is– And then after they’re done, everybody comes up and sharing with them how great they were. And so to the point the speaker’s in their head versus I’m here to share. And they’ll react as they do.

John: [00:09:45] Absolutely and so we know then from the research that’s out there and the extroverts and introverts that the extroverts give much more of… whether it be the body language, the gesture Jermichael or whatever. And so if you judge it on an external basis, you’re going to go in one direction, whereas if your audience or the individual you’re talking to is a little bit more introverted, keeping the energy a little bit closer, you can’t then compare the two and then draw different conclusions. Like you just said oh they’re not liking it or they’re not getting it. Not at all. What it really is is how they will manifest the expression. And that’s why I think it’s great advice not to judge your audiences by what you’re getting, versus again reminding yourself you’re just you’re there to share. Now you need to create a safe environment, with the mantra I do I try to create a safe environment, and then I invite people into that environment. And if someone doesn’t want to be invited in, that’s okay and I don’t have to sit there and get down on myself for judge myself wow they hate it or you know they seem to be resistant. Well I don’t know. All kinds of stuff going on in their life and so why should I expend energy figuring out where my job is to share and to create that safe environment?

Peter: [00:11:14] It’s amazing how much we will focus on the one person that we don’t think like us and forget about the 50 others who do. Yes that’s always been kind of backwards but you know I guess people want to be perfect, we want everybody to like us. But you don’t know if you’re going through a divorce, they had a bad day, they had a flat tire coming into work. You just don’t know.

John: [00:11:39] Exactly. So one of the things too is that you know when we talk about our audiences, you’ll hear a term that’s out there that from a neuroscience perspective we don’t use anymore. So let’s take the accountants let’s say or engineers. They typically are tagged in this way. We say oh they’re a left-brained audience.

Peter: [00:12:00] Hahaha

John: [00:12:01] Or health care providers or social workers, oh they’re right brain. Like you know it’s like you know left brain is analytical, numbers and well right brain is like oh heart and emotion. No. So one thing we would say to presenters or speakers is you know we don’t refer to people anymore as left or right brain. We refer to people being as hemisphere. So that’s. As you might recall that was the first principle that we talked about because that sets the baseline for the brain is that brains are hemisphere. They have both right hemisphere and left hemisphere. They have both. And then there’s also redundancy. So although if I gave you a number problem or an accounting problem or something that requires a lot of detail work, yes your left hemisphere with light up if we did a functional MRI. So would a part of your right hemisphere. So it’s amazing the redundancy that’s built into the brain and we think oh I can I should only talk to the left hemisphere or only talk to the right hemisphere. We would say you’re wasting real estate, you’re wasting opportunities. Talk to both hemispheres. Tell the story. Show the emotion. Give the data. Give the numbers. Both of them the brain processes, and it actually would like to have both. So maybe it means more toward one or the other, but doing both actually is a smart move in terms of presenting and communicating.

Peter: [00:13:44] Yeah I watch a lot of TED talks and a lot of that delivery of the story whatever talking about whatever which connects with the right hemisphere, But they have to follow it up with the data because it has to match. And there’s a lot of great storytellers out there that are frauds. Elizabeth Holmes who started that company Theranos, and it’s just a fraud and then you get the whole Enron and all of this. I could keep saying it but the data and the emotion have to line up. If not, don’t get caught up in that emotion.

John: [00:14:21] Exactly the brain actually has sort of a mechanism that it detects that when there is there is a incongruity or a disconnect, and then it doesn’t feel right. And another thing we mentioned was that given your audiences today, since either clipped to their belts or in their pocket, they bring out their phone and their smartphone and they can fact check you on the spot.

Peter: [00:14:49] Yeah.

John: [00:14:51] So if you’re saying something that doesn’t quite feel right. Lot of people nowadays will sort of surreptitiously you know take the phone out, stick it underneath the table. You know what we call smartphone prayer. So you know the phone comes out, hand comes together, the head bows, and the thumbs are clicking away you know and it’s like they’re checking you out. And the moment they get information and they go you know this isn’t right. I think you’re kind of toast as a as a presenter because it’s like wow if he didn’t tell me or she didn’t tell me the truth on that, what about the other stuff? So again. I love your idea that congruity, or the consistency between the story and the data. They go hand in hand. That I think not only makes you strong as a presenter, but it becomes very brain friendly.

Peter: [00:15:48] And we want our we want our audiences brains to not work as hard so they can grab this information, process it, and then as as John Medina in his book Brain will says… Post-it notes so we remember that and can and can work immediately.

John: [00:16:07] Exactly and one of the principles where we talk about is this and contextual cueing. So the brain wants to know, it’s looking for this consistency, and so as a presenter we would talk about not only if you’re doing in your slide deck but maybe how you position yourself on stage or your floor or whatever you have platform wise. It wants this consistency, and where a lot of times I see speakers or presenters, they go you know I’m getting bored with it. I think I’ll change it up for me to make it look different. Well from your audience perspective, you’ve just sort of messed them up. They’re kind of going Well why did he do this and why is he changing the font or the size or why– Why is he telling the story now from over here when he should be on this side and tell the story. So the brain likes that consistency and looks for it. So one of the pieces of advice that we would give presenters is think about this contextual cueing because you’re sort of teaching the audience hey when you see this symbol, this is going to happen, or my font is going to stay the same font and the headers are going to be the same font size. You know right down to I’m going to shadow the text in a certain way. All those, the brain goes hey this is pretty cool. And now I can listen to and focus on what the presenter is saying because now you have cued them ‘when you see this, you’re going to get that.’ Soon as they see it, the brain goes ok give it to me. They’re receptive to it versus eliminate the distractors.

Peter: [00:18:00] So you know with confessional cueing here, I have in my notes from your session you say the eyes follow the F pattern.

John: [00:18:09] Yes a big capital F, so again in terms of the F pattern. Probably because remember the right hemisphere is going to be kind of more of the visual, and so the eyes cross in the back to the brain. So when we do these eye tracking studies, what we found is that the eye tends to look first on the left because up and down, and then it starts moving over to the right. So even if I shift a little bit – so it’s going to then look up and down and then it’s going to look over here. So this is where we put text into that space because the eye will go this way and then that way. I see a lot of people now again for our purposes, we’re a little bit more centered although I always try to be a little bit off center. I mean a little bit to my left. OK. And that’s why then in terms of then what’s here, there’s nothing hopefully distracting to us and then what will happen is the eye will then follow that person. The other thing that it does is it looks to read stuff. So I can see behind you the influence.

Peter: [00:19:34] Yes.

John: [00:19:34] Because that’s set up. And so the eye is also always scanning then to say is there any information I need to pay attention to. And so whenever you present, you want to make sure you know what’s behind you. And that it’s not going to distract the reader. But this F pattern, eye goes up and down on the left then it goes over to the top then in the middle. So I’m always trying to have them raised by text a little bit higher and try not to be in the lower part of the slide. The other thing that’s good is when you project, you usually have to look over somebody’s head. It’s already up there. Again it’s what we would call is it’s kind of brain friendly. Will it make a huge difference when we looked at the amount of time it take to read? Not really, but the brain quickly picks up on are you making me work or are you making it easy. The capital F pattern is pretty cool.

Peter: [00:20:36] And just so you know my audience knows, you live this because when you came to present, on your Mac, your deck, which most people have at the bottom of the app, you had your deck on the on the left side of your computer.

John: [00:20:54] Correct.

Peter: [00:20:54] And I think I asked you the question is that because of the F pattern as you explained it and you said yeah that’s exactly why.

John: [00:21:01] Exactly. So again trying to kinda role model or be consistent. You know it’s kind of like if I was teaching you something, and again that inconsistency we talked about.

Peter: [00:21:10] Right.

John: [00:21:11] If I’m teaching and then– if I’m facing the audience, I’m going to put the projector and screen to my right when I can. And so that’s again it’s going to be crossing over. My right accessing your right hemisphere as an audience. I’m forcing the eye to look over that way. So there’s little things that you can do in terms of the setup that we would say are more brain friendly.

Peter: [00:21:47] Right I’ve always been told that I should always stand on the left side of the screen because that’s where people start. That’s how we read. We start with a left to right. And I remember I was at one conference and I couldn’t. And I had to stand on the right and internally I was so uncomfortable that I had this weird feel like I’m getting them all confused or something here.

John: [00:22:13] The brain will adjust though. So even within that you can be on the right, but you move a little bit to the left and then a little bit to the right. I had a presenter talk about they said well you know I teach yoga and all I do is my staging. I just have them bring out a table and I sit on the table in the middle. So how can I do this stuff? It’s like well gesture with your left hand for data or facts or numbers, gesture with your right hand for maybe the story or the emotion. And so you can move people from that spot because as you know, we often get whatever they have in terms of how they designed or set up the room.

Peter: [00:22:58] Right. Right. Right. And and in doing this because we’re talking about emotion and stuff, and so people ask me how do I put a story– How do I make my data come alive? Because it’s just data. And I’ve always said Well there has to be something that’s causing that data to react. Why that number’s being placed. So it’s getting behind that data. Trying to find out what’s that human factor there that caused that data. There’s your story, there’s your emotion.

John: [00:23:31] You could repeat what– you know again you probably want to find the research and what was the research question that they asked. And so so one way to do this and you might go all right I’m going to go read the original research. What was their hypothesis. What was their thinking. Did they believe that it was going to be this trend or that trend, and then it’s like so here’s what they did. And so they gathered this and then then they came up and then you’re just telling a story in some ways what they did. Now if you had a client or someone that took that information and implemented it. Then that’s another story. So I did this, presented this, that person took it, you know they increased their sales by 30 percent or 33 percent. And then they took this here and then they actually modified it even more. Now it’s kind of the story and people– we think you know one of the principles that we talk about is that we would say the brain loves stories, and it’s probably because we grew up with the oral tradition. That’s how your history, your mores, your behavior. That’s how people communicated because it was a little bit easier for people to remember in a story than it would be that 42 percent of teenagers you know da da da da. You know it’s like really, you know versus you tell the story of the young boy trying to become a man and what the trials and tribulations and the success and the wisdom then that they brought to the community. So probably we have a propensity. I wouldn’t say that we’re hard wired for. But it’s been part of how the brain structure, if you will, has evolved over time is the power of story. The other thing too on the story is that the brain actually places then the parts of the story in different parts of the brain. It’s not you have to go access one piece, you’re actually going to access other parts of the brain. And in doing that, the brain actually is more activated. And when you do that, we probably have a higher probability of things being remembered.

Peter: [00:26:04] I agree. I agree wholeheartedly. I think the challenge is when you say the word story, it has a different connotation in people’s mind. Like you know once upon a time or that versus– you know you’re just narrating what happened, you’re just– you are humanizing the event.

John: [00:26:27] Yes. And again one of the stories I told you guys was the you know the first x ray, and I called it a love story. And people are like What is this? Well it’s the first known X-ray, you know William Renton did it and you know and he asked his wife. So it actually, the X-ray shows a ring and the x ray, well it was his wife’s hand and as you may recall the X stood for unknown. He didn’t even know what it was.

Peter: [00:26:57] Oh that’s right.

John: [00:26:59] That X was there that mathematical unknown and he didn’t even know so he called it x ray. And the love story part was hunny, would you be willing to stick your head into this machine? I don’t know what it does. No idea, in fact I’m going to call it an X-ray. But would you be willing to stick your hand in there for me? And she did. And that sort of started the foundation of all the stuff we’re doing now when we can do the MRI, the functional MRIs, the PET scans, all this information to look into the brain.

Peter: [00:27:36] Yeah that is true love to say I’ll put my hand in this unknown thin that I might take my whole hand off or electrocute me or whatever, and I do. I do remember that story about the X-ray. And talking about story, you also, you talk about giving your audience a commercial break.

John: [00:27:59] Yes. So the brain — Everybody’s searching for kind of the optimal time to learn. And to a certain extent we probably have programmed that into people because, depending on the school curriculum we went through with 50 minutes and then you have 10 minutes to get to your next class of 55 and 5. So there’s all kinds of different timetables. Is it an hour and a half. So we’re still learning what that maximum time was. But what we do know is that the brain craves the oxygen, it craves stimulation, and if it’s not getting it, the brain actually starts to a resting spot, if you will. But let’s say I’m putting out a lot of info, well then you have to give the brain a break so they can process it. So one of the things we do know in terms of learning, if we want to or if you want to increase your learning, is if you learn something, you take a short nap. The brain then actually, in rest, it processes the information and then you go back to do it. Most of us know, especially from university years, it’s like oh test, let’s do the all nighter, let’s just cram, pound. Actually we would have been much better off studying a little bit, take a nap, study a little bit more, take another nap. And short naps. But it allows the brain to process that information. So in a presentation, what I try to do, and again is pry more a function of what’s happening on TV, I’ll say commercial TV, is every eight to 12 minutes, there’s a commercial. So this is a break if you will. So you go to the bathroom, you get something to drink, you can have a snack, you can rest your eyes, you can zone out, and then the program comes back on and now you have to attend to that information. So partly the brain mechanism, also partly because that’s how we’ve trained a generation of learners, us included. Might as well just building in your presentation. So what I did for this one is remember I put something up there and you had to scream out if it was a fact – And again we will be will be PC here – or not a fact.

Peter: [00:30:42] So I’ll let the audience know, it’s fact or crap. I mean just that– just saying crap it also wakes people up.

John: [00:30:55] It woke them up. The other thing is you might remember is that each info item that I had was on the brain it was related to the brain. So they were still learning, although know there is no pressure then to get the information was just like a statement and then a title, you know fact or crap. Then they yell it out. And if he got it right then you pride your brain privately released a bunch of endorphins going I’m so smart, I’m so good. You know and then if you didn’t you were like crap you know. And so you– it’s a way to kind of weave into a presentation because most of us like okay you have a two hour presentation. We’re going to give them your two hours but I would suggest break it into modules and then have these little breaks that allow the brain to rest to process the information because as soon as that segment was done, I went to a new principal. Again, contextual cueing, You knew that once I was done with that break, we were back into it.

Peter: [00:32:05] So showing a video related to the subject. Would that be considered a break?

John: [00:32:13] Absolutely so great story. Even something like… here’s here’s a headline that I read in the past week that deals with — and again depending on your audience, so a financial audience — here’s here’s a bonehead mistake that you know blah blah blah made. Again it’s just it’s putting it out there, it just allows the brain to go Oh OK. I don’t have the process that he’s just give me some information. Refreshes the brain. By shouting out again the other principle was brains love oxygen. So again if you’re going to shout it out, you have to then by nature then inhale more. You just going oxygenating the brain which is always a good thing.

Peter: [00:33:00] Yes it’s always a good thing. And you also talk about– well I when I first started this business years ago when I was present and I had one of the one of my colleagues at The Ohio society of CPAs, one of the members who did a lot of presentations, said that his wife suggested that he put pictures on his slide and he goes why? Why do I want to put pictures in my slides? And because they help. In remembering, it’s this nice visual aid that I could see versus all this text. And I think that’s always a challenge. I think a lot of people who speak at conferences and stuff will still see a whole lot of data, very little pictures. Can you speak to that?

John: [00:33:52] You know so because remember the hemisphere is that because the visual the visual cortex in the back your brain is a huge huge amount of real estate. So if you’re only just throwing letters at it, again the eye is going to get fatigued. Your brain’s going to get fatigue. Versus if there is an image. Now you have to make sure the image matches the text. So it’s like if I’m talking about the brain I put up a tractor truck. The brain’s going to be like what. You know you took a picture of your kids there your granddaughter’s you know trucks. So you want to make them congruent because then again and remember you’re hitting both hemispheres. Also you’re hitting both visual you’re hitting the whole visual cortex and it’s activating the brain. So that’s what you’re trying to do. So the strong image- Do you need an image on every single slide? No, but to a certain extent it helps. And so let’s say you had four segments that you wanted to cover in your presentation. I would pick one picture or image and introduce you know segment 1. Same picture and then I’d say segment two. So the brain starts going oh whenever you’re showing this, I know I’m going into a new segment. So I love visuals. My thought is make the visual fit with the words. That’d be first. Then another cool thing you can do is you can sample a color that’s in the visual and make the text that same color. So let’s say there’s a dark brown or a rich black, although black is easy because black is usually the default for text but maybe a red or something. I could sample that color. And then I make the text the same color. Now I’m looking at the image I get it and the text the same color, and brains going Oh. That’s pretty cool. He kept it the same, or he kept it similar or I can pull the color through from the image. So that’s another little technique that you can do.

Peter: [00:36:19] That’s cool. I forgot about that one. And as you were describing the images and stuff the thought came into my mind is putting an Excel spreadsheet up on the screen that is not an image. That’s not a picture.

John: [00:36:31] Yeah. So again you can play with some of the charts. You know you might say right here here’s here’s here’s the standard way but it can be converted easily with most of the software, whether it be PowerPoint or keynote or Prezi, you basically then here’s what it would look like in a in a pie chart or here’s what it looked like– And then you actually can animate sections of it. So it’s like we’re going to we’re going to look at this column and then you you actually pulls the column out. You make that massive. And then you could bring in an image if you want it. So usually people just slap everything up there, from my experience. They put everything up there and then they go as you can see from this chart. No they can’t. So you have to direct the eye. Let’s go to column mark this, and as you move down the column you’ll see the numbers trending and then you can bring in another slide or a graphic showing the trend lines. So there’s a lot of things in PowerPoint and keynote that most of us don’t know exist. And it’s actually it’s it’s pretty powerful stuff, and you can make them three dimensional, you can convert them, you can show them in different ways. So I would again my suggestion is keep diving in there and just play with it. That’s how I typically have learned some of these things or go to youtube and find a tutorial. They’ll teach y9ou pretty much anything you want in the universe.

Peter: [00:38:10] Yeah that’s what I tend to do a lot as I go to youtube and watch a video versus going to Apple and trying to read the text and try to convert that text and apply it because usually I get something wrong in doing that. I mean you mentioned colors. Now I’m partially colorblind. Greens and browns and I don’t see very well but color is important and the text color is important, the background color’s important. It has a big impact in a presentation. But most of us don’t think about the color or the color we’re using.

John: [00:38:49] Exactly. So a lot of times you have to be careful because in the different programs there is a default setting. So I use keynote. I did PowerPoint for a number of years. I use keynote now. So what I’m starting to do is create just a blank canvas and I think of designing each slide deck or each slide in a certain way in my slide deck. You can do the templates so that you can have the standard fonts and set that up. But one of the things that we would say – because there is a high degree of colorblindness – the white background or a little bit of off white is probably better. I keep my slide decks and I go back and I look at some. A long time ago I decided that since everybody else was doing a white background I was going to do lack backgrounds and then maybe orange letters. Outside of make it look like a Halloween year round. I look and I go What was I thinking? I wasn’t. I was thinking of myself versus the audience so we say because of the high degree of color blindness, a white or white background, minimum text. If I’m going to use color, I’m going to go to a darker color. So even though you might have a high degree of color blindness for the brown, I could go to a chocolate brown or even a green. I will I will lean more to making it a darker against the white. You may recall. I’m I’m pretty strong on that you do a slight shadow to pop the text from its background because of the pop the text. It just gives a little bit more of that three dimensional quality. The brain that versus if it sits and its flat. And that’s the other message you’re sending. This is flat. I want it to pop. Now can you do that on Excel? Yeah you got to dig into it. I probably wouldn’t because there’s too many numbers. I don’t overshadow. I’ve had people tell me I’ve done it for illustration purposes. So for some people it gives them a headache. Again if you don’t have a strong bulb in the projector, if it starts the flicker.

Peter: [00:41:36] Yeah.

John: [00:41:37] People start going I can’t look at this anymore. So it’s just a slight shadow, offset it. Unify that image, I bring the color through, it matches it up nicely, and then as you also recall, as few words as possible on the text. We’ve seen that experiment. I am pretty sure I did it with you guys where I show a passage. As the first letter and the last letter of the word are correct, the brain will decode it even though it’s spelled wrong. First letter last letter are correct. So if I said please and I spelled it P E L A S E. The brain actually when it says it will go it’s Please. So the brain doesn’t look at every single letter, it looks and tries to grab the word. It’s not quite. It decodes then encodes it and then you go oh it’s please. So I’m experimenting now. Well first of all I don’t use the word the, a, and. I don’t put the any of those in there because the brain you actually put those the in and I have fewer words. I’m now experimenting taking verbs out to see if people will put the action verb in on the slide. So if I have results show that I may get results are– I would get results and then I give the results because the audience goes I know these results are shown and blah blah blah.

Peter: [00:43:31] Ohh. I got it in my notes about that but I forgot — Why are you taking verbs out? Why would you take them?

John: [00:43:41] So what that’s the newest one since we last talked, and playing with it to see will the audience still get it. And again if the verb’s implied, here’s the other cool thing: I’m taking the audience member and I’m actually pulling them toward me because now they are an active participant in what’s going on. Again I’m experimenting.

Peter: [00:44:08] I love that. I’m going to start applying that because the one thing I did take, one of the things I took away from your presentation is now– because I remember when I was helping you set up I went this is like a two and a half hour presentation, he’s got to have over 300 slides. You know what the heck? But one idea, few words as possible, and an image to relate so you can talk about it. And I was moving in that direction. You just helped me get there a lot quicker with that.

John: [00:44:44] For a lot of people, especially presenters, what’s nice… I think many of us go through this progression as presenters, especially as professional speakers, like oh what am I going to say? I have this chunk of time what am I going to say? And I better put it on the side because then I’ll remember what to say and it’s. And then we do the proverbial death by bullet point you know. I’m going to put everything up here or I know or I’m going to have these massive notes section underneath the slide to help me remember. Well choose the right image. Couple key words. Your brain will fill it in and then you just talk to it and then I think you’re much more present than with the audience. If you need to sort of move in this direction with the audience you can, versus I’ve seen people get all messed up because they have all these words up there or they have all these notes and then they don’t mention part of it and then they like oh you know I forgot to tell you this. Well the audience didn’t know you forgot to tell them this.

Peter: [00:45:50] Right.

John: [00:45:50] And then you planted a new seed. What else did you forget to tell us?

Peter: [00:45:56] Yeah yeah. I had someone ask me should I use note cards during my presentation? Well are you using PowerPoint? And they went yes. I said that’s your note card. It’s just up on the screen and you just make it appealing to the audience’s eyes and do all the right things and you just like you said just talk. Have a conversation with the audience. Don’t lecture.

John: [00:46:22] Yeah I like that about the conversation. Circling back. That’s why I’m trying to play around with this leave a verb out to see if the conversation then is actually going to be in their head. But I’m drawing them to me because it’s like oh – because I may say the word, it is just not on my slide and their brain might go yep that’s the word I would use. It’s kind of a strange way of… you get this congruity and you go I’m connected now. Oh I knew that. And people like that when they when their brain oh yeah I got that.

Peter: [00:47:06] And I’m glad you said that last part that you may not have the verb on the on the screen, on your slide, but you use it.

John: [00:47:16] Yeah probably should have been should’ve been clear. I don’t I don’t give a presentation where I don’t use any verbs any more. That’s a good catch. Yeah.

Peter: [00:47:31] And knowing my audience, they would they would go wait wait wait why don’t you have any verbs? Are you against verbs? Did they assault you, insult you? What’s going on why don’t you like verbs? And you also this sixth principle that you talk about it’s your brain loves oxygen and you’ve talked about this a number of times. But why is that, in essence, its own principle.

John: [00:48:06] So it’s its own principle because when we look at the structure of the brain if you will. We also know that a brain– if it does not have oxygen for five minutes, it causes brain damage. And so what you want to do is keep the brain as oxygenated as possible because basically then it’s bringing in– well basically it’s bringing oxygen to the brain and the brain needs that oxygen. If you starve the brain of oxygen, you have brain damage. So again everything starts to acclimate, the body tends to go at rest. Attention tends to drop down. When you then oxygenate it, all of a sudden there’s going to be you’re getting the richness of the oxygen flooding to the brain. Everything you know functions better in terms of having the rich oxygen. Now I would say this for myself – I’m not a big fan of everybody stand up. Now and again maybe your accounting audiences is like hey everybody let’s let’s face to the right let’s let’s massage the person. Now if there is a way for you unobtrusively to weave that in, depending on your audiences. Now again it’s a very expressive audience, they probably no– So if I’m doing something with individuals that do cross training or do weight training nor do this, I can probably get them up and have them do squats. I can have them– all you’re really trying to do is bring blood to the brain, and since it’s sitting in the chairs and the blood is pooling in your rear end, you want circulate that. But but I try to do it because it fits with my style different ways to bring in oxygen. Fact or crap or commercial break, having them yell something out. That’s one way. Laughter is another way because when you laugh, you tend to have to inhale and gulp if you will. So anything that would do that unobtrusively is one way and depending on your audience you can be totally obtrusive, you can just say everybody up you know stretch, do the jumping jacks, that would work. I– If I’m talking about the brain, that’s just I figure out another way. But that’s me. That’s my style and I want to be congruent with me because if all of a sudden I’m doing some exercise or I’m doing something that doesn’t feel congruent, I think the audiences pick up.

Peter: [00:51:12] Oh yeah big time. When I used to teach at the college level, and if I’m doing an all day workshop, there’s times I can tell that you know this is a scheduled break, but it needs to happen sooner. And I always tell them to take a break because my teaching philosophy has always been the mind can only absorb as much as the butt can endure.

John: [00:51:32] Exactly. And so the other little trick that you can do is you can embed into your slide – So again let’s say you have a slide deck, let’s round it say a slide deck of 100 slides. And you think at slide 25, 50, and 75. Those are going to be little breaks. You can actually embed, and it’s hidden away, although you put it in a certain place say the lower right hand corner for example. So it would be invisible to the audience. But you know in the lower right hand corner of your slide– so let’s say you get to Slide 20 and you go you know, they need a break. You can actually take your cursor you move it over to that spot in the lower right. You click on it and then immediately a slide will pop up. It takes you then to another part that says it’s time for a break, or it’s break time, and it immediately shows up and shows like you planned this perfectly. It’s it’s actually pretty cool. Another version of that is let’s say you are citing a fair amount of data. And you have given it in the past people are like well where is that study? You actually can embed that too and say that lower left, you take the cursor over and again, it looks like you’re just moving the cursor over to a blank part of your slide. But actually since it’s invisible to the eye, you click in that area and it immediately shows who the researchers are in the publication of it. So it may never be asked, but you will look so cool.

Peter: [00:53:15] I’m going to have to try that, especially when it’s time for a break in just by chance– being able to read the audience and go man they need a break. And I’m actually– I did this once in a class, it was not an auditing class and I called it an hour early. I said we’re done. I said I’m boring myself I know what I’m doing to you guys.

John: [00:53:42] Yeah. So what I did it I created an avatar that then– so the avatar comes up and it’s like a mad professor, you know the hair… and then I wrote the script which is very simple you just type in the script give it a voice. And so basically it goes Dr. Molidor, don’t you think these poor souls need a break? And so of course everybody’s riveted because it’s this animated. You know Avatar saying like give these people a break right now. Then All right everybody let’s take a break. It’s it’s kind of cool.

Peter: [00:54:24] Ok so how did you do that? Is that something you can do in keynote or is that another program that you had to use?

John: [00:54:31] Yeah. So that’d be a software. So again I’m not– I don’t get anything for this. There’s no endorsement that I use, and it’s called crazy talk.

Peter: [00:54:40] Crazy talk.

John: [00:54:41] Crazy talk, and it’s very simple I think you get like 12 avatars and you type in this script and then the avatar and the mouth the eyes everything moves. You can give it an accent, not accent. Speed it up, slow it down so you can play with it. I would say within 15 minutes you’re up and doing the stuff.

Peter: [00:55:03] Wow. I’m going to have to– actually I think the iPhone 10 is able to do that because a friend of mine for my birthday sent me a picture of their dog and the dog was talking.

John: [00:55:15] Exactly. So exactly. So all they’re doing is taking that, and then depending on the– There’s different types of software and then you draw lines say around the mouth and then the mouth moves to the words that you’ve typed or that speaks. Just kind of Google that, you know simple inexpensive avatars that you can use.

Peter: [00:55:41] Oh that’s fun. I’m going to go get crazy talk and have some fun this afternoon.

John: [00:55:47] Yeah yeah.

Peter: [00:55:49] So as as we begin to wrap up, I want to hit this last principle. But before that, I remember you asked this question to all of us because we were talking about you know patterns and habits and whatever you said how many days use it take to start a habit? And the answer out there that I hear all the time is 21 days. And you you immediately pooh poohed that and said no if you look at the research, it’s actually 66 days.

John: [00:56:28] 66 days out of research in the U.K. where they studied individuals to see how long it take to form a habit. Again, even that research I think it range and I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head but I think it’s like 18 to 250 days. I mean it’s incredibly variable, so then I thought how did this 21 days come to be? Why is it out there? Why is it so prevalent? So what I think I was able to find, again there could be a source further back, but the one I saw was Maxwell Moulson, psycho cyber genetics, talked about– he was a surgeon that was working with veterans who had lost a limb in war and he noticed on average it took about 21 days for them not to have what they would call phantom limb movement.

Peter: [00:57:30] Oh okay

John: [00:57:30] Well in some ways when you think about it was 21 days to lose a habit not get a habit, but somehow the 21 days got into literature and then everybody started saying it. The other thing is that it’s much sexier or has a greater cachet to say hey I can change your life if you’re willing to give me twenty one days. Versus Peter I can change your life if you’re willing to give me 66 days. Now that would be two months and five days or whatever. Are it’s like two months. Holy crap I don’t think so. But 21 days? So that caught on, then as you know it sort of morphed into 28 days, which I’ve been able to find I think it’s because that’s typically how much insurance companies will pay for rehabilitation. I think once it hit 28 they say well let’s round it to 30, well for 30 might as well say it takes a month. So 21 to 30… can’t find anything out there. And then here’s the other one. I think it pays to be very skeptical, especially in this era where people put stuff out there that are opinion but often presented as facts. And I think we have to be very skeptical. We know that we can form a drug habit on certain drugs, after one attempt we can addict somebody.

Peter: [00:59:10] Wow

John: [00:59:10] 21 days to get somebody addicted? No. Some it will but we know others it’d be one. And yet– so when I hear stuff like that, my brain starts to go how could I disprove? So here’s the other thing I strongly suggest to people – if you put in 21 days habit because that’s the key words of that statement. And then you put myth after it. Or you put false. And then you actually get all the stuff that says it’s a myth and then you read their research and make sure it’s good research. But if you just put it in it takes 21 days to form a habit. You know you get thousands if not millions of hits.

Peter: [00:59:57] Yeah.

John: [00:59:57] Confirming that and then what we do is we do crazy things. We perpetuate. Oh I heard Peter say this and I respect Peter and he does his homework. So I’m going to say it. And after a while I no longer give you attribution and I start saying it and then it gets out there then I get quoted and probably not a good thing.

Peter: [01:00:20] Exactly. But I have this in my notes right next to this principle number seven. The brain looks for patterns. And the whole thing with the habits the brain is looking for that pattern in order to create that. So that explains why my golf swing is terrible because I haven’t done the pattern of doing it correctly and consistently.

John: [01:00:45] Right. And so the other thing. And here’s the thing. So the brain is always seeking to understand, it always wants to figure stuff out. So when we are given images where there’s like total chaos, there’s no pattern, the brain actually will try to impose a pattern even when there is no pattern. You have to be careful about that because– so the example I gave you guys was I took two random events that had no connection whatsoever. There was a video and there is an audio. The video had like a sine wave going on. I did an audio which I just created in garageband. There was nothing to do with the video. And when I play both of them, the brain started to impose a pattern, it started to look for a pattern going Well of course the symbol here. That’s why that sound wave on that video went up. And so the brain actually started to make up stuff to try to figure out what was going on. And as you may recall, I also said the one segment in the audience that was probably getting disturbed were the musicians because the musicians intuitively knew through habit, patterns, whatever. No cymbals wouldn’t make that big spike. You know it should be just a little sound over here. But for most of us we impose the pattern even though there’s no pattern there. So the summary that I try to put together is then to say what are the patterns in your presentation that would then help the audience to actually figure it out? So as you may recall, whenever I gave a principal, it was the same slide. Now it said with the new principle was but to say identical slide for all of the patterns. There’s a group of people holding a sign.

Peter: [01:02:50] Okay. Right. Right.

John: [01:02:52] The fact or crap was sort of the pattern. You knew as soon fact or crap came up it was like hey I’m turning my brain off. I don’t have to pay attention. And I had brain facts and I told you if you saw this person or it was a male or this person a female, you’re going to get a brain fact. And so that was a way to start laying out patterns because we know the brain is always looking for them, and similar to that contextual cueing. But it’s also taking it– So I’m trying to figure out other ways where maybe I can weave in music or weave in graphics. So a hot one out there called Cinema graphs, and a cinemagraph is like a still picture but one part of it is actually moving. So let’s say you have a person sitting at a desk and it’s a still photograph, but the fan is moving. It’s looking at and going oh this is nice still. And then the fan moves. You’re like whoa. So what’s it doing? It’s activating the brain. So now it starts to look for patterns, so that’s going to be my new area that I’m going to be trying to figure out. You know how do we weave that in.

Peter: [01:04:14] Yeah that’s that’s– so a pattern. And I think you talked about this with the contextual, is you want your fonts the same, placement the same. You don’t want to use the new times on three slides then go to a comic sans over here and shifting and, and even the way you setup your your slide, that consistency should always be there throughout.

John: [01:04:42] Right. And the only time I break it is when I want to make a point because then it’s like it’s purposeful, rather than I’m getting bored. I think I’ll change it up versus no I’m going to change this up because this is the most important weight of five points or something. I really need them to know that one because the other ones get trumped or get messed up if you put in this– and I might I might flip it for the contrast effect. But I’m trying to be much more purposeful, rather than Oh that looks nice.

Peter: [01:05:22] Yeah I always say you want your slides appealing to the eyes of your audience, but with purpose.

John: [01:05:31] Exactly. Exactly. And the pattern I’m playing with video and music and imposing two to see again for those out there – garageband is part of the keynote suite if you will. I’m not musically inclined… mathematically inclined. So what I do is I’ll lay down tracks that have the same beat, the same tempo, and then I experiment by bringing in different instruments, and then the beauty of that is since I created it, I own the rights to it. I don’t have to pay any royalties to anybody. Don’t have to worry about hey don’t use that song. It’s like it’s new music that I created for my purposes, since it didn’t need to be great music and that worked out well. But that’s the sort of stuff that I think as professionals we need to be tuned into. And again if I’m creating that, it’s mine.

Peter: [01:06:42] Right. And through this whole conversation it keeps coming back to me: it’s not about you, it’s about the audience. And when someone when someone says I don’t have time to do that, I say it’s not about you because you used the word I. And I think a lot of times we forget as presenters, from an audience, of being in a seat and having that one whoever speaking boring us to death and overkill with the slide. But because it’s about me. I don’t think about the audience. I don’t put myself in their shoes. And all the stuff that you’ve talked about is absolutely– Like I said I’m glad we’re talking because I forgot about some of the stuff that I can go back and implement. But it does make a difference to those who are sitting in your audience.

John: [01:07:42] Absolutely. And I think the progression of most of us in the profession is that sense it is hard to be standing in front of an audience or in front of a group, because in essence you’re saying I’m vulnerable, I’m open. You start to understand why people like to stand behind the podium. It’s like there is there is now something that’s protecting you, and then to be out there in front is to be vulnerable. So I think when we start, we are in our head. I know what I want to do this or I need to do this. And again you asked me you know how do I sort of get out of my head that goes back to the mantra to say all right. It is in my head – my job is to create a safe environment, invite people in, and then share what I know. That’s all I can do. I can’t be responsible for someone else’s mood. I can’t be responsible for someone else’s learning. But I have to be responsible for setting it up in the easiest, brain-friendly way to get feedback. So again, how do we ask for feedback? When I ask people, and I do this and people do that know me well know I do this all over in every area, is I asked people what worked well for you know, what would have worked better for you in the future. And so again I’m moving them– And to hear the feedback it’s much easier for me is what would work better for you in the future. Versus what would work better for you period. Then it’s judgey. I can’t do anything about it in the past.

Peter: [01:09:22] Right.

John: [01:09:23] I can do something in the future so if I said to Peter What worked well for you. Tell me to google what would work better for you in the future. And you said you know I didn’t quite get this. I would have liked you know if you could– Now I can take that and move forward rather than most of us: oh he judged me and he didn’t like he doesn’t like me. Get out of your head. Get out of your way. Versus hey that’s a good idea or here’s what I like is you may say you know that would work better for me in the future blah blah blah and I may go yeah, not for me – and that’s OK. But then you get your say, I get input, and I can revise for the future.

Peter: [01:10:05] I like that. I like that. And I’m going to actually – this group that I do a lot of work for, I’m going to have them put that in their evaluations that they sent out because what would have been done better today. Yeah I’ll have them get put What can we do better future. And see how those response are.

John: [01:10:24] And people are actually I think more likely to tell you what would worked better in the future. Like ok I can project out and it moves us from oh jeez am I going to hurt his feelings if I judge him or her now versus hey this will work better, and then you is the recipient can go you know I think I’m to stay with this, you know like a crazy one. But as you know I gave this to a bunch of chapters and when one chapter said you didn’t number your principles. You said principle and then named it. So somebody said it would work better for me. You know it’s pretty minute font size so that one was easy. Principle number one. Then I am to do is remind myself if I move them in order to keep them in the right sequence. But that one’s pretty straightforward.

Peter: [01:11:27] That’s cool. John I can’t thank you enough. I literally could probably talk to you for another three hours on this topic because I just am completely fascinated by it and I’m selfishly thank you for coming on because you reminded me some stuff that I had forgotten or I hadn’t done. So this is like I can go back to this episode and listen to it. What did he say? And actually those of you who are listening or watching this, you might want to go out and I just you go out to the Web website where this episode is on my Website and download the full transcript of this conversation so you have it. So if you need to refer to it, that might be another way of doing that. I thank you so much. I appreciate your knowledge your wisdom your advice and taking time out of your schedule to spend some time with me. I’m– I think I’m trying to get the afternoon off. I’m full.

John: [01:12:25] Thank you Peter. Thank you for having me and hosting this. It was a great conversation. I enjoyed it very much. Hope your audience is getting a couple ideas or tips to move forward in their presentations.

Peter: [01:12:37] Oh there’s there’s a lot of tips for them to be had. Thanks again John.

John: [01:12:45] You’re welcome.

Peter: [01:12:45] I would like to thank John again for sharing his knowledge about how to prepare a PowerPoint presentation that takes your audience’s brain into consideration and provides a richer learning experience. In episode five, my guests are Rich Stang and Brad Hoffman, who are partners in the Maryland accounting firm of Deleon and Stang. This episode will be available on Monday, June 25th. Thank you for listening. And begin the process of changing your mindset and getting out of your comfort zone and develop new skill sets to become a more future ready CPA. The ability to present financial information in a manner that is engaging and impactful will make you more future ready. Remember this process requires daily application with a big dose of applied improvisation.



Ep. 3 – Eddie Turner | Facilitated Collaboration: Stay Ready (So You Don’t Have to Get Ready)

Collaboration is a buzzword in business today. Everyone talks about it. But how do you do it?


Well, today’s guest, Eddie Turner, thinks he has the secret sauce to collaboration: “It should be facilitated – facilitated collaboration is what accelerates performance and drives impact.”


Eddie is known as “the leadership accelerator” because he works with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact. He is a C-Suite network adviser, international certified coach, certified trainer, and professional speaker.


Staying Ready (So You Don’t Have to Get Ready)


As professionals, we need to ask ourselves, when is the last time our industry innovated?


That question needs to be asked because if we aren’t ready, we have to get ready – only then can we stay ready – because the change is coming!


Look at the taxicab market (Uber), the hotel market (Airbnb), and now even grocery stores (Amazon & Whole Foods). Disruption is happening and the old guard can’t keep up.


Are we next?


Because Watson is already here. Watson is working, right now, with the big four and the audit practice. We saw the H+R Block commercials last year – Watson IS the machine learning that is going to disrupt our industry.


Things have changed, and accountants and finance professionals don’t have to crunch the numbers – we have to communicate information to the end user, listen to what they are saying, and learn to have a dialog again.


We have to be continuous learners and continue to develop ourselves. Because if we’re not continuing to educate ourselves, we’re leaving ourselves vulnerable to the disruption that technology will introduce.


And the easiest way for us to learn is through facilitated collaboration, particularly with facilitators as talented as Eddie.


“What speakers are finding is no longer do audiences show up to listen to the sage on the stage. They show up to have a conversation, to have a dialogue, even with a keynote speaker.”


Download this Episode MP3.



Click to download the full Transcript PDF.


Peter: [00:00:00] Welcome to Episode 3 and my guest today is Eddie Turner. And I tell you what, he has a very impressive bio. He is a C suite network adviser, international certified coach, a certified trainer, a professional speaker, President for the Association for Talent Development’s Houston chapter, an Ambassador coach for the National Speakers Association. He’s an alumnus of Northwestern University and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. And finally, an adaptive leadership practitioner and part of the Adaptive Leadership Network. Now with that said, I’m going let any tell you more about his business from a video that he has on his Web site at www.EddieTurnerLLC.com.

Eddie: [00:00:50] Hello I’m Eddie Turner and I am a change agent. I help organizations and individuals lead change, and I do that in three primary areas. The first area is through the use of the power of the spoken word, and I do that through professional speaking, as I did here in the beautiful city of Taipei, Taiwan just yesterday. Another area is through executive coaching. Through executive coaching, I work with individual leaders to help them accelerate their performance and reach their desired level of change and provide their careers. I help organizations through the power of facilitation. Through facilitation, I work with organizations either virtually or face-to-face, around the globe, to work with executive planning, to do strategic workshops. I help individuals get a competitive advantage, surfacing the best ideas in their organization. Leading change in a business imperative.

Peter: [00:01:59] So without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Eddie Turner. Hey welcome back everybody. I am so honored to have Eddie Turner on my podcast today. Eddie and I this is the first time we’ve actually met. We have a mutual friend Bob Dean who’s been sharing information to me about Eddie and vice versa. And first and foremost, Eddie thank you for taking time I was schedule to be on my podcast.

Eddie: [00:02:28] Well Peter thank you for having me here on your podcast. What a pleasure to be with you.

Peter: [00:02:33] Oh it’s a pleasure being with you. May I say you have a radio voice.

Eddie: [00:02:40] You’re awfully kind. Thank you Peter.

Peter: [00:02:42] I’ve been told I have a radio face versus a radio voice. But that’s a whole different thing.

Eddie: [00:02:47] Not at all. You are doing great work. I enjoy listening to your podcast, tuning and and just hearing your perspective. To be included now among the long list of fantastic guests that you have had is quite a privilege.

Peter: [00:03:02] Thank you so very much and I’m looking forward to our conversation because we speak the same language in a lot of ways, just in a different a different angle. So let’s start by– if you can give the audience a little bit about your background. Who is Eddie Turner and what do you do?

Eddie: [00:03:18] I work with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact. And I do that primarily in three ways. Number one I’d say it’s through executive or leadership coaching and I do that primarily one on one. But there I larger groups where I used the power of facilitation to help groups with issue resolution, process mapping, strategy planning, and many other needs that happen in corporations. So facilitation. Also I don’t do training. I do facilitation, in the sense that when it comes to learning delivery, it’s not a a monologue but a dialogue with my learners. And finally, I give professional speeches or key notes.

Peter: [00:04:06] I liked that. I don’t do a monologue. I do a dialogue. And I love that concept because I’m a firm believer that whatever audience you’re in front of, whether it’s one on one or a thousand, to provide that conversation experience is key in getting your message across.

Eddie: [00:04:25] Absolutely, especially in a in a space of learning. But I think even more so what speakers are finding is no longer do audiences show up to listen to the sage on the stage. They show up to have a conversation, to have a dialogue, even with a keynote speaker.

Peter: [00:04:44] Exactly. And and I think that’s driven some by technology, but I think it’s driven for the thirst of knowledge. And a lot of times if we’re not engaging and createing a conversation on the platform, whatever that platform may be, we begin to lose our audience they begin to tune out. And as I like to say that they begin the conference prayer which is which is they bow their heads and look at their smartphones.

Eddie: [00:05:14] Well you’re absolutely right. It is it is driven by the combination of both technology and the abundance of knowledge, which technology is giving everyone access to. So when they show up they already have a access to Google. They have access to online learning, and as you mentioned, they have their smartphone in their hand. So they are not showing up to learn new things from us. They want to be as you say in your bio, which I love, edutained. So tell me if you come up something new, share that with me, but now entertain me in the delivery – but more importantly, I am a professional who has experience and has knowledge of my own. Involve me. Include me as a part of this delivery.

Peter: [00:06:00] And in doing so, we must always know our audience. We must always have them in mind throughout the process of developing anything because if I don’t make that connection, I need to speak their language. I need to put things in context that they can understand, not what I have but what they need.

Eddie: [00:06:20] Absolutely.

Peter: [00:06:22] So you help leaders, you help leaders become more effective, more more– and you do this through coaching and through facilitation. And since we both know Bob Dean, and Bob is a big collaborator and I heard you on another podcast talk about facilitated collaboration. Can you define that?

Eddie: [00:06:43] Yes indeed. So Bob Dean is in fact someone who I owe a great debt of gratitude to. He’s one of my mentors. He’s someone I met when I decided to go back and finish my undergraduate degree as an adult. He is one of the first people I’ve met who came to speak to our class. It’s how we MET. And I was really just impressive what he had to say and I followed up with a thank you note to him and he followed up by inviting me to coffee. And I thought wow that’s awfully nice of him. That coffee invitation has turned into I think now a 12-year friendship. And we’ve been business partners, we’ve been colleagues, but we’ve also been collaborators. And so this idea of facilitated collaboration is the title of the book that I have yet to finish, but forthcoming. But it turned into a book because we talked about the idea that he and I are from two different spectrums. There’s a there’s a big difference in terms of who we are, our personal narratives, our professional narratives. And we you see Bob and I, we are probably the two least likely people you’d expect to see show up in a room but we’re the best of friends, we have a great relationship, and our uniqueness has turned into some of the best work of both of our professional lives. It was through that collaboration, and facilitation was at the heart of it. And so it became something that we’ve deployed inside of organizations. And so we think that collaboration is a buzz word in business today. Everyone talks about it. But how do you do it? And we think that the secret sauce is that it should be facilitated – facilitated collaboration is what accelerates performance and drives impact.

Peter: [00:08:33] So I 100 percent agree. I love the I love the concept facilitated collaboration and I love collaborating. But as I think about this and I think about leaders, I think one of the the the barriers in collaboration is those unconscious biases that we have. How do you get leaders to recognize these biases and manage around them so they can collaborate?

Eddie: [00:09:01] Interestingly, that’s where the coach in me really becomes a benefit when working with leaders. Even if I’m not working with a leader specifically as their coach, the coach in me helps on unearth unconscious biases by challenging their thinking and creating a new consciousness through the use of powerful questions. Now sometimes that happens in the one on one interactions in a consulting relationship. At other times, it may happen as the facilitator. In both scenarios, the goal is to allow the leader to come to their own conclusion through the use of powerful questions. As opposed to me telling them the answer, allowing them to provide the answer on their own.

Peter: [00:09:47] Tell me about the types of questions, how you get these leaders to recognize that they have biases and in helping to change their thought process.

Eddie: [00:09:58] Well that’s a good question. Peter. I can tell you that my original background in business was through technology. I spent almost 20 years as an information technology professional before moving into coaching and facilitation and leadership development. And interestingly, a lot of my knowledge technology career was spent working with executives. So I have a mindset about technology and how business moves at the speed of technology, but also how executives are looking at things. And so with several of my clients, I have had the opportunity to not only approach them and challenge their thinking existing thinking about their business, from a technology perspective, but also from a leadership perspective. How should senior leaders and executives be looking at these items? So for example, it’s not often that I run into a situation where individuals say this is the way we’ve always done it.

Peter: [00:10:59] Ah. It kills me when I hear that.

Eddie: [00:11:03] It’s a trite statement but it comes up so often, and it’s almost scary how often people say those exact words. This is the way we’ve always done it, or people don’t see a need for change. There is a resistance to change. So asking probing questions about the issue at hand. I’m thinking of one in particular about the way a corporation does something as simple as holding meetings. They’ve always held face to face meetings. And in this scenario, this fortune 300 Corporation in the energy services field, when the Energy Services took a downturn as a whole as an industry, the way we’ve always done it no longer was going to work. So I received an e-mail invitation inviting me to a meeting, and when I looked at the invitation it wasn’t the normal invitation that I have ever received. This invitation was from the CEO. And I looked at that again I thought Is it some mistake? So I inquired of my my manager at that time and he said no it’s not a mistake. He’s asked me about it, he wants to meet with you. And so I reach out and response of course I’ll be there, and he was very kind, Peter He actually asked me Are you available at such and such and such date such time, and I thought yeah I can clear out from time on my schedule for that. So I show up to the meeting with the CEO and another senior leader,m one of his top leaders who ran one of the major divisions of the corporation And he explained to me that he had heard about my work and he was faced with a dilemma, and the dilemma was that there are four major meetings run in a corporation every year called the quarterly business review. And he was faced with having to reduce the four major meetings, the four most important meetings of the business, down to two because it was no longer sustainable to keep flying all the executives around the globe for a face to face meeting four times a year. Now I don’t know about you Peter but I don’t really travel like they travel, so it does get– it does cost a little bit more.

Peter: [00:13:26] Hahaha. Yeah.

Eddie: [00:13:27] And so I said Yes I can support you by doing things a little different. We can hold those same important meetings not face to face but virtually. And of course when people think virtual they think let’s hold a WebEx session.

Peter: [00:13:42] Right.

Eddie: [00:13:43] I love WebEx. It’s a good product, good company, but it has gained a certain… people have a certain bias as you would say, a certain unconscious bias.

Peter: [00:13:53] Right.

Eddie: [00:13:54] So I got introduced a new way of running a highly facilitated collaborative executive meetings, and we saved the most important meeting of the business. They would now hold that meeting two times a year face to face and then two times a year virtually, and in the end, it was documented that by doing that, every time I held that meeting virtually for the executive team for the top 30 executives around the globe, I saved the corporation five hundred thousand dollars.

Peter: [00:14:27] Wow.

Eddie: [00:14:28] Put another way, we saved a million dollars for the corporation. Put another way, we allow the business to save jobs and to remain sustainable. Redirecting those necessary funds to other aspects of the business, and we allow the executives to continue the work on the corporation to the benefit of the shareholders and not have to sacrifice what they needed to accomplish for the benefit of everyone.

Peter: [00:14:58] Are you at liberty to share what type of platform you were using in order to facilitate these virtual sessions?

Eddie: [00:15:07] Absolutely. So I use the protocol Adobe Connect, and so here again was another example of doing things a different, not using what we’ve always used. And so when you go to the department you say listen, I want to introduce a new product, all the I.T. people look at you with a scowl their face. So here’s where my I.T. background became a true asset to me because I could have the conversations with the I.T. professionals and with the CIO and talk about why I needed this particular product and how I would use it, and not put an extra burden on the infrastructure. And so by putting this platform in place, I also was able to brand the channel that I was using to deliver this service. And so I literally branded the webex solution as the self-service solution that everyone in the corporation would use. I wasn’t to take that away or change that. I wanted to keep it in existence do what it was doing. But here’s a new product that I wanted to use. I branded the channel as the facilitated collaboration network, and we would hold those meetings on there. And then we would go on to what other major meetings in the corporation. I ran a webinar at lunchtime to have all the experts across the corporation around the globe to tell their story about the things that they were seeing surface as customer concerns, trends in the industry, things that the newer engineers could benefit from. And also by the way, put that information to our knowledge base so the people can get that later or be able to retrieve it. We call that series experts explain, and it became a very popular series and it was hosted on the facilitated collaborative collaboration channel. And so show executive programs, the executive explain series, the ability to deliver high quality programming that was interactive, engaging, and yes collaborative – and extremely well designed. Here’s where a lot of the work that Bob and I put together really came into place because we branded it as about being the experience.

Peter: [00:17:18] Right.

Eddie: [00:17:18] Of course you know that Bob Dean is the second person in the world to be certified in the experience economy, the work of Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore.

Peter: [00:17:26] Yes.

Eddie: [00:17:27] And so that factored in heavily to what we did. The design, the layout, everything. It was about what will be the employee experience.

Peter: [00:17:37] Wow that is awesome. And as you’re describing this to me, brings me to today and the environment the business world is in today and thinking about my audience, who primarily are accountants, financial professionals. This disruption of technology… you know we’ve been talking about. But it’s now we’re seeing effects of it. It’s going to shake some things up and. And. What are your thoughts on the shakeup? What’s what’s the skill set that we need to begin to transform from the Excel spreadsheet, the you know the bean counter, in order for us to maintain our presence in the business world.

Eddie: [00:18:28] Well Peter I believe that everyone, accountants, all of us in our professional lives, need to look and ask ourselves, when is the last time my industry innovated? And that question needs to be asked because if we as one gentleman said aren’t ready, we have to get ready. Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready – because the change is coming! We have to be continuous learners, continue to develop ourselves. I speak often at universities and corporations. And the interesting thing is some people never take a class after leaving a university. I know some people who don’t even pick up a book after leaving university. So if we’re not continuing to educate ourselves, we’re leaving ourselves vulnerable to the disruption that technology will introduce. Look at the largest hotel corporation in the world who owns no buildings – no hotel rooms at all.

Peter: [00:19:31] Yeah.

Eddie: [00:19:33] Airbnb. The largest taxi company if you will that doesn’t own a single car and doesn’t even provide a mobile phone for their employees or their drivers. Uber.

Peter: [00:19:44] Right.

Eddie: [00:19:45] Right. I saw a taxicab yesterday. He had a white sticker on his car that said I’ve been fingerprinted. Well he was so proud of that not because to say he’s a safe driver, but because this is one of the things that was forced upon a company like Uber. A lot of organizations have been fighting the Uber and Airbnb organizations, meaning the competitors and in some cases the city councils, to regulate these industries a different way. But really it’s a fear of change and a fear of their business model being disrupted, when in many cases, in the previous experience that some folks might have had is there they haven’t been in a clean cab, they didn’t know the cleaning cab is like.

Peter: [00:20:32] Hahahah

Eddie: [00:20:32] That they get in a personal vehicle, an Uber. It’s a it’s a clean ride, it actually smells nice, and the person says a greeting to you, and you know so it was a it was a disruption that that organization never saw. I listened to Michael Domínguez, one of the senior executives running one of the major chains there in Vegas, and he talks about how he’s always scanning the horizon. And he mentioned a very interesting story that I saw in passing, but until he talked about it I had locked in on this. He asked the question: What is the last time your grocery store innovated? And as we stop it make about it, it was probably the self-service checkout line that most of us avoid.

Peter: [00:21:17] Right. Right.

Eddie: [00:21:18] Well Amazon – Amazon just purchased Whole Foods. Why would they buy a grocery store? Well for one they pay 13 billion dollars for it and the next day it went up to 16 billion. So they had a 3 billion dollar instant profit, but they are now experimenting with the fact that if you are an Amazon prime member, you literally walk in, select your items, and you walk out.

Peter: [00:21:46] Right.

Eddie: [00:21:47] They created a technology that is going to disrupt the grocery markets, supermarkets. I mean think about that.

Peter: [00:21:57] It’s funny that you it it’s funny that you mention that because like local Kroger’s here and Westerville Ohio – I think they believe that they’re innovating because they’re turning it into these larger supermarkets, superstores.

Eddie: [00:22:11] Yeah.

Peter: [00:22:12] But as you were describing this I’m like they’re not innovating, they just got bigger, but there’s nothing there’s really nothing different inside of it technologically.

Eddie: [00:22:21] Absolutely. And so when we look at the taxicab market, when we look at the the hotel market or the rental market, and now look at grocery stores. It certainly is high time for all of us to ask ourselves the question: Am I next? Is my industry next? Well some of us may feel I’m safe. Computers, technology, it can’t do what I do. But I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine, she was the president at the time of the National Speakers Association in Pittsburgh. Her name was Sarah Cole. And Sarah is one of the nicest ladies you will ever meet Peter. But in addition to just being just a nice woman, she’s a pediatrician! And she was telling me how technology is changing her world. She said You can only look at web M.D. to get an example of how people are self diagnosing themselves, and then only come to the physician for a second opinion.

Peter: [00:23:20] Hahahaha. Right.

Eddie: [00:23:22] So automated intelligence that we see in a rudimentary way through Web MD is actually taking over, starting to take over in the hospital world – and so much so that what they’re doing is, in some cases, instead of having multiple physicians on staff, you get multiple nurse practitioners and only one physician to supervise supervise them. But then also someone like her husband, who happens to be an ear nose and throat specialist, she said My time is almost up. He’s got about five more years. She said and then the robotics and the artificial told us will be so good it’s going to disrupt him. She used the example of what happened with the chess player whose name escapes me, but remember that the big IBM supercomputer?.

Peter: [00:24:10] Yep yep yep.

Eddie: [00:24:12] The Russian chess player was able to defeat. And it was it was just the remarkable thing. Right.

Peter: [00:24:18] Right.

Eddie: [00:24:19] But when you switch to artificial intelligence and this computer was able to learn on the fly, he was no longer able to beat that supercomputer. And that’s where we’re headed. So in every industry that we are part of, we need to get ready so we stay ready so we don’t have to get ready. We need to be continuous learners scanning the horizon looking to see where we can improve ourselves as individuals and staying ahead of the curve.

Peter: [00:24:45] I thoroughly agree with everything you’ve said and and I think the biggest challenge for the accounting profession is to realize that Watson is here.

Eddie: [00:24:55] That’s his name yes.

Peter: [00:24:58] Watson is here. Watson is working now with the big four and the audit practice. Watson is here as we saw with the H+R Block commercials last year. Watson is that machine learning that is going to take away– I predicted a couple of years ago that excel at some point in time might become extinct because of artificial intelligence and you would’ve thought I dropped an f bomb in the room. People were apalled.

Eddie: [00:25:25] Oh my gosh. Perish the thought.

Peter: [00:25:27] Yeah well what am I going to do? But we moved– Well I can’t say that we’ve moved from a ten key to excel but I asked counting audiences how many of you still have your ten key and two thirds of the audience the hands still go up.

Eddie: [00:25:42] Isn’t that something.

Peter: [00:25:43] To me, they are still latching on to some old technology, but now that things have changed and I don’t have to crunch the numbers – I have to communicate information to the end user, and I think that’s where one of our biggest challenges arise.

Eddie: [00:26:01] You’re absolutely right. And I laugh as you talk about the tenkey, Peter, because I was working with a dear millennial friend of mine just this week and we were working on a composition. We were collaborating. And I said something about the fact– she corrected me she said you should put two dashes there after the phrase, and I said well, that’s actually an em dash because a dash is a dash, but two together become an em dash because because it’s like the letter. And she says I’d never do that. I said Yeah because I had to take typing on a manual typewriter. I don’t want to talk about how old I am. On the ones that made noise. And if you made a mistake you had to actually use correction fluid and you threw the carriage wheel all the way over to the left hand side. So those little things you were forced to learn in the old typing days.

Peter: [00:26:54] I just had a flashback just now. Thank you very much for that. Hahaha. Yes this environment has changed and is changing pretty dramatically, pretty quickly. And I think leadership– and when we talk about leadership, I don’t know if you agree with me on this comment, leadership has nothing to do with a title. Leadership is the way you have a positive effect on another individual.

Eddie: [00:27:27] I agree with that fully Peter. In fact, we might say that we can summarize that by one word: influence.

Peter: [00:27:36] Hahaha. Influence. Exactly. I’ll let you go yes please.

Eddie: [00:27:43] It’s not about the title. And so often we confuse having a certain title with being a leader, but we might all agree that I can be the president, I can be the manager, I can be the director, and really be a bad leader. Right.

Peter: [00:28:00] Right.

Eddie: [00:28:01] But on the other side, I can not have that title at all and because of my level of influence in an organization, I can rise to assume those titles. In fact, it might be argued you are a leader before you actually receive those titles, and the power and authority that go with it. And what true leaders realize is if they use their influence properly, they would have to point you to a title a lot less.

Peter: [00:28:31] I love that. I love that piece. And the reason– I assume you know why the reason I kind of bust out laughing when you said influence is because both of us were members of the National Speakers Association, our annual convention is titled influence.

Eddie: [00:28:48] Influence. Yes.

Peter: [00:28:50] But I haven’t– you know I I’ve always I’ve seen the title, but I never kind of equate it in the same way that you just said, and I appreciate and thank you for that because now I have a whole different perspective on that word influence

Eddie: [00:29:07] Yes, my first Influence, I joined in November 2014, joined the organization. And so Influence ’15 was my first. And I thought that when I saw the title what we call the conference and then I realized it was just that year. That’s an ongoing series. Well how cool is that?

Peter: [00:29:24] So what was your what was your first convention?

Eddie: [00:29:27] Influence 15.

Peter: [00:29:29] What city was that?

Eddie: [00:29:31] That was in Washington D.C..

Peter: [00:29:32] Oh yes.

Eddie: [00:29:33] The Waterman I believe yes.

Peter: [00:29:35] Right. So I became a member in 13. And my first conference was in Philadelphia and we hadn’t changed the name at that point in time, they were in discussion process.

Eddie: [00:29:49] Well I’ve gone to– well I could say I’ve gone to everyone since I’ve joined, which is only now been three official years, but I missed last years because when I looked at the schedule, I inadvertently– the way the apple counter laid out, I got it wrong, but I couldn’t change it because I decided to get married on 7/7/17 and couldn’t convince my wife to move it from Cabo, Mexico to Disneyland, where we were holding Influence..

Peter: [00:30:16] I hope you didn’t go through a long conversation trying to influence her to change it.

Eddie: [00:30:21] I did try to influence her – Peter I did! Obviously I need to work on my influencing skills.

Peter: [00:30:28] Nonono. You’re a smart man, you’re very smart man. I liked that because I think I heard Simon Sinek kind of talk about leadership in that way, and where it has nothing to do with the title. It’s the way you have an influence over somebody else. And I was going to the D.C. airport. I was going through Reagan and it was like 9:00 o’clock at night and I went into the men’s restroom and there’s this attendant in there. And you could just tell he had a log day. He looked like he was tired and she just kind of hunched over, cleaning the sinks. And I just went over to her and I said Excuse me. I just like to say thank you for your hard work. I can tell you’ve had a really tough day and I appreciate all the hard work that you’re doing to keep this restroom as clean as it is. And he looked at me and had a smile. And then he kind of straightened up his back and pushed us chest and said Thank you. Nobody ever talks to me. You’re the first person to even say thank you at all. And I greatly appreciate it. And I just went, Man. And that that cost me nothing but…

Eddie: [00:31:39] Wow. That was so nice. That’s outstanding. And what a humane thing to do as well as being a kind thing to do.

Peter: [00:31:47] Yeah I’ve taken this to heart because when I keep it on my radar I try to do the same thing no matter where I am. To people who I don’t even know and just thank them for the hard work that they’re doing because what I do understand is right now people in the work force – they are lacking appreciation from their leaders. We are we are so quick to say what you’ve done wrong and we’re so slow to say thank you. And this also came to mind when I was doing a workshop for a Fortune 500 company and we were doing this creativity workshop. And one of the questions was how to increase morale in the office, and we were using sticky notes and the CFO handed me his sticky notes he said by saying thank you. And I let him go on and reiterate. And he basically said to say that we’re so quick to criticize and so slow to say thank you. And he goes from this point on, I will do a better job of saying thank you for the hard work that you guys have been doing around here, versus criticize

Eddie: [00:32:58] Yeah. Gratitude is clearly an area that leaders manifest. And I certainly would like to concur with you on what you mentioned there the point about Simon Sinek and that’s something that he talks about, the idea of influencing people and being able to use gratitude as one way of doing that. I think the very first time that I was taught about influence – in fact I know – was about 2001, when I still worked for General Electric. There was a whole course of influencing and that was the first time that that came to my attention, the power of influence. I later would say the best indoctrination I got outside of that course was my opportunity to study at the Harvard Kennedy School under Dr. Ron Heifetz. Ronald Heifetz is one of the preeminent leadership scholars in the world and his whole concept about the difference between influence and authority and adaptive leadership was something that really impacted me. It has been one of the most transformational aspects of my life.

Peter: [00:34:01] Wow I forgot that you went to that small community college just outside of Boston. I forgot about that.

Eddie: [00:34:09] Hahaha

Peter: [00:34:10] But yeah. And I think the other part of this leadership is the ability to do what your mother said to you many years ago: you have two ears or one mouth for a reason. We have not become listeners. We have we have lost the art or the science of listening and we need to get it back because we’re missing out on a lot. If we don’t take the time, park our agendas, and just listen to what the other person says or is trying to say, and have empathy for them and put ourselves in their shoes to gain a better understanding.

Eddie: [00:34:52] I agree with you Peter. In fact. At the heart of coaching is the skill of listening, and I say the skill because to your point, it is something that we have lost in so many aspects of our society. And in some ways I’m not sure that our mothers aren’t teaching us that mom did teach and we have stopped using that skill, that muscle, and we don’t use that muscle atrophy, it’s atrophied. So we need to think about what it means to listen. I actually teach a coaching program, a certificate program, for the Association of Talent Development. And I walk through the four different phases of listening and challenge each person and we do a little exercise. At which level are you when you’re speaking? I’m sorry– when someone is speaking to you, are you really listening? And in so many areas, if we just were to turn on YouTube and look at our local news clip, we see people shouting at each other, shouting across each other, and there really isn’t the the listening to the words. And as a coach, we’re concerned about just not the words that are said but the words that are unsaid, and sometimes the meaning behind what was really said. And then we’re talking about looking at a person’s body language, we’re listening to their tone, we’re looking at their facial expressions and brain at all in. And I don’t believe you have to be a coach to really do that. I should be able to look at you and understand if you’re in pain, and to your point, turn on my empathy. And I define empathy as I read about in a Greek publication at one point, the original Greek language has to how we would perceive that word in English. And that is “Your pain in my heart.” If I can really feel your pain in my heart, I’m not going to just say OK have a nice day. I’m actually going to be moved to do something about that to the extent that I can. So listening and empathy I believe are definitely two qualities of leaders. And specifically, I would say as an emotional intelligence practitioner of leaders who have a high EQ, as opposed to a high IQ. So emotionally intelligent leaders understand and use empathy, and they know how to listen well.

Peter: [00:37:23] I agree. And I think it’s lost– the corporate culture out there I think is part of the reason why we’ve forgotten how to listen, that we’ve forgotten how to empathize, and it’s somewhat become stale, and it’s disappointing because we can accomplish so much more just by taking the time to listen and empathize. And my transformation, what changed my– because I was a terrible listener, Eddie.

Eddie: [00:37:57] I don’t believe that Peter.

Peter: [00:37:58] Growing up and even even in early adulthood. But it wasn’t until I discovered improv and discovered that the principles of improvisation, which one of the key features is having respect for the other person and the ability to listen, to become a better listener, that makes me work on it every single day. And I’ve learned so much more by keeping my mouth quiet and listening. Like today I’ve learned a lot from you.

Eddie: [00:38:32] Well Peter it’s been a mutually beneficial exchange. I’ve learnt a lot from you and looking at your career and looking at just how you conduct yourself and all the things you’re accomplishing. So I’m in awe, especially as a member of the National Speakers Association. The things that you’re doing, and congratulations on the upcoming presidency, you’re leading one of our great chapters there are Ohio.

Peter: [00:38:55] I’m looking forward to that challenge. I woke up one day and said you know you’re the new president elect. I went Oh thank you. What what what what does that mean now? But I I am looking forward to it and I will say that, by taking that leadership role within that chapter, I didn’t realize what it was going to open me up to. And they NSA has a chapter leader Institute where President elects go, and you’re amongst your peers from around the country. All of a sudden, my NSA network has exploded and the knowledge that I’m getting from my new colleagues around the country. Yeah just that networking and that information that I’m able to get has just been wonderful.

Eddie: [00:39:58] That’s fantastic. Yes the chapter of the institute is quite the organization, quite the opportunity to develop, and I have not had that privilege of going. But everyone who has attended I’ve spoken to speaks as glowlingly as you do. I am so excited for you.

Peter: [00:40:15] Yeah. I did. I had no expectation and I walked into this thing and was just completely blown away. And this goes to the kind of the point of leadership because there are opportunities out in the community to become better leaders, to learn how to become a better leader, and it’s by getting involved. It’s by you know joining the rotary, joining the National Speakers Association, joining the Ohio society of CPAs. That’s where I get a lot of my leadership, being on the board and being chair of the executive board. And we can’t do that without putting ourselves out, becoming vulnerable, getting outside of our comfort zone in order to become better at what we do. And I’ll kind of wrap my piece of this up this is if we take a course in leadership, it doesn’t make us a leader. We have to practice it every single day, and we have to get exposure to a lot of other leaders to help mold our leadership model.

Eddie: [00:41:20] I agree. I am, like you, I have been trained in leadership and I am a leadership practitioner. In fact my moniker is the leadership accelerator because of the work I’ve done with helping leadership accelerate the performance and drive impact. But in spite of all my leadership studies and training and certificates and certification, this year I am the president of the Association for Talent development in Houston.

Peter: [00:41:49] Congratulations

Eddie: [00:41:49] Thank you. I must tell you that everything I’ve ever read in a book is certainly being challenged, and as Professor Heifetz would say, I am reaching the premier portion of my of my competence, the frontier of my competence is being challenged. It’s in the new way. It’s one of the largest chapters that ATD has. We’ve got about 400 people almost in our chapter. And so to pull all that together with our existing board, it is definitely a growth in a different way because it’s different from a corporation. In a corporation, people have a different motivation for following a structure.

Peter: [00:42:31] Right.

Eddie: [00:42:31] When you’re running an organization where they’re all volunteers, definitely influencing becomes more important there Peter. And so I love the fact that we have had– I benefited from ACD having a meeting once a year for for all chapter leaders. So everyone on board gets to go to DC where we’re headquartered and be trained at the national level for your position. Whether you’re the vice president of membership, the vice president of programming, you get to meet with your colleagues across the country. So you have a built in network to support you throughout the year. And so I’ve benefited from that as being among the poor for the last four years in a different capacity. And of course now culminating with the presidency. So I would concur with you that sometimes we might discount how we can develop as leaders in the local community. But I am clearly saying that I’m benefiting and also being challenged in a way that I did not anticipate. And so I think that what I am learning in these community roles is as applicable in a corporate role, perhaps even more so. Again, when you’re challenged to influence a large group of people with whom you do not have a paycheck that you’re giving or vacation time or a benefits package. Right. It requires a far more level of leadership from you as an individual. So I would encourage people to definitely take advantage of joining those organizations and assuming leadership, as they can.

Peter: [00:44:01] Well said my friend, well said. Because yeah when you get a volunteer organization that you’re trying to lead, there’s a different mindset there and you have to be inspiring and you have to reengage and you have to be facilitating. You have to have so much energy to keep everybody as equally as jazzed as you are to get things done and move and move forward. If somebody wants to contact you, how can they find you?

Eddie: [00:44:31] Well I’m across all the major social media networks. I am Eddie Turner, and my website is EddieTurnerLLC.com.

Peter: [00:44:49] Once again thank you so very much for spending some time with me. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I’m looking forward to seeing you at Influence 2018. And actually I might actually be in the Houston area in May, and if it’s confirmed I will let you know maybe I can take you out to dinner for spending time with me today on my podcast.

Eddie: [00:45:09] Well Peter it’s been an absolute pleasure to be here with you today. Thank you for the invitation. I’m excited that I was able to meet with you, and if you come to Houston, it is my obligation to show you good old southern hospitality so I won’t even hear of you buying dinner. It’s on me. We’re going to get together. Have a good time and we’ll get you some good old Texas cuisine.

Peter: [00:45:32] I want to take you up on that. Thank you so very much.

Eddie: [00:45:35] Take care Peter. Thank you.

Peter: [00:45:38] I would like to thank Eddie for sharing his thoughts and perspectives about today’s senior leadership challenges with change management and engaging their teams. In Episode 4, My guest is Dr. John Mollidor, who is a professor and community assistant dean at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and the past president of the National Speakers Association board of directors. Thank you for listening and begin the process of changing your mindset and getting out of your comfort zone and developing a new skill set to become a more future ready professional. Remember this is a process that requires daily application with a big dose of applied improvisation.



Ep 2 – Michelle Sopp, Jennifer Oleksa, Chris Fleck, and Bret Johnson | The Future of Professional Learning & Development

Today I sit down with four incredible guests – Michelle Sopp, Jennifer Oleksa, Chris Fleck, and Bret Johnson – to discuss our major takeaways from the 2018 National CPE Educators conference held earlier this year.

If you are in the learning and development business, in any industry, pay close attention because all industries and professions need to adapt and change in response to new technologies and changing behavior.

The conference objectives were:

  • Creating a fun and dynamic learning environment
  • Trying to avoid fluff
  • Offering strategic sessions that spur creativity
  • Creating sessions that challenge attendees to think differently
  • Creating multiple learning opportunities that foster collaboration, not only with other educators but also with our vendors

More about our guests:

  • Michelle Sopp is the Vice President of Learning for the Oklahoma Society of CPAs and the chair for the 2018 National CPE Educators Conference. One of her biggest takeaways from the conference is that today’s learners just learn differently, so the learning experience needs to be more engaging and broken up into smaller increments.


  • Jennifer Oleska is the Director of Education and Training for the Georgia Society of CPAs. One of her biggest takeaways is that associations need to create a better content ramp for bringing in new members, so that we can create a valuable and even beautiful friendship between the members and the organization. “Give them what they need and then they want to be invested and involved with us in the future because they know we’re invested and involved in them as well.”


  • Chris Fleck is Senior Manager of State Society Learning at the AICPA. Chris and Bret were both part of the “FOOD Group” pre-conference meeting, which means “For Our Own Development.” His biggest takeaway is that we’re currently in the process of re-skilling the profession, with associations like the AICPA on the forefront in figuring out what skills professionals need going forward.


  • Bret Johnson is Director of Channel Management and Development for the AICPA. One of his biggest takeaways is that the AICPA and state associations need to embrace more collaboration so that we can stop re-doing work that other organizations have already done. In this way, we can innovate more effectively, together.


Download this Episode MP3.



Click to download the full Transcript PDF.


Peter: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode two and my guests today are Michelle Sopp from the Oklahoma society of CPAs. Jennifer Oleksa from the Georgia Society of CPAs, and Chris Fleck and Bret Johnson from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Our discussion centers around the major takeaways from the 2018 national CPE Educators conference that was held earlier this year. Please share this episode with people that you know who are learning and development business because it contains a lot of information that applies across industries and professions. So there’s a lot to get to, so let’s get to the interview. I’m so excited today to be joined with Michelle Sopp and Jennifer Oleksa, and Michelle is the vice president of learning for the Oklahoma Society of CPAs. And Jennifer is a director of education and training for the Georgia society of CPAs. And Michelle was the chair for the 2018 National CPE Educators Conference, which was held in New Orleans on February 28 through March 2nd. And I wanted to get them on the podcast to kind of get an idea, one, from Michelle to find out– She’s the chair — of her thoughts and stuff on putting this together. What they wanted to accomplish. Did they meet their goals. And from Jennifer, who’s been in the profession for about ten years and been to a number of these conferences, get her take on what she heard ,and what her big takeaways from this conference were. So we’ll start with Michelle. Congratulations, in my mind, on the successful conference. It seemed like it went over very well.

Michelle: [00:01:41] Thanks Peter I appreciate that. Yes. We heard some great feedback and, from everything we’ve heard, people really enjoyed the conference. I’m also kind of glad it’s over.

Peter: [00:01:52] So what was– as you were planning this conference, what was your main theme that you were trying to do? What were you trying to hone in on?

Michelle: [00:02:01] The history of this conference is a conglomeration of the regional CPE meetings that were held each year. And we wanted a way to get everyone together, not just within the region, so we can learn from each other and expand our network. So four years ago I believe is when the first CPE Educator Conference was created. We put together a list of the objectives and I was not part of that. But I have been on the committee for three years so I’ve been on it for most of the years that’s been in existence. And those objectives included creating a fun and dynamic learning environment, trying to avoid fluff, offering strategic sessions that spur creativity, create sessions that challenge attendees to think differently, and then create multiple learning opportunities that foster collaboration, not only with other CPA educators but also with our vendors. So we wanted– that’s kind of what we wanted to get out of this conference, and we’ve kept those objectives pretty much intact from the very first year. We’ve made very minimal tweaks because I think all of these are still very important in today’s learning environment.

Peter: [00:03:05] Great. I didn’t realize that that these are in place since the inception of the national conference, and I’ve attended three out of the four. So with this, I heard collaboration a lot. Was part of that around collaboration– What to those who you brought in to present at the conference, and also creating those opportunities for vendors, speakers, learning professionals, to have a conversation.

Michelle: [00:03:34] Right. That’s correct. It’s really important to give the attendees time to speak amongst themselves, to be to speak honestly and openly. Some of our best ideas are stolen ideas, to be honest. I mean we always talk about not wanting to reinvent the wheel, and it’s true! Because you may hear another state society say I tried that. It didn’t work, but I did this instead. And either you can take that exactly how it is and possibly drop it into your state and have it work. You might have to tweak it, especially if you’re a big state and they are smaller, and you’re dealing from a different size state and therefore a different budgets. But it’s something that’s really important to be able to talk openly and honestly. So we had a session in the very beginning that was state society staff only, and it was time for them to get that information out there. What have you tried? What have you not tried? And just have honest conversation with no real direction. We had some ideas for talking point, but no true direction of where that had to go. And then the flip side that is being able to work with our vendors. The rest of the conference vendors were allowed to attend all the sessions. Most of them were actually taught by some of our vendors and it was a good time for us to get to know them better and understand their reasoning behind working with us, behind our reason working with them, and having good open conversations with them as well.

Peter: [00:04:56] Yeah that’s always important, especially for these guys, because you know as as this landscape has changed in the CPE world with learning, and there’s so many different ways of offering… are they willing, or I’m assuming they’re going down that path that they need to make some modifications in their delivery in order to fit it into your model.

Michelle: [00:05:18] I see a lot of conversation. I don’t think anyone’s come up with the golden egg of the vision of how it needs to go yet, but the learner today learns differently than they did 10, 20 years ago. And part of that is the vendor has, right now, a very structured format of how they offer content to it. But our learners are wanting a different structure. So we’re in the middle, trying to work with a vendor that has a set way that they’re used to doing business. And we’re also trying to sell to our learners and get them to stay, have relevancy with our organization, wanting to stay as a member or an attendee. So how do we find that balance to where all parties win? And so no one’s really figured it out yet, like I said, but we’re working toward that. And I think that’s the important part.

Peter: [00:06:05] It’s also that classroom experience of engaging that audience versus lecturing to them. They don’t want to be lectured to. They want to be engaged, they want to be entertained per se. I think it was Kristen Rampe, and that’s in her breakout session when they’re talking about what do we need from the presenters. And someone made the comment about well… a lot of it is accounting, and that stuff is dry. I’ve taught it and it is dry. It’s drier than a dry martini. But there are ways of engaging and making it somewhat entertaining in order to have that participant retain that information.

Michelle: [00:06:48] Yes, and I think that you’re one of the instructors that makes sure that you always think about it on the forefront when you’re presenting. I’ve sat in on one of your classes before here in Oklahoma and I was very entertained. So I think that’s important for our instructors to realize. It’s important for us to communicate our vendors to communicate. I think that one of the aspects of that. The other part of that is learning in smaller increments, and getting people to sit down and do not only nano learning, but even just one hour blocks, two hour blocks. The brain isn’t– there’s been so many studies that the brain learns better in smaller increments. People absorb information better. So we’re trying to bring that to our learners. So getting instructors that are willing to maybe add in breaks, add in things like case studies or group discussion. Anything that can break up an eight hour day. If we still have to fill an eight hour day, Break it up to where at least their brain doesn’t get overwhelmed.

Peter: [00:07:42] Right. I think, one, you said give them more breaks. I think you’ve got a challenge there with the strict rules of NASBA and having to adhere to– There are some states that I go to and I go Do I have any leeway? And they they go No. You’ve got to maintain this– it is a little bit difficult with that, but I agree the brain can only absorb– my teaching philosophy is, at some point, especially during a full day, the mind can only absorb as much as the butt can endure.

Michelle: [00:08:11] Hahaha. So true!

Peter: [00:08:11] And when I when I see that look in their face, that oh my god I need a break, I’ll say okay, stand up, take a break now because– and I’ll say that line. It always gets a nice laugh. So being not involved in the planning of it but being an attendee, what were some of the big takeaways that you saw or you felt?

Jennifer: [00:08:29] Yeah. Well thank you guys for having me on. I just feel so honored to be invited, First of all, and to be invited to present with Michelle, who is one of the smartest women in the business. I’m just so thankful.

Peter: [00:08:43] I second that.

Jennifer: [00:08:45] So I want to echo what Michelle is saying. Just getting together and learning from each other is a fantastic opportunity, and we have to do that regularly – or else we kind of lose our edge. So we study from each other what the best practices are – who are the seats that we want to benchmark. We become cheerleaders for each other. You know when a state does try to branch out and try something new. We want to learn from that person, but also cheer them on to try more experiments, if you will. You know Georgia is a large state. We have a lot of programs going on. We have been successful in those programs. But I’m Always impressed with even some of the smaller states who don’t have the manpower to implement everything that we do. But man they are smart and they’re implementing new processes and they’re learning new technologies, in order to make their state very successful in their market. And I’m always impressed with that. You know I always say that two heads are better than one. In this case, for this conference, one hundred heads are better than my head, and I always learn something when I walk away from that. We had a fantastic speaker in the very beginning, she opened the conference, her name was Amy Vetter. She works for a company called Zero and she is a technology innovations task force leader. She’s very technology driven, and Amy was the perfect presenter to open this conference. You know she reminded us of the technology in that generation changes that are coming. But there was this urgency in her tone that you know we need to wake up as professionals. So at first, her presentation definitely could have been viewed as what she would present at firms. So she talks about the changing technology, creating niche practices, a rapidly changing workforce, rapid changes with the way the audits are going to be done in the future. And at first glance, that seems very important to firms but not so much to state societies or, for this conference, education departments for state societies. But I really wanted to challenge us as a group to view that differently. We have to also approach that internally. We also have rapidly changing technology that four generations in the workplace have to adapt to right now. You know we’ve got Generation Z, Generation Y, Generation X, and the baby boomers, and we’re all trying to learn and adapt our practices to this new technology. So we have to be multi talented in the way that we’re approaching new needs that our customers have that they did not have before. Also, she mentioned creating niche practices. So maybe in a state society we don’t have niche practices to address, but we do have customizable offerings that we can offer to our members. You know we have different groups of people. You’ve got auditors and you’ve got tax folks and you’ve got industry members. And how can we customize our offerings to them, whether that be membership driven or education driven offerings? How can we make every member feel like they are our one and only special member? And that’s what it’s going to take I think to to keep them as a loyal customer of ours in the future. And then we have this rapidly changing workforce. You know 35 percent of firms will change ownership in the next two to five years. That’s the stat that Amy gave us. That is terrifying I think for a lot of people, and we were talking earlier that you know that warning has been coming – that baby boomers are going to be retiring – and now that it’s here, it’s almost like we didn’t listen. And now that time has come. And so our firms are looking to find successors. Is technology going to take a stand in that succession planning more than it ever has before? But also how does that translate over to our state societies? Our employees are moving on at a faster rate than ever before and people have said you know once you come to the nonprofit association side of things you’re not going to leave ever, and that’s not the case that we’re seeing. It is a fantastic profession to be in, but we also have to be prepared for our workforce to turn over faster than ever. And so how does technology play into that part as well? And how can we build a collaborative culture in our practice, in our business? And so she gives some examples of that being mentor mentorship and a collaborative culture, room to learn and growth opportunities. And anyone who knows me knows I’m a very collaborative leader, and so I do not have all the answers and I’m not the smartest person in the room. But, by gosh, I’m resourceful.

Peter: [00:13:41] One of my favorite sayings, as we talk about collaboration, we talk about best practices. I’ve always said that the collective knowledge outside of the office far exceeds the collective knowledge inside of your office.

Jennifer: [00:13:52] Correct.

Peter: [00:13:53] And I don’t know if Amy said this or not, I heard it somewhere, that if you haven’t adapted to your technology within your organization, whether you’re a business administrator or you’re a firm, and if you’re trying to recruit those who are coming out of college and you don’t have the screens, per se, or don’t have the technology – they’re not going to come to you. It’s not built for them and they’re the mass workforce coming in. If we keep it the way we did in the 70s and 80s, you’re not going to have a succession plan. The succession plan, and we’re seeing a lot of this right now, is firms are just being bought up. There’s nobody that they’ve nurtured in order to grow that that firm. Michelle, so Amy, who I’ve already interviewed and she’ll be I believe the one before this episode is aired. I mean she’s a rock star and accounting community. One of the top 100 accountants according to accountants today, one of the top 100 women in accounting. Just rock star status. How did you land her?

Michelle: [00:15:01] You know what. I don’t know if It’s going to air before or after us. But Josh Goldman From Ohio knew her and called her up. So kudos to josh.

Peter: [00:15:11] Kudos to Josh and hopefully I’m able to get them on on the podcast to talk about that. But the I’ve been I’ve been following Amy’s career for a number of years and just love what she’s doing and what she’s talking about, with that aspect of technology. The one session that I attended, just because I really want to hear what you guys had to say about the discussion leaders that you bring and some of the challenges that you had was done by Kristen Rampe. I I thought, one, I thought she did a brilliant job because there was very little use of PowerPoint. It was all that group discussion and stuff, so I think that really came across in looking at everybody who who was attending that. And it was standing room only but there were some excellent feedback that you guys were able to gather from that session. And I don’t know if you remember any of that or have seen that feedback.

Michelle: [00:16:02] Mike, one of my co-workers did attend. And she had pages worth of notes pulled out from the two sessions, she went to both of Kristen’s session, and got tons of great information. She talked a lot about what Amy talked about and then just went further into it. So they talked about you know needing to engage. How do you engage? Different tips and tricks you can use to get people out from behind a lectern, or use a regular height table instead of a podium table. I mean little tips like that to really make it tangible for some of the staff that attended the conference, because that was also one of our things we always talked each year in planning this. Yes, we want to be applicable to the director and the V.P.. But a lot of people who attend are the staff, they are the seminar coordinators, they’re the managers for conferences, they’re everything. We need to run a whole gamut of content that could fit anyone’s work style and work day. And Kristen really got I think to that about the presenters and the logistics of something.

Peter: [00:17:05] Yeah I talked to her after that, and I interviewed her for a podcast that is going to be airing before this one, and we were talking about the session. She ended it and she ended it– we were talking about you know you need to know your audience and I asked what do you think that means? And she went down the path of well you need to know the demographics of that audience, you need to know you know generational stuff, and I went right because it’s really all about the audience correct? She goes Yeah. I said my take on understanding the audience is we have sat– being a CPA, I have sat in their seat. I know how painful it can be to listen to a tax, audit, ethics, any type from a lecture perspective. So when you’ve got a discussion leader who’s coming in, and they might be new, well they’re coming and going well this is the way that I’ve always done it. They’re not thinking about the audience, they are thinking about themselves. Or any time they go I don’t have time to do that. No no no. You need to make the time because your audience needs it. And I think that’s where the big challenges that the vendor community, who provide this type of of of knowledge, is the ability to train and to enhance when we’re putting a program together. When I think about my program, think about who I’m delivering this program to and try to gather what their needs are, and supply of that tool.

Michelle: [00:18:35] One of the things that she talked about in her second session was the differentiation between loyal clients and satisfied clients. I think a lot of vendors now they think we have satisfied clients, Great. The problem is you want loyal clients. They’re the ones that are going to have a positive experience and have an emotional tie to that experience. That is what keeps them loyal. That is what makes them coming back. You can be logistically satisfied. You can think okay everything was fine. Nothing wrong with that. But is it great? Is there something that sticks out in your mind that is unique that sets it apart and makes you want to come back? And that’s the difference, and that’s how we’re going to stay relevant going forward, from a learning environment, I think. It’s keeping people loyal, not just satisfied.

Peter: [00:19:17] John Medina who wrote the book Brain Rules. He’s a neurologist who wrote this book and even I could understand it so he really kind of put it in a context I think everybody could understand. You know basically data is boring. Data doesn’t drive decision making. It’s tapping into somebody’s emotion and having them– that’s what creates that that loyal customer, that one– And I think Amy used the term cherished advisor, not trusted adviser, and kind of had that same same aspect to it. Would you agree Jennifer?

Jennifer: [00:19:52] I definitely agree with that. We talked about some secrets to win learner loyalty in another session that we had, by Tracy King. Tracy works with our Inspire ED. And I think for us to really think about who our target audience is in more than just a five minute exercise, but to really understand what their needs are currently and what their needs are going to be in the future, to know that we’re invested in the future of their companies is what’s going to help build that loyalty as well.

Peter: [00:20:23] And knowing everything that we can know about the company. When I talk to CPAs about whether they’re internal, whether in a firm or business and industry. I go do you know who your big clients are? Even if it’s internally, your biggest customers? Yeah. Do you know their birth date? They say why would I want to know somebody’s birthday? I say doesn’t that make you feel good when somebody says thank you or happy birthday on your birthday? And they went Oh yeah I guess so. I said better yet, do you know their spouse’s birthday? And this inquisitive look comes over the faces. Don’t you think that if you sent an email two days before your biggest client’s spouse’s birthday just to remind them that their birthdays coming up, don’t you think that’s going to make a big impression? That you took the time out to do that? That creates an emotional grab.

Jennifer: [00:21:16] I think you’ve just named their second side business. What do you guys think? We’ll start that side businesses.

Peter: [00:21:23] So that will be our side hustle. Is that what the kids are calling it these days?

Jennifer: [00:21:29] We will be part of the gig economy, Peter.

Peter: [00:21:34] I think we need to flesh this out, maybe after this call we’ll see if we can put a business plan together. Oh boy I’m sorry. Put a business plan together. As we wrap up, what is kind of like the one thing you want to leave the audience with in thinking about for this next year, as it relates to continuing professional education in the accounting community?

Michelle: [00:21:56] I think that one of the larger things that we need to start thinking of is the member experience, what we just talked about: relevancy. How are we relevant to their day to day lives? Are we relevant to their day to day life? Because I think right now we aren’t, for a lot of our members. How do we create that tie to us where they don’t just want to be involved, they need to be involved? What are we unique at providing to our either members or attendees so that they will come to us and no one else? I know relevancy is something that a lot of these studies have always talked about, and it’s hard because each person has a different pain point. But if you can find out generally what the pain points are and try to address as many as possible, that’s how you’re going to keep your membership. Because Jennifer said something earlier about how the next generation is coming up and the baby boomers are retiring and everything. Well guess what? Those baby boomers were your checkbook members. Generation X Y and Z are not checkbook members. They want to know what they’re getting out of the organization to be part of the organization. So we have to really think about our strategy and our business model very differently going forward.

Peter: [00:23:07] You’re right. And as you were talking, a thought came into my head. I think I think to maintain that loyalty within within our members – the ability to put cheeks in the seat and not have to cancel a course goes a long way. And I know that’s a pain point for members when we have to cancel a course. So as I’m sitting here, as one who provides this type of product to the state societies, how can we help you put cheeks in the seat? How can we help you in that marketing of these programs? I know I’ve tried video in the past and a few other things, but there’s got to be a way that we can help you to grow that audience for for these sessions.

Jennifer: [00:23:55] There’s this concept in marketing – it’s the push pull theory. Do we push marketing content out to our members or do we pull them into our business, with addressing a need that they have? And so I think that marketing, and choosing different tools and techniques to market to members is great. You know I think Facebook has allowed anyone to become a marketer of any kind of business. And so the market’s a little saturated out there, in my opinion. So the best way to really for us to build loyal customers together, from vendors and educators standpoint, is really to give them the content that they don’t even know that they need yet. So right now, on the horizon, certifications are really big with millennials and their early generation Xers. And so how how can we help our members and customers obtain certifications or additional knowledge that is going to get them one more rung up the ladder I think is what we need to look at, versus you know this class that addresses this one topic on leadership. OK so how do they turn around and use that to become a better leader every day? So there’s a lot of classes out there that are very theory driven and do not present in such a way that members and customers can walk away and implement those practices into their everyday business, and that even goes not only for management type courses but also for tax and arcing and accounting courses.

Peter: [00:25:38] When you said this, and this is my biggest angst. Somebody asked me what keeps me up at night is – I don’t want to come in and be an event. I never want to be a one trick pony because you said leadership. You don’t become a leader just because you attend a course. You become a leader by practicing it every single day. And I have to give that quote to Simon Sinek, who I heard from, that leadership is something we need to practice every day and I think this goes to the content that we need to be providing that audience continual content after the fact, in order to keep it in front of them. If not, they’re not going to create that habit.

Jennifer: [00:26:19] That’s right. And that’s a challenge for us who are educators. That you know how do we follow up after that sale of course happens and that event happens? What’s next? And I don’t think we do as great of a job as we can to continue that learning experience. And so that is a challenge for us to figure out how to keep that going.

Peter: [00:26:43] And that’s one of the reasons why I started the podcast and the newsletter and stuff like that – to keep that constant reminder out there, or for those who have attended or signed up for the newsletter, to keep it in front of them, and just trying to find new ways of keeping that content out there. Your thoughts Michelle?

Michelle: [00:27:01] Yeah I agree. I know some states have tried doing learning tracks, essentially where they’re accepting a new member through a series of courses. Maybe you invite them to come Network for Free event first. Then you invite them to a lunch and learn, maybe only twenty five dollar fee, something nominal. Then you invite them to them to a seminar or conference. So you try to steer someone into not only to the membership, but also into the learning process. And start them with something that’s an overview or update and kind of walk them through. And I think some places have success with that. We have not tried that here in Oklahoma yet. It’s more work to put that together and figure out OK you’re a year 1-3 auditor. What classes do you really need to be successful? Pr if you’re the CFO, What do you need to be successful? And those are drastically different.

Peter: [00:27:51] Right.

Michelle: [00:27:51] So having them come up with, really, a variety of customized tracks takes some time and effort. But I think that’s what– we’re all looking for the easy thing now. You know people want things fast, people want things easy. They don’t want to have to work hard for it and they want to learn the same way. So they are looking to us like OK what classes should I be taking? If you can provide that to them on a silver platter, that’s a great relevancy and loyalty item right there. I just think it’s trying to figure how we do it best before we send it out to everyone.

Jennifer: [00:28:21] I agree. You know we we can customize everything. For example, for my brother this year, he asked for some customized Nike’s. You can pick the color of the lace all the way down to the color of the rivets on the– where the laces go into. You know we customize everything from tennis shoes to you know our McDonald’s hamburger or whatever. And so I think that it’s an expectation in the market right now for us to be more thoughtful in how we make offerings to them. And so what you just said Michelle segues exactly into what Peter asked – Our biggest takeaway from this conference – and so that segues right into my thought, which is you know how do we better learn to introduce ourselves to our members and our customers? And what you’re saying essentially is your content ramp. How do you get people invested, in a small investment way, into your organization, and how can you offer them better and better experiences and content along the way? So that that way, along this journey, we’re cultivating a valuable and even beautiful friendship between the two, you know our members and our organization, and give them what they need and then they want to be invested and involved with us in the future because they know we’re invested and involved in them as well.

Peter: [00:29:44] That’s an excellent point. And I have to say that I I love this conversation. Actually I could probably do this for two hours. But we do have to keep short, so I will I will stop it now. I know you guys are busy. Thank you so very much for taking time to share your thoughts on this topic, which is a very important topic with the accounting profession. And Michelle, congratulations on a successful chairmanship of the conference. And I know you’re looking forward to next year, when you don’t have to do anything but just show up.

Michelle: [00:30:22] Hahaha. That is true. Thank you so much for having us today. It’s been really great chatting with you guys. And yes, next year I anticipate the new committee or new committee chair, whoever that is because we don’t have it quite yet, will do a fabulous job of continuing these objectives. And it’ll be nice actually attend a full conference. That’s the hardest part being the chair – you don’t actually get to sit through all of the sessions. I feel like I didn’t learn quite as much as I normally do as a normal attendee. But it is still a great experience and a wonderful conference, and I’m glad to everyone that came.

Peter: [00:30:51] And I look forward to seeing you guys next year at the conference, and I enjoy you guys company so much. I greatly appreciate taking time. And thank you both so very much.

Jennifer: [00:31:03] Thank you.

Michelle: [00:31:04] Thank you.

Peter: [00:31:06] Wow. I’m joined right now with two esteemed gentlemen from the AICPA: Chris Fleck and Bret Johnson. And I say that since in a funny way because there’s a great story behind it. If you ever see Bret or run into him, have them tell you the story about his name. But beside that, first and foremost guys like you taken time out of your hectic schedule to kind of debrief from the 2018 National CPE Educators Conference that happened in New Orleans. And these guys were part of a pre conference, pre meeting before the conference kicked off, and they called it the FOOD group meeting, where a lot of state society folks got together and collaborated with the AICPA, and I’ll let them explain it to you. But welcome guys I appreciate you take your time. Looking forward to this conversation.

Bret: [00:32:01] Thanks Pete. Great to be here. Great to talk to you again. And I will share that story about my name and why that’s why that’s an interesting story, if anybody who’s willing to buy me a pint at some point in the future. But the one thing I want to say kind of at the outset is you know that the name of the meeting was FOOD group kind of by default because it was a lot of the people who come from that FOOD group group of professionals originally, and Chris can tell you what FOOD stands for. But you know when we when we first started– kind of you know the whole idea was about how do we innovate? How do we skate to where the puck is going to be? To use an overused phrase from Wayne Gretzky. But we had started having some conversations with a few states. We originally called it The Escape Room committee because of a idea that Rebecca Campbell had about having some CPAs learn in a escape broom type environment. Something creative, which was very creative, and that was kind of the genesis of the group that we met with in New Orleans. But it just kept growing because we kept thinking we should be we should include this person and that person and you know Chris I think it might have been only like a week before when he knew who was on the list and there were a number of other people who we would have wanted to add there, and we would have had probably– we would have had representatives from every state, Ii we if we had really thought about it, because of how it grew and how great it was having insight from states of all different sizes. But you know the long and the short of it is that it really was about innovation and how do we work differently together. But Chris where did that name the FOOD group come from again?

Chris: [00:33:47] Ok so don’t quote me on this. But like I said, 10 to 15 years ago, when I first came into this business, so actually 17 now, but when I came into the business, there was a group of I want to say five or six people who would get together regularly, maybe twice a year, in different locations. And it was called, I believe, that it stood for For Our Own Development. But over the years obviously that group has changed and moved them. I don’t even know – that’s probably not what they still call it. So it’s probably something totally different now, but they’ve kept the acronym FOOD intact.

Peter: [00:34:25] So I forgot to ask you guys before we started. So Chris what is your role at the AICPA?

Chris: [00:34:30] So my role– my title is senior manager of state society learning. So basically, over the years, I’ve always kind of been in charge of the live Seminar Training. So obviously we have a pretty robust live seminar business. But obviously you know over the years, as seminars have decreased in popularity, we have increased our presence in the webcast world and you know the on demand world and now we have these new certificates. So I basically work with the state societies on all the different products that we sell, and that they in turn resell to their members. So you know I work with the states on webcasts, work with them on all the different products that we offer that the states sell.

Peter: [00:35:09] And that’s a lot of products. There’s not much shelf room left in the closet we’re all the products are being being announced.

Chris: [00:35:17] There are just so many new thing that you know we’re just developing and these new certificate programs, which are just so popular, so you know a lot has shifted just in the past two to three years, in terms of what they what they are offering.

Peter: [00:35:31] So what are the certificate programs? Just out of curiosity. Because I don’t know if I’m really actually knowledgeable about that.

Chris: [00:35:41] Okay. So we have several different certificate programs. The very first certificate program we came out with probably in 2008, 9, 10 somewhere around in there with the IFRS certificate program and basically it’s a it’s a On-Demand program. And at the end, you get the certificate. And you know now we have digital badges where you can you know put it on your LinkedIn profile and things of that nature. But there are so many more that we’ve developed over the years. I don’t know how many of you think we have… Maybe I don’t know 10 to 15?

Bret: [00:36:14] Somewhere in there. I know that there are digital badges for like 16 or 17 different things, but I think that includes the credentials as well. A lot of it has gone towards… I guess the you know the IFRS is a pretty fundamental type of certificate, but you know more recently, we’ve been working on things like data analytics and blockchain and cyber security, which came out last October. So even more hot topic kind of thing. And just real quick. Yeah we were just talking about this with another group internally but this is– those are products that are really interesting to younger CPAs, that are interesting as differentiators, and that was one of the things we covered in our state society meeting with our partners back in October. A great way to reach that younger demographic and keep them engaged.

Peter: [00:37:07] And what is your role at the AICPA?

Bret: [00:37:09] I’m the director of channel management and development for the association. And so that’s global in nature. The states are where we really cut our teeth on a lot of these programs, but we also work with you know IFAC organizations and commercial training organizations, and my team also has licensing. And so we do a lot of different types of partnering.

Peter: [00:37:34] So this meeting – I guess the one question I have is what was the what was the main pain point or was there a main pain point that you guys came together and were trying to solve?

Bret: [00:37:45] Well there was one we decided to put aside, and that first pain point was Peter Margaritis. Everyone agreed you were a pain.

Peter: [00:37:55] Haha. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.

Bret: [00:37:59] But the pain that we talked about were within the hard trends of of demographics technology and government regulation. So you know I think we came up with different trends there that created opportunities. I think the way that Amy had us organize it were the trends, the opportunities, the predictable problems. And you know I could tell you what the trends were in the three different categories if you want.

Peter: [00:38:31] Sure.

Bret: [00:38:32] Sure. Okay. Well in demographic, it was the retiring baby boomers. It was also that there are more younger people in the workforce. I mean this is a really obvious trend that creates all kinds of problems when it comes to learning because you have different learning styles and people who grew up with smartphones not even never realizing that their great grandparents probably didn’t play the very first call of duty online. And I say that as you know the father of a teenage son who once asked me that, when he was a little bit younger. You know with the baby boomers retiring and with the younger generation really being dynamic in some really cool ways, still also creates some challenges with how do you reach them. How do you help them learn? Those were the trends in demographic. In government, I think government and regulation. There was there was an increase in regulation. We all identified tax reform, which if you hadn’t heard, happen you know towards the end of last year.

Peter: [00:39:45] All I heard was a cash register going off.

Bret: [00:39:53] Haha! Do you do tax?

Peter: [00:39:53] I used to, years ago, and I know when I first– when the reform came through and it was signed into law, all I just kept hearing was these cash registers going off because there’s a new demand for this information that we have the opportunity to provide.

Bret: [00:40:08] Yes. Definitely. And it is it is a huge opportunity. Just jump ahead to the trends in technology. Not to go too deep into the tax.

Peter: [00:40:17] Right right right.

Bret: [00:40:18] Because one thing I will say, By the way, there’s huge kudos go out to the team for creating products so quickly on that. That’s been very helpful for us. Chris spent a big part of getting that out there with our state partners. But the technology trends are really the globalization of business. The automation the profession. The different platforms that make learning accessible and creating other challengers and competitors for us, I think was another. Specialization. It’s something that the profession is doing. People are specializing to keep a high level of relevance, but it’s also – you’ve got to because of what you know and customer needs and what we, in the profession, need to provide. You know, knowing about bitcoin, knowing about blockchain, knowing about cybersecurity. Things like that.

Peter: [00:41:17] Chris, I got a question for you. As it relates to demographics in this conversation, did some of the conversation lead towards the demographics of the discussion leader pool?

Chris: [00:41:28] No, we did not discuss the discussion leader pool at all. That was it was more just the you know the workplace and you know the purchasers of our products. That too is an issue that we continually face as well.

Peter: [00:41:45] Kristen Rampe did a really nice job on her session about some of the demographics, as relates to the discussion leaders, and how that all that all comes together. I don’t know if you guys talked about that. But but thinking about the demographics and you’ve got this diversity, when you were describing that– I was in Philadelphia two days ago I was doing a session for PICPA, and this partner and this firm, and I thought I said Don’t you know what day it is? This is like April 3rd, you’re supposed to be at the office, not here in my class. He said well we don’t do that much compliance anymore. We’ve kind of gotten out of the compliance business, and he went on to say – I mean he had to be mid mid to late 60s, and he goes we can’t continue to think back in the day, as we say the good old days. We need to think young, we need to think like the young folks and think about how we’re going to mold and change into the future – not the way it was 10, 15 years ago. And I almost fell over because — I mean he’s spot on, on that mindset about we need to think like the Millennials. We need to think like what are they need, not what what we’ve done they should do the same thing.

Chris: [00:43:02] I mean that’s very interesting. I I would think it would be the opposite. You know in terms of we need to get them to be thinking like that. That’s interesting.

Peter: [00:43:13] Yeah yeah. He said he saw early on that compliance was going to be way too much of a commodity, or be overtaken by technology, by block chain or by A.I. or whatever, and over time. And it sounded to me like it’s about a seven-year period, they went from compliance base to more an advisory role with their clients. And I know this has been said in Maryland through Tom Hood that a lot of writing that’s been out there, that that’s kind of way the profession’s going. But it was refreshing to see that someone actually said Yeah this is what we’re doing because we want to be relevant to our clients in the future.

Chris: [00:43:53] And it’s interesting you say that because that was one of the things we talked about the technology trends. You know the increase in automation that we’re going to see in the profession over the next you know three to five years. And you know basically we’re being charged with re-skilling the profession, and you know that’s a big thing within our group here at the association, in terms of what is that going to look like? You know what skills do our professional need going forward? You know it may not be like you said all the compliance stuff because maybe they don’t do that much work in that area anymore. So that was another that was a big discussion we had this particular day.

Peter: [00:44:31] So does that tie back to the horizons 2025 project that came out with what competencies CPAs need in the future, with the communication skills, the leadership skills, the collaboration synthesising, and two or three others?

Chris: [00:44:48] Yeah I think it really does. You know it just it’s a matter of how do we how do we get people to engage and embrace that. Because as you know as an instructor who you know teaches a lot of those things – you know that you know in the past, people been more interested in coming to classes that are compliance based. And not your your leadership skills and things of that nature, but that’s what they’re going to need in future. So it’s a matter of getting them to pay attention to that.

Peter: [00:45:18] And I think that’s I think that’s a huge challenge because how do you get their attention? The pain point’s there. I mean I see some firms recognizing that that pain point – that I hear a lot about we’ve got high turnover, we can’t keep people, whatever. That goes to a lot of those leadership skills, a lot of that ability to communicate and collaborate with others and more of a free fall, versus the old top down approach. But a lot of lot of firms and organizations are structured in that top down situation.

Chris: [00:45:51] Yeah because with the automation, I mean those are the skills that are going to set these people apart in the future. Right. So with the automation, I mean anybody is going to be able you know… that compliance work is not going to be where they’re at. So the skills are going to set them apart in future.

Peter: [00:46:10] At that session, I had this– it was a millennial. I made the comment that I believe Excel will be extinct in the near future and we won’t need a 10 key or calculator because everything will be uploaded, and he thought I was absolutely bonkers. We still have to do calculations. I said the calculations will be done for us. It was just it was almost– I was expecting the response I got from him from the older folks in the room, but the older folks in the room were going yep. They were just telling this guy yeah, that’s the way we’re moving, that’s the way we’re going.

Chris: [00:46:45] Yeah. That’s interesting.

Bret: [00:46:48] I was just going to say we’ve seen some pretty encouraging responses to the human intelligence series that the communication has done on the Facebook Live platform. They went out and I don’t know how long it’s been going on, six or nine months, and I think we’ve already had 2 million views of those, and they’re really focusing on those skills that you’re talking about. And it’s interesting because Michael Grant did one and he was he was talking about you know personal brand. And he mentioned the fact that there were some source that he quoted that said the number one reason that people lose their job is because of their interpersonal skills. It’s not their technical skills, it’s the soft topics that we treat as less important that, it turns out, are the most important things.

Peter: [00:47:41] So from this group’s perspective and talking to them, how do you get action on things moving forward in this direction with the states and with this issue? What kind of– Now that we’ve talked about it, what were those next steps that they were thinking about needed to happen in order for this to get some traction?

Chris: [00:48:04] I mean I think the first step is we came to realize that you know the state societies and the association – we have to do a better job with collaborating with each other. We obviously, at the association, have a lot of stuff right. A lot of you know.

Peter: [00:48:18] Resources.

Chris: [00:48:20] There’s that word I needed. Resources. We have a lot of resources to share. And so the state obviously you know they they have resources, you know whether it’s education or whether it’s you know the free stuff that comes from you know small firm group or what have you. But the state societies themselves have a lot of stuff, as well. And so I think the first step we have to do is we have to collaborate more. And so that’s where we’re at. You know Bret can maybe say a little bit more to that. But that’s the point we’re at now. What are you going to look like when you can collaborate and share our resources because all of our members need it?

Bret: [00:48:57] Yeah that was one of the I think the big item that we spent really spent some time on was how do we how do we do that? And you know who owns that process? And we’re working on it together. But so that Maryland or Ohio or you know someone else doesn’t create what — we’re all creating it at the same time. That’s really inefficient. We are already, ourselves, selling some of the state society content, and they’re selling ours. So is it worth everybody dropping fifty thousand dollars to develop X? No it doesn’t make any sense, and especially when we are serving the profession right. And we will create content that might have an audience, but that doesn’t dictate that it’s you know a big commercial opportunity. But we do it to serve the profession. And so if five of us do that, then that makes it even less efficient. Right. And so you know that’s that’s one of the big things that we need to figure out, that we need to spend some time on it, and that I think we’re even a little off schedule with that but we need to do follow up there. But that that definitely resonated with everyone in the room.

Peter: [00:50:15] Yeah I’ve I’ve witnessed, over time, that we all want to recreate our own wheel, even though the wheel has been created someplace else – and we could all probably gain much more through collaboration and put things together as as a group, versus well if you’ve got yours then I want mine, but I want to make it my own. And this branding and like you said, throwing how many dollars down the rabbit hole where we could partner and share in those resources and share that revenue stream.

Chris: [00:50:51] Yeah absolutely and you know with more you know more regulation and things of that nature ON what you develop, you know as far as you know NASBA regulations and things like that. You know it takes a lot of resources, as a small society, to actually develop content. You know when you could actually you know collaborate with another state society that has already done it.

Peter: [00:51:13] Right. I agree. To jump to technology real quick because what did you guys talk about with the change in technology – You know blockchain, AI, whatever. But what about the technology in the classroom? Did you guys go down that path? How technology is impacting the classroom?

Chris: [00:51:32] We really didn’t. I don’t remember going down that path. You Bret?

Bret: [00:51:36] Yeah we did a little. I would say you know one thing we acknowledge is the need to use the different technologies to reach especially younger audiences. That’s one thing. We also talked about the barrier to entry for education is lower with technology right. Like if you do something in a virtual platform, as long as you can get to the students you know in a small town in Illinois, like I was growing up. You know you could have people attending from all over the country. So it both complicates and makes things easier, I think is the answer. I don’t know. Chris what do you think?

Chris: [00:52:20] Yeah I mean we’re seeing a lot. State studies are embracing the technology through whether it’s simulcast or whatnot because they see opportunities within their state. You know they can’t serve members– you know if you’re in Iowa, you can’t serve members in Storm Lake in Dubuque and you know all these small towns. So this is the way for them or all their members. One thing that just popped into my head. You know the state side is embracing breaking technology, and people get a kick out of that, I had one instructor – last year was his last year to teach for us, and he was still using an overhead projector. And there were a couple of state societies– and he was a fantastic instructor, like a really really well respected instructor. And there was a society society who actually kept the overhead projector for all these years. And I just can’t imagine. He was heartbroken several years ago when we stopped making transparencies.

Peter: [00:53:21] Haha. So now I have seen an overhead projector, more high tech, where you don’t read the transparencies. You can write it on a piece of paper and it projects, but… Haha.

Chris: [00:53:36] That’s old school.

Peter: [00:53:40] But with technology in the classroom – So being one of these instructors who do travel, I mean travel costs are… states societies are very cognizant about these travel costs, and it could either make or break the session, depending upon attendance. And I know Hayden Williams and I, we tested this a couple of years ago where he was going to cancel one of the courses out in Washington. He had kind of almost enough but not quite there, I said well we tested Adobe Connect in San Antonio, the first year for this national conference. Why don’t we give it a shot? I was at my office, like I am now, for eight hours. They were there. We could interact. I just didn’t physically have to be there, but it was almost like I was. Two years ago, the technology was pretty good. But according to some of the attendees, I did sound a little bit like a Godzilla movie at times. Those who remember, the mouth moves and the words finally catch up. But has that been explored in any additional depth?

Chris: [00:54:41] Yeah actually it really has. We’ve had to do that on an emergency basis a couple of years ago, where an instructor could not get to a location due to a flight problem. But there are a couple of things societies with tax reform, when we had that at the beginning of the year, where they didn’t want to pay the travel costs just for somebody to come out one day, and so that particular instructor actually taught it just like you said, from their office, and it was just fine. I think we’re going to see more of that because more and more state societies have that capability now. We even polled all of our instructors and that was one of the questions we asked them – Are you willing to do this? Because not everybody is right. Not everybody is comfortable with the technology, but we do actually in our database have it flagged whether or not an instructor will do that. So I see it in the future we’ll be doing more of that.

Bret: [00:55:32] Not surprising at all that it was Hayden you were doing that innovation with. He has a bit of a reputation.

Peter: [00:55:38] Yeah he does, he is very much an innovator.

Bret: [00:55:43] Absolutely.

Peter: [00:55:44] That was actually– you know I do love traveling. I do like traveling, love traveling, but I really love going out to Seattle. That part of the country. I was a little disappointed I couldn’t go, but I didn’t want the class to cancel. And that’s always been my my concern. Having spent some time on the Ohio society board, and even chair of the board, I get that part of the business. And when we start canceling classes, the members start losing trust and they start looking elsewhere for classes that they can take that are unlikely to cancel, webinars and things like that. And I think if we want to kind of bring seminars alive again, that we have to have some other alternative make sure that we’re still holding them in some type of live environment, and that they’re not canceling them.

Chris: [00:56:35] Yeah it’s been a struggle the last couple of years. You know we’ve definitely seen the numbers decrease. But you know there are people that still like that live interaction. So it’s going to be interesting to see you know, say five years from now, what that like seminars going to look.

Bret: [00:56:49] I don’t like – And I know contrary to trends – but I’d much rather learn face to face. But I just want to say something related to that, and that is with the virtual technology. It’s actually a different skill set, from an instructor perspective. And so you may have somebody who’s really good in the room, they kind of need to reskill a little bit, right Chris? As far as if they’re going to– you know they may not come out as well in reviews if they don’t have experience in delivering through a virtual platform.

Chris: [00:57:27] Yeah I think you know… we didn’t have an instructor symposium this year. Last year when we had it, we did bring a guy who specialized in virtual training, and it just kind of I think just touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of the information that they need. But I think going forward, that’s going to be critical. It’s going to be just as critical as teaching somebody how to– you know Pete has been to many of these you know like training the trainer sessions, right, where you know you learn how to make the class more interactive. I mean I think that technology’s going to be just as important going forward.

Peter: [00:58:02] Actually you remember you remember Lynn Nichols?

Chris: [00:58:06] Yes.

Peter: [00:58:07] Lynn is still around, and actually Chris Jenkins out of South Carolina contracted both Lynn and myself to develop a two and a half day discussion leader Academy for a group of CPAs who are South Carolina based that he wanted to give them this type of training. And it was an absolute blast and they loved it. We’re actually in the process to trying to schedule it again for another group here in the month of June.

Chris: [00:58:30] Very very cool.

Peter: [00:58:34] It helps with– the ability to engage an audience in the classroom is critical to that learning, versus that lecture head and just delivering of information. You’ve got to engage that audience. I will say, it’s a little difficult at times to engage CPAs. I had one gentleman tell me once. No no no no don’t engage me. I’m just here to sit and listen. I don’t want to I don’t want to– I’m going okay, that’s fine. To this content and learning, you guys did mention about technology. I’m seeing more and more written in state societies and Accounting Today, in the Journal of Accountancy, about blockchain and artificial intelligence and machine learning. Are we– do we have products that we are delivering at the national and state level on these topics? Does anybody teach blockchain?

Chris: [00:59:24] At the state society level I haven’t seen a whole lot of it. You know we don’t have– I mean we do have some learning surrounding that right now. But you know I think we’re kind of in the early stages of that. When you think you know at the state level, you teach seminars right at the state society level, when you go into that classroom. I mean am I correct in saying that most of the people in there are your sole practitioners, your smaller firms? You know some people from business and industry? I mean those folks right now are not the ones who are probably interested necessarily in blockchain – yet.

Peter: [00:59:58] Right.

Chris: [01:00:00] You know I think you know we’re kind of in the early stages of all of that. Wouldn’t you agree with that Bret?

Bret: [01:00:08] Yeah I mean I would say it’s… there is content coming in very short order that I think is going to be in that digital format. You know a self-paced learning, and I even think some of the stuff that we’re working on has augmented reality aspects to it. I mean it’s really cool. But yeah as far as face to face learning, at this point, I don’t think it’s quite there yet.

Peter: [01:00:35] Well I would assume that if it’s not at this level yet, that the bigs are doing it at their level. They have some type of content or discussion leader or that subject matter expert that’s helping them understand this process.

Bret: [01:00:52] Well and we are working with certain industry leaders as well. I know in blockchain that we are, I know in cyber security we have. And that’s kind of a new thing for us is, with all the specialization, you have to have to reach out and get some people who really are digging into the cracks of some of that stuff.

Peter: [01:01:13] Yeah I think the one thing that fascinated me was… did you attend Amy Vetter’s opening keynote session?

Chris: [01:01:20] Yes.

Peter: [01:01:23] Bret, had you already left?

Bret: [01:01:25] I came in for the FOOD group / escape room committee and then I left. So I missed it.

Peter: [01:01:33] Amy was talking about – She’s an I.T. expert, wonderful speaker – but she was talking about the different levels of machine learning that my head just exploded because I don’t think I really realize that– Now that she’s brought to my attention I see it, but the machine will actually learn and improve its processes as it continues to learn more, and in my mind, that’s a whole ball of was.

Chris: [01:02:07] That’s a whole nother universe out there. Haha.

Bret: [01:02:11] Some Isaac Asimov stuff right there. Seriously. You have a machine that learns and grows. You know it’s it’s really cool. I wish–

Peter: [01:02:23] Don’t unplug me Hal. Not right now. We can’t do that. And wrapping up, what what other marching orders– I don’t like that word. What other initiatives that the states are undertaking and that we will circle back and make sure that we’re all holding each other accountable in solving that those pain points or was there something there that we haven’t discussed that needs to be discussed?

Bret: [01:02:52] I’ll throw this out there. We– you know that meeting was about innovation and additional innovation. It should be noted that we have been innovating together on a lot of things outside of that meeting and process. So you know we’re working together on the self study OnDemand or e-learning content. And you know working with the states that you know we have branded portals for state societies. You know a lot of it is about the soft interaction of a state society member coming to a state to buy something. Getting an email thank you from the state, going to a portal that’s got the State’s brand on it, and that’s all enabled by technology that we’ve been working on. And so in different states taking their lumps with us on that, which I think is great, so that you know that that sort of thing is ongoing and sort of natural. I don’t know how to say it. It’s like we didn’t really plan for it. It’s just been necessary. But coming out of the meeting, Chris, would you say– I mean what do you think?

Chris: [01:04:01] Well I mean it’s just you know the the action, or should I say from you know that meeting, you know first you know all the different things they have to go back and you know kind of get the buy in from their leadership, you know to move forward with whatever is going to morph out of this, you know whether it’s going to be a centralized database, whether it’s going to be you know housing all the different stuff that the state societies have. They’ve got to get the buy in from the leadership, and then from there, we’ve got to figure out who are are going to be key players? You know who’s going to who’s going to host the technology or who’s going to develop it? How is it going to get built you know? So those are those are all things that will be down the road. I believe that, as I’m looking here my notes, I believe we already missed the first the first thing, which was getting the buy in from leadership. But I’m actually going to follow up with one of the guys from the meeting today, before I leave, to see where we’re at on that. So that was kind of the first step and then you know we’ll take steps two and three once we’ve gone down the road. But we also have, as you know, an interchange meeting where this conference, that takes place every July, and so that’s going to be kind of a time when we can get to get back to get this group back together and probably knock out some planning at that meeting.

Peter: [01:05:22] I think that challenge of getting the buy in from leadership, and I think the definition of leadership is two parts: one, getting the buy in from the CEO or the executive director of the Association or society, and two, getting the buy in from the board.

Chris: [01:05:44] Two separate problems.

Peter: [01:05:45] Because I think getting the buy in from from the exec – that’s not can be as difficult. But getting the buy in from the board and having them recognize the urgency here, as well as the pain points… I would love to go in and you know you’re presenting something like this, and you start getting we can’t do that. That kind of atmosphere and just go let’s try this – what if we could? What would that look like? We’ve all played the what if game. What if I win the lottery? I wouldn’t be talking to you guys right now right. OK. Bingo. I actually I got to give credit where credit is due. Brad Hoffman, who’s a partner and firm and Maryland, DeLong and Stang, I interviewed him for part of my upcoming book and he mentioned this that he does with his clients: when they push back on we can’t do that, he goes well just humor me for a moment. What if we could, what would it look like? It’s like you’re giving them permission now that they can kind of think crazy or what would this look like. He says it’s amazing what happens when you give them that permission.

Bret: [01:06:59] I think one of the challenges there on that we can’t do this I find really interesting is the we tried it before and it didn’t work. That’s another one. And it’s you know well I tried. Maybe I would have loved to have had a phone that I could actually walk around with when I was in high school, but they have them now. You know things change so quickly that you know something that wasn’t possible the year before could be possible in the very next year. So that’s an interesting one because so many things can make things fail. But that’s that’s an easy excuse that people need to get past that thing.

Peter: [01:07:43] Oh I you saw me jump out of my chair when you said that because that’s the other one. And it goes like well. How long ago did you try that? My wife and I were having this conversation last night. Well maybe three or four years. Technology has changed. Maybe we could do it now.

Chris: [01:08:00] You, Pete, of all people know, if you can’t do it, you have to dump Sally, right?

Peter: [01:08:04] Right. You got to dump Sally. And actually I had one group say isn’t that a little harsh? Shouldn’t we just let her down easy. And I said no, we gotta dump her and move forward. We got to come to a portion of that – when we talk about innovation, it’s innovation– I look at innovation and I said there’s two pieces to that. One is creativity and one is applying that, how to effectively apply creativity. And if we can get organizations to think I need the quantity of ideas in order to get quality ones, and create an atmosphere that allows for these ideas, albeit crazy ones at times, and not be punitive in nature, and you’ll get so many ideas out of people that you wouldn’t believe, if you create that culture that allows that. And I think that’s also part of getting past a lot of these challenges that we have.

Chris: [01:09:04] Yeah I would definitely agree with that. You’ve got to create the culture – just like all these soft skills and the stuff that we’re talking about that we’re going to need in the future. You also have to position your organization to embrace that.

Peter: [01:09:18] Right. Exactly.

Bret: [01:09:19] And not make it sound like wizardry. Right. You’re not inventing the lightbulb. I mean a lot of these things can be really simple. The best ideas are small, you know are simple ideas.

Peter: [01:09:34] Exactly. And the other – and we’re going to wrap up on this – But Jennifer Oleksa said this: That when she was listen to Amy Vetter’s presentation, Amy was talking a lot about firms, but she said It dawned on her she’s also talking indirectly to state societies about how they have to change and redesign themselves in order to meet that. And that was her that was her big aha moment from that keynote was that this is not just about the firms, it’s about us as a society, us as a CPE deliverer, that we need to do that same process.

Chris: [01:10:11] Yeah absolutely. How do you stay relevant? Because you’re not relevant, your members aren’t going to be there.

Peter: [01:10:18] That’s right. You’ve lost all types of trust. Any last words before we wrap this up?

Chris: [01:10:23] All I have to say is go Cubs. Go Cubs go.

Peter: [01:10:28] I’m looking at Chris and he’s wearing a Cub jacket. He’s got Cub stuff all over the place. I believe he might be, outside of Bill Murray, one of the big Cubs fans. If they weren’t in the division– I root for the Cubs, except when they play and beat the Reds.

Chris: [01:10:47] I actually… the Reds are fine as long as we can agree though that we don’t like St. Louis.

Peter: [01:10:53] Oh yes. Oh yeah. We can agree. What about you Bret? What you got?

Bret: [01:10:59] We’ll go Cubs as well, of course. I’m a Cubs fan. One of the things that really bring Chris and I together. But last thoughts, I think we’ve covered just about everything – and it’s just we need to go out and find the time and do the work.

Peter: [01:11:13] You’re right. We’ve got to find the time. We got to get the work done and we got to keep this in the forefront of our minds, and that’s really the reason why I want to do these interviews, to kind of help you guys out and keeping the message alive, and so we can move forward and maintain our relevance. So I’ll wrap up by saying thank you both very much for your time. I greatly appreciate it and I look forward to the next time we run into each other because I want to have a whole lot of people buy pints for Bret so he could tell the story.

Bret: [01:11:46] Hahaha.

Chris: [01:11:49] Alright, thanks Pete.

Peter: [01:11:49] I would like to thank Michelle, Jennifer, Chris, and Bret for sharing their thoughts and perspectives from the conference on how we can begin to develop and design the CPE for the future. In Episode 3, my guest is Eddie Turner, who is a specialist and a deep generalist. He is a Certified Information Technology expert with digital marketing, social media, and leadership development experience. Thank you for listening, and begin the process of changing your mindset and getting out of your comfort zone and develop new skill sets to become more future ready. Remember, this is a process that requires daily application with a big dose of applied improvisation.