S2E8 – Owen Wyss | The Value of Volunteering (For You & Your Community)

Owen Wyss is the Financial Controller at Thompson Concrete Construction, and he can best be described by a quote he gave in a recent AICPA article titled “Tired of Getting After-Hours Work Email?” Owen said, “Given the fact that my company does pay for me to have the ability to access my email on my smartphone, I believe they expect me to be available in an emergency or in order not to delay a project or task, especially since we operate globally.”


Now, most CPAs don’t feel that way – and that is what makes Owen a great leader!


Owen embraces the essence of leadership. He is currently Vice Chair of Finance for the Ohio Society of CPAs, is also on the board of the Construction Financial Management Association, and has been on the board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (an organization close to my heart).


“I encourage, first, for everybody to find something they’re passionate about; and second, to find an organization that aligns with them and realize that what will come of that are some great friendships, some great networking opportunities, and business connections.”


That’s a lot for one person, in addition to having a job and a family, so our conversation covers a wide variety of topics: his role as a financial controller, why the construction industry needs to embrace more lean practices to become more efficient, and his volunteer time.


As you’ll hear, Owen is passionate about everything he does and is a great role model for both young and old. I am very proud of him, and I’m envious of his drive.


I also have an exciting announcement: my new book, Taking the Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity, is available for purchase on Amazon.com! If you’d like to learn more about the book, head on over to TakingTheNumbOutOfNumbersBook.com.


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Click to download the full Transcript PDF.


Peter Margaritis: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode eight. And my guest today is Owen Wyss, who’s the Financial Controller at Thompson Concrete Construction. Owen can be described by a quote he gave in a recent AICPA article titled Tired of Getting After-Hours Work E-mail? Owen stated, “Given the fact that my company does pay for me to have the ability to access my email on my smartphone, I believe they expect me to be available in an emergency or in order not to delay a project or task, especially since we operate globally.” Now, most CPAs don’t feel that way, and that is what makes Owen a great leader. Owen embraces the essence of leadership, and he currently sits on two association boards and chairing a committee on another one. Owen is able to manage his time effectively between his job, his volunteer work with the associations, and he does have a wife and a daughter, and his daughter is not even two years old. So, our conversation does touch on his role as a financial controller, his volunteer time, and his family time. I think you’ll find this conversation between Owen and I to be very interesting, and he is very inspiring.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:23] A quick announcement before we get to the interview, my new book Taking the Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity is available for purchase on Amazon.com. If you’d like to learn more about the book, go to TakingTheNumbOutOfNumbersBook.com to learn more. So, without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Owen Wyss.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:48] Hey, welcome back, everybody. Today, my guest is Owen Wyss. And Owen and I go back a number of years. And correct me if I’m wrong here, Owen, I think at one time when you were on the Ohio Society of CPAs Young CPA Board or on the committee, I think I was your mentor at one time. Is that correct?

Owen Wyss: [00:02:09] That is correct. Actually, I still tell my wife to this day that when we’re, you know, meeting up after work for a drink or an appetizer that I still consider you a mentor regardless of whether the official designation is now gone.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:25] I appreciate that. And I will have to say when I remembered that, I went, “Holy cow. Look what he’s done in his career.”

Owen Wyss: [00:02:34] We definitely go back further than that though. All the way, I think, to the first year of my career when my employer at the time brought you in for one of your seminars.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:49] Yes. You were with the Battelle & Battelle at the time, and that’s when I did my Humor at Work presentation. And that was the time when I said something like, you know, when you laugh, it has physical benefits it because it releases the endolphins. You know, the endolphins, those crazy fish that swim through your bloodstream to help you fight stress, anxiety, and depression? There were five folks who, on my evaluation, came back with “Mr. Margaritis, dolphins are mammals, not fish.”

Owen Wyss: [00:03:19] And in that group that day, that’s not all that surprising really.

Peter Margaritis: [00:03:25] I tell that story a lot, but I forgot about that, yeah. We met when you were at Battelle & Battelle, but I am amazed how your career has evolved since the first time we met many years ago. And if you can give the folks, the audience, a little bit about your background, where you started, and what you do today.

Owen Wyss: [00:03:46] Yeah, absolutely. My background after graduating from Wright State started out in public accounting, and really remained there for nine years at two different firms Battelle & Battelle in Dayton, and then Crowe here in Columbus where I’m at now, primarily focused on auditing, manufacturing, distribution, clients. It’s simply stated.

Owen Wyss: [00:04:06] From there, I moved on to a role for four years in a manufacturing plant here in Columbus, Diamond Innovations. Then, known as Sandvik Hyperion, went through several evolutions, but, ultimately, they press diamonds for use in tools. They didn’t actually make the tools, but press the diamond right here in Columbus, and then send it out to the toolmakers. And I’ve spent four years there working on — Mainly, it was a controller role mainly focused on the financial side or finance side, I guess, I should say, related to budgeting, forecasting, and assessing results against that, forwarding it to our executive management team.

Owen Wyss: [00:04:50] Well, not a whole lot of place to go there based on growth, and thought it was time to make another move. And I’ve moved over to Thompson Concrete now, a family-owned concrete excavation construction company located just south of town, serving nearly all of Central Ohio, and recently expanding a small operation into Louisville, Kentucky.

Owen Wyss: [00:05:10] Here, I call myself a hands-on CFO without the title. The title is financial controller, but I’d say that I do about anything and everything other than my job description originally thought I was going to do. Anywhere from finance and accounting, you know, 20 to 40 percent of the job, to responsibility for HR and benefits, IT, contractor, you name it. It has really become a jack of all trades, and couldn’t say more about the learning experience just over a little over three years now. An opportunity to learn more than I ever thought possible on three-year period with lots and lots more to go.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:54] You just described every CFO that I’ve come across what they do. And I always hear HR and IT, usually, somewhere in that sentence of the responsibilities that they have. But I forgot that you were at Crowe, which jogged my memory. I had lunch with Andrea Meinardi a few weeks ago, and we were talking about you, all good, but I just wanted to let you know she said hello.

Owen Wyss: [00:06:19] Well, I hope she would say that because she recently took over our 401k audit. So, if she’s badmouthing, then we’ve got something to talk about.

Peter Margaritis: [00:06:28] No, it was all good, my friend. It was all good. The question I want to ask is, what made you or why did you become an accountant?

Owen Wyss: [00:06:37] Unfortunately, I can’t give a great answer. I will say that it was dumb luck. There is no accounting in my background. There is really no business in my background. I come from a family of farmers out in the country. My mom was an underwriter in insurance for 45 years. And the dumb luck really came down to, at some point, I can’t even remember, my junior or senior year in the high school curriculum, I saw an accounting class. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but I thought it might be something good to know when I get out in the world. And that class had a great teacher, and it just stuck. It felt like something I was really good at.

Owen Wyss: [00:07:22] And so, when I went to college, it was definitely something I thought, “There’s a real opportunity here,” but my dad did have somewhat of an engineering background, so I was balancing between the two. And I will say, to my luck, I think I chose the right way. I ended up declaring a designation or a major in accounting while I was at Wright State.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:43] Did you have Maggie Houston as a professor?

Owen Wyss: [00:07:47] Absolutely, first class, first year.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:50] Oh wow.

Owen Wyss: [00:07:51] One of the greats. I hope she listens to this and gets a chance to hear that. But I will tell you, Wright State was definitely unappreciated for its accounting program, whether it’d be Maggie Houston or Dr. John Talbott, just some great professors I had while I was down there. Really drove me to want to excel in this profession.

Peter Margaritis: [00:08:12] Well, it started with that high school professor. Your teacher, who was a good teacher, raised your interest. And then, at your first accounting classes with Maggie, you’re hooked.

Owen Wyss: [00:08:22] Yeah, absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:08:23] Yeah. She’s a great lady. I haven’t seen her in a few years, but I hope she is listening because, I mean, she’s dynamite in the classroom. She’s dynamite outside the classroom. She gets so much energy. She’s just a really wonderful person.

Owen Wyss: [00:08:36] Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.

Peter Margaritis: [00:08:38] So, you kind of fell into this. You just kind of stepped into it. But, man, when you step into something, you build something with it. I mean, thinking about your career and how you’ve embraced the profession, how you’ve embraced your role, but I have to ask this question because knowing CPAs, we work a lot, we have a lot of responsibilities, we never retire, but we get sleepless nights. So, what keeps you up at night other than your 16-month-old child?

Owen Wyss: [00:09:11] I know. Actually, I will tell you, she’s been a great sleeper since 10 weeks. So, hopefully, there’s no one listening to me that is very jealous or hates me for having said that. But my wife figured out a trick somewhere in there, and she’s been a great sleeper since then.

Owen Wyss: [00:09:26] You know, I would say it’s nothing on an overall professional basis or even personally. It’s really where I’m at now. I found a very interesting industry when I entered construction. It really is. It’s a different world. And a lot of people when they’re interviewing an accountant for construction, nobody can figure out the debits and credits. There are still debits and credits. That’s just a given. Anyone can pick it up that’s got a good accounting background, but it’s a different world from the perspective that it’s a different way of doing business. There’s not a lot of planning. There is a lot of, “That’s always the way we’ve done it.”.

Owen Wyss: [00:10:15] And, you know, those are the things that keep me up at night. And It’s a very, to me, antiquated and fragmented industry. And, actually, I stole that from an article that I can’t give accurate credit to that I read a day or two ago that really needs to adapt. And so, I’d say what keeps me up at night is trying to help our leadership be on the cutting edge of adapting. And that’s a hard road to tow. It’s difficult, you know, especially in this environment where there are contracts galore, and we’re trying to make sure we’re picking the right ones. You know, change is tough to get behind when you’re operating as lean as we do, and there’s so much opportunity out there.

Peter Margaritis: [00:11:02] Wow. I wasn’t expecting that, but that’s interesting that you bring that up because construction, I have a very little background, and I used lend to it, but it is a different world. But you said the word leadership. You used it in a broad sense. So, you weren’t more or less talking about the leadership within your organization. You’re talking about the leadership within the construction financial arena?

Owen Wyss: [00:11:26] Both. You know, not only within our organization, you know, realizing that, you know, there’s some bad things, there’s possible bad things ahead that we need to avoid in our own company. But also, then, being part of several different organizations and going back to that fragmented way of doing business. Just the whole owner-contractor-subcontractor creates so many different self-interests in the way that construction is done or the way that things are built that I feel like we’ve got to find a way to to start to align the best interests of all if construction is going to be a successful industry into the future where we expect to keep cutting costs of building.

Peter Margaritis: [00:12:14] Wow, yeah. You said self-interest. And, yes, construction has always kind of been more in the self-interest side. And to get them to adapt to a much more bigger picture will be a huge undertaking. And it sounds like, to me, there — Well, let me ask it a different way. Has there been some movement in adapting to a newer way, or is it still pretty much this is the way we’ve always done it?

Owen Wyss: [00:12:42] I feel — I would say the majority of the industry is still this is the way we’ve always done it. But I am receiving some feedback from the field related to some of the GCs, some of the experienced general contractors that we are finding ourselves working with, are really making an effort. And the one that sticks out to me is Turner Construction who seems to really be pushing down lean manufacturing ideas into the way that they construct. And that, I appreciate.

Owen Wyss: [00:13:16] You know, it’s kind of — I’ve been talking to our guys, our leadership here locally, just about the Toyota way and Honda way a lot, and how they worked with their manufacturers and subcontractors that weren’t within their own plants, and really forced down their ways to realize better margins and more profitability. And I think that Turner’s been taking that on from a construction perspective and with the ideas of lean. And we’re trying to start adopting some of that ourselves.

Owen Wyss: [00:13:45] I think that’s just a small piece though, as I believe it is important though that the owners, GCs, and subcontractors, and even sub-subcontractors, and suppliers start to find a better way to align their interests. It’s not all going to come from lean manufacturing ideas.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:05] Yeah, that’s a good point. There’s a thought process that I was just exposed to about a couple of months ago from a gentleman with the National Speakers Association, and he works at IBM. Have you heard of this called design thinking?

Owen Wyss: [00:14:21] No.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:22] And I will butcher this, but the concept is, you know, as a manufacturer of something, I build this, you buy it. And then, you’re not part of that input. To me, you’re the consumer. Well, design thinking is going to the point where the organization is partnering with the customer and helping to design the product that meets their needs to eliminate a lot of errors, a lot of — You know, when you implement an SAP system, somebody goes, “Okay. This is not going run smoothly. There’s going to be some type of interruption. There’s always something like that with an ERP system,” which stands for entities reoccurring problem.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:04] But with design thinking, it eliminates that because they’re partnering with their major customers and helping to design what they need versus, “We’ve got our engineers. We think we know what you need. We’re going to build it.” But a lot of times, it doesn’t work properly for a while.

Owen Wyss: [00:15:24] And interesting that you say that because maybe from that perspective, construction might actually be a little bit about out front, given the fact that the owners go in with an idea of what they need, and work with the GCs and design people to figure that out. I think it’s a little bit more of the actual process of getting it built that needs to come a long way; whereas, I think, manufacturing is out and front on that piece, and then needs to get more involved in the design piece.

Peter Margaritis: [00:15:56] Okay. So, it sounds like — So, it’s with the subs that seems to be the issue from the GC and the subs, getting that that’s done smoothly, and efficiently, and on time, and under budget?

Owen Wyss: [00:16:10] I think that — Wow, you’re asking me to dig into the details here.

Peter Margaritis: [00:16:16] No. Just for a second. I’m just curious.

Owen Wyss: [00:16:18] It is. It is a function, I think, of all three that you just mentioned. I mean, they’re pushing. Owners are pushing margins lower, you know, which obviously should drive the general contractors to push costs lower, which ultimately should drive the subcontractors to push costs lower. But I believe what you’re seeing is just shrinking margins because there’s not a great effort to look at how we can make construction more efficient. And like I said, I kind of keep going back to what I think. There are some GCs out there who see major opportunities with lean thought processes to do that and are trying to work with some of their closer general contractors to do or/and subcontractors to do the same.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:06] Cool. That’s interesting. Like I said, I’ve got a limited — I have to be a little bit dangerous. I haven’t been able to get rid of that memory of lending back in the — Well, just way back in that time, but still have some of that floating around. So, I was really kind of curious about that.

Peter Margaritis: [00:17:24] We’ll change gears for a bit. The one thing that I’m so happy that you’re doing, and I’m really envious of you and how you’ve approached this, is you find it very important to give your time back to the profession and to the community. And I’d like for you to talk about that because you’re currently Vice Chair of Finance for the Ohio Society of CPAs. You’ve been on the board of JDRF, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. You’re currently also on the board of the Construction Financial Management Association. Am I forgetting anything?

Owen Wyss: [00:18:07] Not that — There were a few earlier in my career, you know, young CPA, young leadership boards that I participated in around the state and Columbus for that matter. But other than that, no, not at all. Not that I’m trying to fill any gaps either there, but, you know, it really started off as —

Owen Wyss: [00:18:31] And it’s interesting because I hate to say this, it was never meant to be giving back, but it really did start off at Battelle & Battelle in Dayton where they were very connected to a charitable organization. You know, for that matter, JDRF. They had a corporate bond with that organization. And, you know, therefore, it was easy to get involved because it was being driven from the top. And that was just a great chance to network, and get out, and do something. But it became more than that. You know, it really. You go, and you hear the stories, and it became much more of a connection outside of the networking and getting my own name out in the community. So, it really stuck.

Owen Wyss: [00:19:15] And when I moved to Columbus, actually, I passed up a chance to be more intimately involved with the board at the Dayton chapter, but I still wanted to continue that connection even though where I was moving to, I had no connection with that organization, it was important for me to maintain that. You know, it really is just finding something that you’re passionate about. And I stick with it to this day. I did the boards then. Now, I’m co-chairing their annual walk here in Columbus. And it’s just something I’ve become passionate about and has given me — Not only am I passionate about it and continue to do it, I’ve also met some amazing people around this city because of those connections.

Owen Wyss: [00:19:56] So, I encourage, first, for everybody to find something they’re passionate about; and second, to find an organization that aligns with them and realize that what will come of that are some great friendships, some great networking opportunities and business connections.

Owen Wyss: [00:20:13] And then, you know, the connections with the Ohio Society and with the CFMA, Construction Financial Management Association, those have both been driven from my professional relationships, and you find some really, really great and passionate people when you are working in organizations like that, people who want to drive change in industry. And it’s just a great opportunity to meet passionate people and other successful people in their profession, and get a feel for how they got to where they’re at now, which is where I’m aspiring to go in the next 20 or 30 years.

Owen Wyss: [00:20:58] So, I can’t encourage it more. It is a drain sometimes on personal life. And I shouldn’t call it a drain. It does take away from from being able to be at home or even sometimes at work. You know, there are during the day meetings, but it’s delivered tenfold back to me, not only for how I interact daily at work, but also how I interact at home.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:23] So, just so the audience knows, let’s go back to JDRF for a little while. You’re very passionate about this organization, but you’re not a diabetic.

Owen Wyss: [00:21:33] That is correct, I’m not. But I’ll you what, you hang around some people at that organization who are diabetics, and who are passionate, and it’s hard not to feel the same way they do.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:45] Yes. And, obviously, being a diabetic, I tip my hat to you because I applaud the work that you’re doing at JDRF and have done at JDRF. And I’ve met some folks at JDRF. I’ve met some of the doctors whose children have had diabetes, and they do a lot of work at JDRF. And that’s another organization. That’s kind of how — I didn’t realize, you had posted something on Facebook. It was around the Super Bowl or something, tickets to JDRF.

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:19] And you were the one who introduced me, who is the Executive Director, Cathy Paessun, at the time. And I went talk to Cathy and wanted to volunteer. And then, she moved to the Central Ohio Diabetes Association. And we’ve talked about this. Honey, my wife, if you’re listening to this, please turn it off because you’re going to get really upset with me. But like I told you, I would still like to do and help something out at JDRF as I do at the Central Ohio Diabetes Associations. I’m just going to put that out there. And it’s recorded, so it can’t be taken back. And I know you can make it happen, like I said. And hit me up here soon. We need to get together for another afterwork appetizer and talk about potential opportunities over there.

Owen Wyss: [00:23:05] Absolutely.

Peter Margaritis: [00:23:05] But you’ve been on the board for how many years now at the Ohio Society?

Owen Wyss: [00:23:11] I believe I just entered my fifth and final. And when I say final, I mean final, as in I do have to roll off for a period of time, but that’s going to be tough. I’ve made some great, great relationships there. And it’s going to be — It will actually be quite a system shock to not be able to catch up with some of those fellow board members, at least, quarterly for an all day meeting, and then at our annual retreat. So, it’s going to be a shock. But, you know, that’s also a teaching opportunity for myself. And then, I realized that I’ve got to make sure even if we were not assigned to be together that I continue to reach out and stay in contact with them, which sometimes, personally, will be tough for me.

Peter Margaritis: [00:23:58] And you had a very unique time on the board because I believe when you first started, didn’t Clarke Price has retired, and Scott had just come on as a new CEO?

Owen Wyss: [00:24:11] I believe I became a board member in Scott’s second year-

Peter Margaritis: [00:24:17] Okay.

Owen Wyss: [00:24:18] … as CEO. So, Clarke was transitioned out, but, you know, it’s been a five-year string of that. I can’t wait to talk more about that when the opportunity allows. And I shouldn’t say not that I can’t, but just it hasn’t been — You know, I don’t get a whole lot of interest from my friends who aren’t accountants to talk about this. But it’s been so interesting to watch an organization try and fight through the supposed dying membership model and pick a strategy that will help the organization survive for years. I will be able to use things I’ve learned in this five years throughout every piece of my life, primarily in business, but I’m sure in many things.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:05] Yeah. You’ve been on the board for as long as you have. It’s a wonderful experience. I’m remembering when I first was on the board, I thought it was a cool thing because they really didn’t talk technical accounting. They were talking about the big picture things. And at the time, it was all about IFRS, and was it going to happen, and some things about peer review, and look at the profession, you know, five years ahead, and realizing, we’re five years there.

Peter Margaritis: [00:25:31] And, yeah, a lot of this did happen. Some of that didn’t. But it’s — Yeah, you’re going to miss being that connected. Trust me. When I rolled off the chairs, I was off of all communication, and I was going through withdrawals. I was shaking, you know. Just foaming at the mouth at times because you’re so connected. You’re in the know. Then, all of a sudden, you know nothing.

Owen Wyss: [00:25:56] Yeah. You know, I will say that that’s probably a little bit of it too is is trying to figure out. I’m so passionate about the mission now in navigating this dying membership model that it’s going to be hard to not be in the know. And not even the decision making part of it or helping the organization make decisions, but just being out of the loop. And I know it will be hard to figure out how to get back, stay in that loop even if it is on the edge.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:26] Can you talk about anything about this dying membership model and the approach that the Ohio Society is doing, or is it still at board level and hasn’t trickled out to the general public?

Owen Wyss: [00:26:39] No, absolutely. I can absolutely talk about it. And it is still very much an evolving process. First, it would be my contention. And, you know, I’m sure that the society could summarize this much better than I will, but I’ll give my take on it here. You know, at first, the first evolution, I think, was to experiment outside the membership model with an organizational membership model. And we’ve learned a lot from that. And that is still something that we are pushing forward on, maybe not quite as we did on day one, but still today just with some tweaks to the plan.

Owen Wyss: [00:27:23] And then, you know, I think the other big change and evolution that we’re going through, and this is going to take years to perfect, if ever perfected, I guess I should say, is moving from a place where we deemed what learning that accountants in Ohio and beyond needed to a place where we’re working and consulting with organizations on their training needs and trying to bring solutions to them. And so, I think from that perspective, maybe both things I’m saying you can kind of hear us moving slightly away from our membership model and even more towards mainly an industry or business model.

Owen Wyss: [00:28:07] And, you know, we’re still so early. It’s hard to tell whether we’ve achieved success because, at this point in time, the organization still is very largely based on individual membership. So, we’re really trying to turn that slide around and hoping that we see that slide reverse course here shortly, maybe even the next four months.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:29] And that membership model, yeah, too. That’s a big battleship to turn on a dime, to move away from that, even though that membership model is any more. It’s like how do you engage the younger generation to join, to be a part of?

Owen Wyss: [00:28:52] And you’re absolutely right. I mean, it is. You know, we’ve talked about my involvement from a board level, and I’ll even extend this into a membership level, you know. And I won’t get into naming generations. I will say I’m one year out of what is considered a millennial. So, you know, many people probably would still lump me in there, not that I think that they need designated names.

Owen Wyss: [00:29:18] But, you know, just even talking about the friends that I hang out with every day, who many of them are outside of this profession. And, really, it enlightens me as to why the Ohio Society is not the only organization having membership trouble. The younger generations, really, it’s not something that they –At least, from what I personally experienced, it’s not something that they feel is just something they have to do. If you can’t find a way to make that personal connection, they’ve got no problem paying.

Owen Wyss: [00:29:52] But, sometimes, I think it’s tough. You know, I look back at myself and realize that if it wasn’t for jumping into the Ohio Society as a volunteer because I wanted to expand my network, I don’t know that I would have spent enough time reading e-mails or watching Facebook videos to understand what the Ohio Society really is doing for me. And it’s because I made a decision to want to network that, today, I’m so passionate about what I know that organization is accomplishing on a daily basis.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:26] Amen, brother. I mean, it’s kind of — I remember when I got involved because I was teaching at Franklin University, I felt like I needed to get involved. And I think the same thing. If it wasn’t for that, and I wasn’t — You know, I’m just trying to do it for the students, as well as build my network within the state. And, over the years, I think I did a very great job of doing that. I met some wonderful people.

Peter Margaritis: [00:30:49] But it gets frustrating from those who are active, and from those who don’t read e-mails, or don’t get involved. But then, you ask, “Well, why are they members?” And a lot of the feedback I get is like from an AICPA level, I’ve heard some AICPA members say that the reason they keep their membership is for the insurance, which I find really amusing to some degree, but it’s life insurance. And I hear some say that, “I just want to, you know, make sure I’m still in the know,” or “I take it for the cheaper CPE.” And I still look at this much more to that organization than just that, but I might have been — Just like as you said, I might have been one of those folks if I hadn’t throw my hat in the ring, and jumped two feet, and became a volunteer.

Owen Wyss: [00:31:49] I mean, absolutely true. I mean, sometimes we’re — And we’re wavering on how to sell, you know. Sell is such a bad word, but how to sell the organization because I can tell anybody that’s a CPA that needs CPE that the Ohio Society provides 12 hours per year, and just for paying your membership fees. And if you look at the cost of CPE, that pays for itself. I mean, you’ve officially paid for your membership if you take all 12 CPE hours.

Owen Wyss: [00:32:21] The organization is doing so much more. You know, we’ve got the advantage of being a sizable state and having a heavy membership for the Ohio Society. So, I think, you’d never know if you don’t take the time to sit and listen or read an article. But Ohio, from a business and tax perspective, especially the Ohio Society of CPAs, is not only playing in Ohio. I mean, they really are and do have a national presence. And it’s an organization I can speak to accomplishing so much that if anybody, an Ohio CPA and not a member is listening to this, I couldn’t encourage them more to do their research and get involved.

Peter Margaritis: [00:33:02] Yeah, it’s finding that value, “What value are you bringing to me as a member?” versus, back in the day, we were taken. You need to do this. It’s kind of like the told model versus now. But when you look at the members, you can’t — Well, I look at it this way. We’re looking at our members as like we’re playing checkers or we’re playing chess. Because if you think of the game of checkers, each piece can move in any direction it wants to, but in checkers, it’s a strategic move. So, it’s almost like an a la carte. I can’t give it one thing to the masses. I have to tailor it to meet those different audiences that I’m trying to appeal to.

Owen Wyss: [00:33:46] Absolutely. And it’s tough to — And, you know, we’re seeing it in social media every day today. It’s tough to strategize those communications to know that you’re getting the right communication to the right member or potential member. You know, here at Thompson, we’re talking about taking on some social media presence. We have the slightest right now that I manage also myself, but we’re really talking about bringing in somebody who is an expert at aiming social media.

Owen Wyss: [00:34:20] And that just shows you how poorly I can speak about this when I say aiming social media, but, you know, if we’re looking to hire, we do have demographics that fit what our typical employees ought to fit in best here. I have no idea how to direct that. But, you know, that person does, and it’s become an incredible expertise, And I continue to hear more about that other organizations should definitely be looking into.

Peter Margaritis: [00:34:48] Exactly. There was some committee meeting the other day. Somebody mentioned that they hired a social media expert intern. And within a 12-month period of time, their social media activity followers just exploded. It was up, I feel like, about 300% or something crazy like that. But if you think about that, and a lot of conversations being had out in social media, you’re just raising your visibility, your presence.

Peter Margaritis: [00:35:18] And having a social media strategist for, I think, all organizations, all businesses, to raise their profile, that’s more than likely an investment that would provide great ROI, But, a lot of times, we go, ” But what does it do? Am I not be getting sales? I might not. How do you measure?” But I think it’s much more than that, the aspect of just that visibility and being out in front of people. And when I need something done, social media, that’s first place I think of, and I’ll go to, and that’s my lifestyle.

Owen Wyss: [00:35:54] And I hate to admit, you know, I get asked the question on a survey here that I find myself taking, what’s your primary news source? And my primary news source is Facebook. And I know I just dated myself there, but my primary news source is Facebook. Now, don’t get me wrong. The news sources on Facebook are still your ABCs, and your CNNs, Fox News, and whatever else it is that I might have liked in the past, but I’m not even doing a search. If it’s important, it’ll show up in my newsfeed.

Peter Margaritis: [00:36:27] That’s interesting. I used to be a newspaper guy. But then, they took them all away. So, I get my news via some apps that will go out and gather information from a variety of sources to bring it in. And that’s the first thing I do every morning is kind of sift through. I just kind of go through it. But I still have the Wall Street Journal on my app on my iPad, and I still struggle at times to read through the Wall Street Journal or Harvard Business Review. I can do that, which is really that’s not like a CPA to say something like that.

Owen Wyss: [00:37:03] And I will be completely honest here, you know, I am of the generation, whatever generation that might be, that still likes its news, and/or does like its news, and does like what it reads to be 30 seconds or less. You know, if you want me to delve into a longer thought process on it, it’s got to be something that I’ve become incredibly interested in in the first 30 sec.

Peter Margaritis: [00:37:31] And in journalism, they call that don’t bury the lead because the lead gets you to dig in. And I forgot where I was reading this. Don’t bury the lead, the lead gets your interest, and the major content has to be of those first three to four paragraphs of that because the longer the article is, they probably won’t get to the end or even halfway through, but they’ll consume that first three or four paragraphs, and then move on to the next. But if the lead doesn’t attract in today’s age, we’re just going to move to the next. And that’s kind of like the top process towards that audience. How are we getting their attention? What’s that lead that we need to create and not bury?

Owen Wyss: [00:38:16] And I think you’re absolutely right. And, you know, a little bit of me even equates that to what I do at work every day. It’s a jack of all trades. And yes, I need to be a subject matter around some things, but, in a lot of cases, it’s better that I can speak at a high level about a lot of things. You know, and then if I need to dig into something, I will set that time aside or develop a team here that can help me do so.

Peter Margaritis: [00:38:46] Exactly. I find that Sundays are a nice quiet time where I can go through and dig deeper in some of the stuff. I put a lot of my articles that I want to read for that Sunday out on my Evernote account, so I can just pull them up, sit on a couch, have a cup of coffee, and read through about an hour, an hour or two every Sunday, and try to get, you know, a little bit deeper.

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:08] The one that I still haven’t done yet, and I’ve got a lot of articles on it is that new intestinal disorder called block chain. I am starting to begin to understand it, and I need to dig into it deeper, but that one kind of, yeah.

Owen Wyss: [00:39:27] I need to ask a favor then because I have tried, and I still have no idea what it is. I understand what I think it does. I don’t know what it is or how it does it. And I’ve made an effort. So, next time we get together, I’m going that you give me a little training and schooling.

Peter Margaritis: [00:39:50] I most certainly will, and that will be in 2020. You know, actually, I was speaking at the National Association of Black Accountants, and one of our colleagues was doing a session on block chain. So, I sat to his hour long session, and I walked out with, “I think I got it. I think I finally kind of understand what they’re talking about.” So, yes, I will brush up on it the next time that we get together.

Peter Margaritis: [00:40:16] Before we wrap up, so, let’s recap. You’re a husband, you’re a father, financial controller, volunteer at a variety of organizations. So, what do you do if you have any spare time just for you?

Owen Wyss: [00:40:34] This time of year, yard work. And the rain has been killing me this year. It makes it really tough to get to. And now, I’m going to jinx myself with that because we’ll have drought the rest of the summer, and my yard would be brown, which would even frustrate me more. You know, I have a passion for a lot of things. It’s so interesting. And my friends would probably tell you that my passions for a lot of things last for about a year and a half to two years at a time.

Owen Wyss: [00:41:05] Anything with an engine, I am a complete car guy. I have a few and love to tinker. I don’t know that I’m diving into them if I don’t know what I’m doing. I do have that hold up, but I do love to tinker with them. And then, just, you know, love to be outside. The summer is a great time of year, and just play some softball here and there. Kind of have slowed down in the past few years from the three to four nights a week of softball and volleyball with marriage and a kid. But when I do get a chance to get out, I still love to do so.

Peter Margaritis: [00:41:36] That’s cool. That’s great. And I was talking to someone recently, and in their interview, they asked, “What do you do in your spare time?” because, basically, if they don’t do anything, that means — And this is the way it was told me, and I agree that they don’t have an outlet. And anymore we need an outlet, a place that we can get rid of that stress, so it doesn’t continually build up, build up, build up.

Peter Margaritis: [00:41:59] And I applaud you on so many accounts. I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished, but the cool thing is I’m going to be around to watch you do even more. And I’m looking for it. And I’m not going to jinx it, but I truly believe. But I will put it on the record that I believe that somewhere in your near future that you may actually be the chair of the Ohio Society of CPAs, and run that organization, and be the face of the organization for a year.

Owen Wyss: [00:42:29] Thank you for that. Now, I don’t have to publicly speak in front of a room of 400, I’d be much more open to that than what I might even when I first joined the board.

Peter Margaritis: [00:42:40] I can fix that for you. I can fix that publicly speaking piece to 400 people. And they may tell you to look at them naked, don’t ever do that. That’s the worst piece of advice, but I can help you in that realm.

Owen Wyss: [00:42:53] I know you can. And we’re probably going to need to start that training sooner than later if I plan to reach all of the heights I’d like to in my working career.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:05] We have it on record. I’m going to hold you to it. Owen, I can’t thank you enough spending time. I look forward, and I’ll send you an e-mail on trying to figure out some time between now and the end of August to get together. And, man, just keep knocking it out of the park, my friend. Just keep knocking it out of the park.

Owen Wyss: [00:43:26] Peter, thank you very much for your time. This has been a thoroughly enjoyable. And I hope that it sounds good to everybody as it did in my head.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:33] Yeah, mine too.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:39] I want to thank Owen again for taking time out of his very busy schedule on being a guest on my podcast. As you can tell listening to our conversation that Owen is passionate about everything he does and is a great role model for both young and old. I am very proud of him, and I’m envious of his drive.

Peter Margaritis: [00:43:59] In episode 9, my guest is Byron Patrick, who is the Managing Director at CPA Practice at Network Alliance. He recently presented five sessions at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference on a variety of IT topics, and that is the focus of our conversation. Thank you for listening. And begin the process of changing your mindset and getting out of your comfort zone to develop new skill sets to become more future-ready. Your call to action is to ask yourself if you can do more to have a greater impact on your career and on your community. Remember, a part of being future ready is to be an improviser. Yes, and – I’m out.





Ep. 7 – Cara Silletto | Why Your Employees Leave & How to Keep Them Longer

Cara Silletto is a retention guru who works with companies all around the country, in all different industries, to help them reduce employee turnover. To accomplish that, she bridges the generational gaps and helps managers be more effective in their roles.


This is an issue that comes up a lot in firms today and it’s only going to be a bigger issue with each passing year. So if you’re clinging to the old ways – well, consider this a wake-up call.


Because the firms who are set in their ways, who have decades-old policies they haven’t revisited, are the ones who contact Cara saying things like, “We can’t recruit anybody… And when we do recruit somebody, they’re only staying one or two years, or they don’t want to be on the partner track anymore. What’s the problem?”


The Millennial Mindset


Cara is the author of a short book titled The Millennial Mindset (which you can get for free here). It contains some stories about Cara’s childhood, as she happens to be one of the oldest millennials, talking about things like technology, respect for authority, and entitlement (everybody’s favorite topic when it comes to millennials).


“And what that little booklet talks about is the backstory of why am I, as a millennial, so entitled, and why do I have no loyalty to anyone or anything,” Caray says. “[It] tells a lot of those stories of how I grew up differently than the previous generations, which is a pretty good aha moment for a lot of managers and older colleagues, even, that really do not understand how millennials see the world so differently.”



Why Your Employees Leave & How to Keep Them Longer


Cara also co-authored a new book called Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave and How to Keep Them Longer. This book focuses on specific strategies for reducing employee turnover today, covering the evolution of our employees over the last 20 to 30 years in the workplace.


“Today, we are in an employee’s market. It’s absolutely the employees’ choice, the candidates’ choice, of where they’re going to work.”


The power has shifted – and it’s time for your mindset to shift as well.


Survey after survey says that the new generation of workers don’t leave because of pay. They leave because of things like antiquated software and mandatory Saturdays.


What the new generations want is flexibility and to be heard; they would like more transparency across the entire organization. It can be frustrating for staff when they feel like the partners are the only ones who know what’s going on.


People are only going to stay as long as they feel that it’s a good place for them to work and you’re only going to keep them so long as they’re providing what you need as an employer – so it has to be mutually beneficial.


“I want to challenge each and every one of you to turn up your appreciation dial and start to thank people for doing a great job, even if it is their job.”


Some of you are probably cringing right now at the idea – “That’s why they get a paycheck,” after all.


But we know that there are people who come to work and don’t do their job, or they don’t do a great job, or they’re not as dependable as some of the other staff on our team.


You will gain so much more loyalty and people will want to work for you longer if you show the appreciation that is deep down inside of you. Because if you dig down, you probably are thankful for the people who show up, show up on time, do great work, and take great care of your clients or any of the projects that they’re on.


GIVEAWAY: Want a free copy of Staying Power?


Cara is offering one free autographed copy of Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave and How to Keep Them Longer to Change Your Mindset listeners. If you want a chance to win, all you have to do is tag Peter on social media and mention the book.


You can find Peter…


After a week, we will pick one lucky winner to receive a signed copy of the book.


Download this Episode MP3.



Click to download the full Transcript PDF.


Peter: [00:00:00] Cara, thank you so very much for spending some time with me today on my podcast. I’m so looking forward to our conversation.

Cara: [00:00:06] Thanks, Peter. Me too.

Peter: [00:00:07] It’s good to have a fellow Kentuckian finally on my podcast.

Cara: [00:00:13] Yeah.

Peter: [00:00:13] Even though you’re a UL fan, I’m a UK fan, I’m sure we’re gonna get along fancy today.

Cara: [00:00:18] Yes, I won’t hold that against you, Peter.

Peter: [00:00:23] Go blue. Cara, can you give my audience a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Cara: [00:00:32] Sure. So, my name is Cara Silletto, and I am a retention guru. I work with companies all around the country, all different industries to help them reduce employee turnover today. And we primarily do that by bridging the generational gaps and making managers more effective in their roles because, as we know, most people leave their companies, you know, not because of pay, but because of their managers, and that they don’t feel appreciated, or don’t have a great relationship with their supervisor. So, that’s what we focus on. And you can imagine, with that being a hot topic, we are pretty busy right now.

Peter: [00:01:11] I imagine you are because, I think, during setting up this podcast and communicating with who you, you’re like overseas for a week or so?

Cara: [00:01:19] Yeah. So, I did an international engagement down in Curacao, which is an island near Aruba, and it’s just north of Venezuela. That was pretty exciting. The gentleman who booked me down there, he actually saw us speak, me and my training partner in St. Louis, but he was from Curacao. And so, he asked to bring us down there, and I worked with six different companies and government agencies to help them bridge the generational gap. So, it’s not just a US thing, that’s for sure. It’s happening all around the world.

Peter: [00:01:50] Yes, it’s very much international. Was that like in February when it was like cold up here, and just absolutely stunningly beautiful down in the Caribbean?

Cara: [00:01:59] Yes, it was snowing when we left Louisville. And that was fantastic because we had to quickly shove our jackets in our bags when we got down there. And it was a beautiful week.

Peter: [00:02:10] I can imagine. And you’re an author as well. You’ve written two books. Can you tell us what those books are?

Cara: [00:02:17] Sure. So, we have a small mini book called The Millennial Mindset. And that is some stories about my childhood. I happened to be one of the oldest millennials. And so, we talk about things like technology, and respect for authority, entitlement, which is everybody’s favorite thing to say about millennials. And what that little booklet talks about is the backstory of why am I, as a millennial, why am I so entitled, and why do I have no loyalty to anyone or anything.

Cara: [00:02:49] And I tell some childhood stories about, you know, real things that happened to me. My parents got divorced when I was young. My mom, who happened to be a corporate accountant, she got laid off three times before I hit college. And so, when you’re a child going through those things, you don’t even know what loyalty looks like. And coming in as a worker, then, into a work world where my employer expected me to trust them and to stay long term, after I saw my mom work late at night, and then get laid off. I mean, there’s no guarantees. So, that little booklet tells a lot of those stories of how I grew up differently than the previous generations, which is a pretty good aha moment for a lot of managers and older colleagues even that really do not understand how millennials see the world so differently.

Cara: [00:03:44] And then, I’m so excited to announce that we just launched a new book this spring called Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave and How to Keep Them Longer. And that book also has quite a bit of information about the millennial mindset and the evolution of our employees over the last 20 to 30 years in the workplace. And it, of course, focuses on specific strategies of how to reduce employee turnover today.

Peter: [00:04:15] Outstanding. And we’re going to talk a lot about the book, but I want to back up to you a little book for a second because, on your website, you’ve got about an 18-minute video of you giving this talk. And for those of you who are listening, we’ll put a link in the show notes. Go watch this. One, she’s funny. She’s got some great stories. But she really frames that mindset. Oh, by the way, like she said, she is a millennial, which is a great thing. I’ve almost quit using the term millennial. It’s just the younger generation.

Cara: [00:04:49] Right.

Peter: [00:04:50] Because there’s that stigma that has been attached to it. And I think that stigma is incorrect.

Cara: [00:04:56] Yeah. Unfortunately, it is really negative. Most of the time, when people in the workplace use the word millennial, it has a negative connotation. “She’s so millennial,” or “Are we going to hire more millennials?”

Peter: [00:05:09] Right.

Cara: [00:05:09] You know, that type of thing. And, of course, some people have a very positive thought of millennials, and that’s fantastic. But we refer to them more as today’s new workforce because what we find also is, first of all, there’s no one definition of millennials. People decide based on the research they do. So, different researchers, Pew, and Deloitte, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they all just picked their own start and end time.

Cara: [00:05:39] So, first, it’s a little bit difficult to put a definitive definition on the dates and the birth years of millennials. And what we argue as well is it’s not about your birth year, it’s about your mindset. It’s about the way that you were raised because, sometimes, I meet people who are younger than I am, and they were raised in a much more traditional family, very hierarchical. Maybe they have a military background, or they grew up in a small conservative town. They don’t think like I do. They’re going to be more traditional, for sure.

Peter: [00:06:14] Do you refer to them in the video as the old soul millennials or something like that?

Cara: [00:06:20] Yes. Yeah, we call them the old souls.

Peter: [00:06:23] Old.

Cara: [00:06:23] And, you know, it’s funny because employers come to me all the time, and they say, “How do we recruit more old souls because we want people that just do the job, and do what we say, and they don’t wear leggings to work,” and, you know, things like that because the old souls tend to act and think much more like a baby boomer or even a Gen-Xer.

Cara: [00:06:47] And so, it’s interesting to me to bridge the gap and explain, “You know, stop saying millennial as far as a birth year-

Peter: [00:06:56] Right.

Cara: [00:06:56] … a group of people, you know, that are a certain age. It’s really about people who have a different mindset.” And I meet Gen-Xers and boomers all the time who have a more millennial mindset, which is much more entrepreneurial. Yeah, it’s much more entrepreneurial. You’re probably an early adopter for new things, you love change, just different things like that that are not stereotypical boomer, which we-

Peter: [00:07:23] Right.

Cara: [00:07:24] … we tend to think, especially the younger people in the work tend to think that boomers are set in their ways, and they’re old school, and, you know, that type of thing. So, there’s negative and positive stereotypes and things on both sides, for sure.

Peter: [00:07:38] You know, I worked at a university for a number of years, and I saw how a lot of this changed because we were getting calls from students’ parents asking why Little Johnny failed the test. And we go, “Well, ask Little Johnny why failed the test. Don’t call us.” I was also hearing stories from some of my partner friends in accounting firms that if a candidate didn’t get an offer, the parents were calling up to try and to find out why.

Cara: [00:08:06] It happens so often now. And, you know, here’s what’s funny. We can easily judge those millennials and say, “You need to grow up, and, you know, you need to be more adult,” or “Stop being so entitled,” or whatever it is that we want to say about them.” But the reality is the millennials don’t know any different.

Peter: [00:08:29] Right.

Cara: [00:08:30] They only know a world where we get what we want when we want it. You know, we have drive-throughs, we have credit cards, we have Netflix, and Amazon Prime two-day shipping, and things like that. And so, when we look at something like that about the parents, don’t blame the millennial. Blame parents.

Peter: [00:08:50] Right. I used to do some generational stuff, and I would say the exact same thing as, “How many baby boomers are there? It’s your fault. You raised them.”

Cara: [00:08:58] Yes.

Peter: [00:08:58] And then, they start laughing, “Well, no, no, no. It’s not my kid. Not my kid.” I go, “Yeah, right. Yeah.”.

Cara: [00:09:04] Yeah.

Peter: [00:09:04] And I’m guilty. My son’s 17 years old, and he’s at the tail end of the millennial, and the things that I saw, my wife, he was on a dive team. And when he got a 12th place ribbon, I almost lost my freaking mind. My wife said, “Get out of here.” I have both of those ribbons just to keep around. But, like you said, he’s used to … Now, he’s 17 years old, going to be 18 in a month. By the time this year he should be 18, hopefully, he’ll have his license by then.

Cara: [00:09:41] Are you serious?

Peter: [00:09:43] I’m serious.

Cara: [00:09:43] He still doesn’t have his license?

Peter: [00:09:44] No, no. He’s got his neighborhood friends that drive him to school. If he wants some food, well, you got UberEats, you’ve got DoorDash. I mean, come on. I’m sitting there thinking, “Well, you know, there might not be something bad about that. At least, I know he’s safe.”

Cara: [00:10:01] Yeah, that’s true.

Peter: [00:10:02] Yes.

Cara: [00:10:02] But you’re right. I mean, a lot of the millennials are staying at home longer and/or coming back to live in their parents’ basement. A lot of that has to do with student debt as well that-

Peter: [00:10:14] Right.

Cara: [00:10:14] … previous generations, they had some student debt. But we’re talking $5000, maybe $10,000 of student debt. And, now, you’ve got so many people coming out with $30,000, $40,000, $80,000-

Peter: [00:10:28] Yeah.

Cara: [00:10:28] … in student debt, just from a bachelor’s degree. Of course, they’re going to go back and live in their parents’ basement-

Peter: [00:10:33] Exactly.

Cara: [00:10:34] … because they’re not part of an entry level position. So, yeah, that’s a whole different ballgame.

Peter: [00:10:39] Yeah, it really is. But, you know, I’ve worked with them for so long. Like I said, I’m a baby boomer with Gen X and Gen Y tendencies. I look at them … Hold on, my dog. Then, hopefully. you can take this, my dog barking out of this podcast. I can hear her. Sometimes, somebody is at the door, she’ll just start barking, and barking, and barking. She, eventually, will stop.

Peter: [00:11:01] But I look at the millennials as an opportunity. I mean, they are my help desk. And I’m pretty good with technology, but if I’ve got an issue, he’s 17 years old, “Steven, can you fix this? Can you figure this out for me?”

Cara: [00:11:19] Yeah.

Peter: [00:11:19] He’s got that kind of thought process. He can figure things out. And he’s used … I mean, obviously, they’re used to using their thumbs, they’re used to technology. And if they come in to the workforce, if they’re hired by an accounting firm or a corporation, and they don’t have screens to look at, and they’re not up with technology, they’re not going to stay.

Cara: [00:11:42] Right.

Peter: [00:11:42] They’re going to go find that.

Cara: [00:11:43] Oh absolutely. Survey after survey that we have done or looked at, it says that they don’t leave because of pay, they leave because of things like old antiquated software that is terribly slow to use, and it slows them down as an employee, and they won’t put up with that. If you’ve got software that just churns and churn, or is just difficult and clunky to use, that can absolutely cause turnover. As much as you think, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. They just need to be patient and deal with it,” that’s just not the case. They will leave because of that. They will leave because of scheduling issues.

Cara: [00:12:21] One of the biggest things that I’ve seen, particularly with CPA firms, is the mandatory Saturdays. Yeah, people will not do mandatory Saturdays anymore. And so, I’m seeing firm, after firm, after firm who had mandatory Saturdays during tax season. They’ve had that for decades. That was an expectation.

Cara: [00:12:41] And now, what the transition is it’s not that they’re expecting any less out of their people, but they’re giving them flexibility to bill those hours any time during the week. If they want to pull later days, or come in on Sunday or Saturday night, work from home, wherever they can hit those billable hours, they can still do it, but they’re not requiring people to come in from 9:00 to noon every Saturday morning anymore because you don’t have to do that. We have access from afar now.

Peter: [00:13:12] Right. In an earlier episode, I interviewed two partners, a firm in Maryland, DeLeon & Stang. And I got to know this firm, and they’re really unique. And they just instituted an unlimited PTO.

Cara: [00:13:29] There we go.

Peter: [00:13:30] As well as Saturdays are not mandatory. And it’s just kind of empowers. They’re still going to take care of the clients, but we’ve … They even changed their mission statement to put it used to be we put our clients, and then staff. Now, it’s we put our people first, and I know they’ll take care of the clients, kind of like the Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines quote.

Cara: [00:13:55] Absolutely.

Peter: [00:13:56] And they’ve been getting high productivity out of their people. And as the partner has said, “We’re building this firm for the millennials because that’s who will keep this firm moving into the next generation. So, we’re changing.” Now, they built a new office in Frederick, open, not tethered to the place. It’s not-

Cara: [00:14:18] Collaborative, probably.

Peter: [00:14:19] Yeah, exactly.

Cara: [00:14:20] Yeah.

Peter: [00:14:22] Yeah.

Cara: [00:14:22] Yeah, that’s a huge change today. And, honestly, any of the firms who are set in their ways, and they have old policies, you know, just long-term policies that they haven’t revisited, those are the ones who contact me and say, “We can’t recruit anybody. And when we do recruit somebody, they’re only staying one or two years, or they don’t want to be on the partner track anymore. What’s the problem?” And the old model just doesn’t work any longer. A lot of the young people, they want opportunities for advancement that are not just the partner track. You know, the partner track is like an all or none.

Peter: [00:15:00] Right.

Cara: [00:15:00] Plus a lot of millennials, I mentioned earlier, we have no loyalty as far as loyalty for loyalty’s sake.

Peter: [00:15:08] Right.

Cara: [00:15:08] Now, we can become loyal to a leader or to an organization, but we’re not going to walk in the door and say, “This is where I want to be for my whole career.”

Peter: [00:15:18] Right.

Cara: [00:15:18] And even if I like working there, I may not want to be partner track because that ties me to that organization and those other partners potentially for life for my whole career. And a lot of millennials just want options. They want flexibility and choices.

Peter: [00:15:36] Exactly. And as you’re describing that, you know, two things came into my head. I really was a millennial early on in my career because my average length of tenure at an employer was about four years. Then, I move to something else, move to something else. So, I was considered a job-hopper back in the day. But, now, I was considered somebody who had a broad brush and wide variety of cultures and things to bring to an organization.

Peter: [00:16:02] But the other piece that, as you’re describing that, is I hear this, “Well, they’re just going to leave, so why should I invest into them?”

Cara: [00:16:13] Oh.

Peter: [00:16:13] “Why should I show them to the training? Why should I invest into them? Well, if you don’t invest in them, if we all have that same mentality, when they leave, when you recruit, you’re not getting anything better.

Cara: [00:16:24] Absolutely. That’s what I was going to focus on is for the greater good of the industry and the profession, you know, that we all need to step up our game on training, and there’s that age-old old quote of one executive says, “Well, what if we invest in training them and they leave?” And the other one says, “But what if we don’t train them and they stay?”

Peter: [00:16:50] Yeah.

Cara: [00:16:50] So, that’s much worse. And I’ll be honest with you too, training now is not an option. It is not a perk anymore. It is absolutely required, and expected, and demanded from today’s new workforce. So, they want you to invest in their career. They want you to invest in their professional development, both technical skills and soft skills like leadership, communication, organizational skills, things like that. So, it’s really not an option.

Cara: [00:17:23] And what I saw happen was 10 or 15 years ago, at least, companies cut training and development. And that is so sad because it has now come back to haunt us where we promoted all these people into supervisor positions, and just up the chain, and even made them partner; and yet, they don’t have people skills to work with their team. They don’t have people skills to work with their colleagues, and then they upset everybody, or maybe even have a toxic attitude or toxic behavior within the workplace that is just ruining the whole place for everybody.

Cara: [00:18:01] So, very important that we reinstate more training. And there’s so much out there now. There’s online training. There’s conferences, and external seminars, and programs you can send people to. And then, a lot of clients, obviously, they bring in folks like us, right, Peter?

Peter: [00:18:18] Right.

Cara: [00:18:18] And we’re called in-house and do that training. So, I’m seeing a huge uptick in the amount of training that firms and corporations are doing because they realize they’re kind of behind the eight ball in many cases.

Peter: [00:18:33] Yeah, exactly. I’m prepping for a presentation I’m doing for the Indiana Society on the latest in leadership from Harvard Business Review. So, I’ve been going through a variety of leadership articles, and there was one that said, you’re, sometimes … It said, “Your highly productive people,” and I’m butchering the title, “a lot of times don’t make the best leader.” And to your point, they’re saying those early years, we’re getting them technically sound, but when we put them in a role that they’re now a manager and have to manage people, the mentality of the boomer is, “It’s just soft skill. You can pick those skills up rather quickly,” when it’s, “No, you can’t. It takes time. Start early. Don’t wait till later.”

Cara: [00:19:14] Yes, and some people that comes naturally for.

Peter: [00:19:20] Right.

Cara: [00:19:20] Other people, they are coachable, and they can develop those skills. And some people are not coachable. So, they might be … I mean, we all know one of those people or a few of those people, and they may be the best at their craft. They may be the best technical person. But what I talk to companies about a lot is creating different career paths for those people because if you just say, “Well, you’re my best accountant, so I’m going to make you this accounting team manager,” or something like that, or a department manager, even in engineering or nursing.

Cara: [00:19:57] I mean, it’s the same thing with any kind of clinical or technical skill, you don’t necessarily want to take your best technical person, and make them the manager because six months in, who’s happy? Nobody. The person, you know, the person who’s been promoted, they were happy at first, “I got a promotion. I get more money.” But then, six months in, they say, “All these people keep bothering me.”

Peter: [00:20:20] Yeah.

Cara: [00:20:21] “I just want to be head down, and do my job, and do what I love. And I got to manage all these people, and mentor them, and deal with them.” And then the people under them are saying, “Oh, man. I feel like I’m bothering my boss, and he can’t really help me. He can’t mentor me, or he doesn’t have time.” I mean, that just doesn’t help anybody. So, instead, I love when organizations create multiple paths for advancement. And so, you hear a title like senior advisor or something like that, which tells me that person is so good at what they do, but they probably shouldn’t be managing people, and that’s fine because they can still be promoted, and they can be a mentor or an advisor for somebody else, or for a team, but they don’t have the direct responsibility of leading and managing others.

Peter: [00:21:13] Exactly. And when I think of what you’re describing because I know of one firm, in particular, that had … I guess, somebody I worked for, highly technical, but they didn’t want to put them in front of clients.

Cara: [00:21:28] That too.

Peter: [00:21:29] Smart as a whip, technically sound, and, as you say, this person, it was not he wasn’t coachable. It just wasn’t in his DNA, but they saw the value in the person. and they kept moving him up the ranks until … They weren’t going to make him a partner because, really, a partner is a salesperson. They’re trying to get business.

Cara: [00:21:48] Yeah.

Peter: [00:21:48] But they made him … They may have called it a director of something else, and he resides in that role, and is happy, and a value to the firm. But they knew his strengths and his weaknesses, and they kept him versus, “Well, you’re not partner material. We’re going to let you go.” That’s a highly productive individual that’s hard to replace from a technical standpoint.

Cara: [00:22:12] Right. So, that’s that’s the argument. If you have a rigid hierarchy and a rigid structure that you are not willing to be flexible and creative to create the kind of position for that type of person, super valuable to the organization, but just because he doesn’t fit into your mold and into your structure, you would let somebody like that go. No way. We just put a buffer in between that person and the clients. You know, we make some kind of account executive, or client relations person, or, you know, somebody else who is a similar role but just better on the front side of things the front of the house. And, yeah, you use that person to their ability, put them in the right seat. Absolutely.

Peter: [00:22:55] So, a highly productive individual comes in, doesn’t get these skills, they put them in this role, they get frustrated, and they leave, what does that cost the company? What is the cost to replace that individual?

Cara: [00:23:09] So much. I mean, even entry level folks, you’re looking at $15,000 to $20,000 of replacement costs. The higher their skill set, the more specialized they are, we can calculate 50 grand, even up to 100 grand sometimes that it would cost to replace, and retrain, and get somebody else up to speed on the company systems, and processes, and people, you know, the relationships that crumble when that person walks out the door, all of those things. I mean, it’s unbelievable costs that are happening.

Cara: [00:23:42] So, really, the firms, I mean, nobody can afford to let that happen. They can’t afford to lose somebody great like that right now. And the other piece of that is they can’t afford if they put that person in the wrong spot, if they promote that person to be people’s managers, I guarantee they have more turnover than necessary under that person. That other people who are coming in, entry level folks, or anybody who joins that team, they get frustrated, and then they’re likely to go jump ship when all these other people are calling. I mean, you know, today, we are in an employee’s market.

Peter: [00:24:23] Right.

Cara: [00:24:24] It’s absolutely the employees’ choice, the candidates’ choice of where they’re going to work. And so, any employer or any leader that says, “Well, they’re lucky to have this job,” it’s just not true anymore. It is not true. We, as the employers, are lucky to have the talent we have, and we have to try harder to meet their needs, not just bend over backwards for them, and “Oh, we got to put in beanbag chairs and ping pong tables.” No, that’s not it.

Cara: [00:24:57] What they want is they want flexibility, they want to be heard. They would like more transparency across the organization. I know a lot of staff get really frustrated when they feel like the partners are the only ones who know what’s going on.

Peter: [00:25:12] Right.

Cara: [00:25:12] That, “Nobody tells us anything. We’re not privy to any information about the company or decisions being made.” And I’ll tell you, your staff, all the way down to the new hire, they want to know what’s going on. They want to be involved in those discussions and those decisions.

Peter: [00:25:29] Exactly. I do have to make one statement here. I know we keep using the term firms, and kind of pointing towards the accounting firms, but this also comes into play in the corporate world, the corporate finance department, the exact same things that we’re describing, they’re seeing the same thing-

Cara: [00:25:45] Yeah.

Peter: [00:25:45] … in those environments as well. So, I just wanna make sure that we, you know, kind of address that. You know, firms, they operate completely different from a hiring perspective versus, you know, a business in industry, but, no, both have the same types of issues and trying to address them is necessary.

Cara: [00:26:04] Yeah, absolutely. Everything we’ve talked about is applicable and transferable over into those corporate finance departments. Yes.

Peter: [00:26:12] So, what are you seeing out there on the horizon in your crystal ball?

Cara: [00:26:16] That’s a great question. You know, what I do see changing is long-term employment is a thing of the past. And so, while previous generations, they had pensions, and they had those employer-employee relationships that were very long-term-focused, I just don’t see those happening near as much as they have over the past 30 to 50 years.

Peter: [00:26:47] Yeah.

Cara: [00:26:48] And so, what I encourage employers to do is to realize that the deep-rooted trees that we call them, which is somebody who’s been in your organization a long time, they have deep roots, and they’re probably not going anywhere until they retire, but as those trees retire out of the organization, be prepared for that role or that position to transition over, and become more of a revolving door position. Not that revolving door. It doesn’t have to mean, you know, six-month or one-year people. It’s not that kind of revolving door.

Peter: [00:27:23] Right.

Cara: [00:27:23] But maybe you’re only going to have people for three to five years or even two to three years, in some positions. That we need to plan for that. And the thing is, it’s not that we can’t operate with that model. So many people push back and say, “No, I cannot do what I do if people are only going to stay three to five years.” Then, the model has to shift-

Peter: [00:27:47] Right.

Cara: [00:27:48] … because we can survive. We, absolutely, can survive with a different staffing model and meeting our clients’ needs, but we have to face the reality that it’s going to be very difficult to keep people even to the 10-year mark anymore because it’s an employee’s market. We have people poaching your folks on LinkedIn, and, you know. So, it’s not even about somebody saying, “Oh, I’m so unhappy. I’m going to go find a new job.” No, it’s the recruiters who are calling and the other companies that will call and try to lure those people away as well.

Cara: [00:28:24] So, you really have to listen to what your staff wants and needs. We have to try to meet those needs as best we can and kind of compromise, meet in the middle on a lot of things, update our policies, and understand that this relationship has to be mutually beneficial. They’re only going to stay as long as they feel that it’s a good place for them to work. And you’re only going to keep them so long as they’re providing what you need as an employer. So, it has to be mutually beneficial. And that’s probably going to be somewhere between the three and ten-year range for most of your folks moving forward.

Peter: [00:29:03] Right. And I think the more that you put these policies in, the more that you, like the non-mandatory Saturday, or the unlimited PTO, or whatever. And listen to your folks. And I did a creativity session for a company. And one of the things was, how do we increase the morale in the office? And the CFO is part of this training, and we were doing it on post-it notes. And he handed me the post-it a note, and it said, “Say thank you more often.” And I said,”I’ll let you address this.”

Peter: [00:29:41] And he turned to his team. He said, “You know, we’re so quick to criticize and so slow to just to say thank you. I’m going to change that. I’m not going to overdo it. But when you go above and beyond, I’m going to make sure that I say thank you, and I’m going to try to hold my tongue a little bit on the criticism.”

Cara: [00:30:01] Yeah. I’m going to take that one step further, Peter, because you said that, you know, when people do go above and beyond, we should thank them. And I got to tell you a little story because-

Peter: [00:30:13] Cool.

Cara: [00:30:13] … we were talking earlier about participation ribbons and trophies, and, you know, that’s one of the stereotypes about millennials. They go home with 9th place and 12th place trophies and things, which by the way not our fault, that was our parents’ and coaches’ fault for doing that. But what we see today is that our new workforce, and this includes people of all different ages, they get very frustrated when they do their job, and they do a really good job, and they are dependable workers, and they do it day in and day out, and they still feel like they don’t get the appreciation they deserve for doing a great job.

Cara: [00:30:53] And so, a lot of leaders are still thinking, you know, like we did 10, 20, 30 years ago, and they say, “Well, I’ll say thank you when when somebody goes above and beyond. You know, if they stay late, or they resolve a problem, you know, that maybe wasn’t even on their plate, but they helped and stepped up. So, then, I’ll say thank you.” But today, I want to challenge your listeners, I want to challenge each and every one of you to turn up your appreciation dial and start to thank people for doing a great job, even if it is their job.

Cara: [00:31:30] Now, I know some of you are just cringing right now because you’re like, “That’s why they get a pay check,” you know, “I shouldn’t have to thank them for showing up and for doing their job.” But we know today that we have people who come to work, and they don’t do their job, or they don’t do a great job, or they’re not as dependable as some of the other staff on our team. And so, you will gain so much more loyalty, more tenure, you know, people will want to work for you longer if you show the appreciation that is deep down inside of you. Because I know that if you dig down, you really are thankful for the people who show up, who show up on time, who do their job, who do great work, and who take great care of your clients or any of the projects that they’re over. So, that’s kind of a mind shift and a mindset change that I would challenge each of your followers to really think about.

Peter: [00:32:31] Yeah, exactly. It’s that, sometimes, I’m speaking to an audience of CPAs and accountants, I ask them what business they’re in. And then hear, “We’re in the consulting business,” or “We’re in the compliance business.” I go, “It’s a byproduct. It’s a byproduct. What is your main business that you’re in?” And I’ll get them frustrated. Then, I look at them, and I say, “You know what business you’re in, you’re in the people business, first and foremost. Without people, you have no staff. Without people, you have no clients and customers.” So, once we realize that we’re really into human being and people business, that’s the most important asset that we need.

Peter: [00:33:10] And, actually, Bob Petkovski, when I interviewed him, he took it another step. He goes, “Really, we’re in the hospitality business. No matter what industry we’re in, we’re in the hospitality because we want to provide good service to both our internal and external clients and customers.”

Cara: [00:33:27] That’s exactly it.

Peter: [00:33:29] Yeah.

Cara: [00:33:29] Yeah. The employees should be considered your internal customers.

Peter: [00:33:34] Right.

Cara: [00:33:34] We talked a lot about that. And so, if you think about all the market research we do for our external customers that we figure out, what do they want, how are their needs changing, we will follow the trends, and get data, and talk to clients about what do you what differently, what new services do you want us to provide, and we evolve for those external customers. And yet, in many cases, we’re still managing people, and hiring them, and have staff structures that we’ve had for 10, 20, 30 years. So, we have to go to where the customers are, whether you’re evolving your services, and the way you do things to meet the needs of your external customers, but also evolving for your internal customers.

Cara: [00:34:19] One other quick story that comes to mind for me is I was actually working with a law firm that one of the partners said, “I come in every day at 7:00, and I’ve got this new attorney on staff who he’s supposed to be here at 8:00, but he rolls in at 8:15, 8:30, and one morning at 7:00. I had a question for him, and I had to wait an hour and a half to get my question answered.” And I thought, “Why did you have to wait an hour and a half?” He said, “Because he came in late that day.” And I said, “Why didn’t you text him, or e-mail him, or call him, or anything else besides wait for him to be in the office? If you had tried any other communication channel, you could have had an answer at 7:05 or 7:10.” I mean, I would have responded via text call or e-mail from bed if he was still sleeping, you know, and waking up.

Peter: [00:35:18] Right, right, right.

Cara: [00:35:19] Or while he’s getting ready, or while he’s even driving to work, he could have taken the call, or in the Starbucks line, or you know, that kind of thing. And so, one of the things, I think, we really need to understand too is that visibility in your desk chair is no longer the equivalent of productivity today. And so, that’s one of those generational gaps that I see over and over again is that the older colleagues, or managers, or partners, they think that if somebody is late, they’re not a hard worker, or, you know, the first one in the last one to leave, that’s my hardest worker. That was the case 20 years ago when we didn’t have smartphones, when we didn’t have a VPN connection that you can get to from home. You know, it’s a totally different world today.

Cara: [00:36:09] So, we need to start reducing judgment. That’s really what we’ve got to do to bridge the gaps is start asking more questions, listening, keep your eyes and ears open, and just quit judging people because they don’t work or dress the way that you do.

Peter: [00:36:26] I’m laughing. I’m absolutely. And the reason I’m laughing is as you’re describing that about the expectation of being in the office and working, I can still hear my dad tell me when I got my first corporate job. I was working in a bank. He said, “Son, you should get to work before your boss, and make sure your boss sees that you’re already there. And son, you’d be the last one out, or when your boss leaves, you wait 10 minutes, and then you leave after them.”

Cara: [00:36:53] Yup.

Peter: [00:36:54] “And, by the way, when you go to the bathroom, you take a file with you because it looks like you’re busy, and you’re going someplace, and you’re working, so they can see you doing that.” And that was … I can still hear him say that. And, you know, the cheeks in the seat process of mentality has gone away.

Cara: [00:37:12] Yeah.

Peter: [00:37:12] Or it started to go away. And the other thing, going back to that internal customer, when I used to work at Victoria Secret Catalog, not as a model, but thank you all for thinking about that, one of the first things that they taught us was we treat our internal customer in the same way we treat our external customer because if we don’t … And that goes to anybody within your organization because if we don’t, then they’re going to hear their angst, they’re going to hear their anger through the phone, or they’re going to hear their anger when they’re out to dinner, and they overhear somebody badmouthing the organization. So, we treat everybody with respect and in the highest regard. And we have those crucial conversations when needed but we treat them exactly the same way as our external customers.

Cara: [00:38:02] Right.

Peter: [00:38:03] And I’ve gone to a few other companies that have that same mentality. And it is so critical that we have it. So, couple years ago, I was having lunch with a partner, known him for a while. And I asked him,”So, how are things going?” He goes, “Pete, you know what, we can’t beat him up like they used to. Like we used to get beaten up back in the day. We can’t beat him up like that anymore.” I said, “Well, yeah. Well, actually, they shouldn’t have been beating us up back.”

Cara: [00:38:29] Correct.

Peter: [00:38:30] Correct, but that whole mantra, we got to be nice to them and everything. Well, you know, that’s called a human.

Cara: [00:38:38] It is. It is.

Peter: [00:38:39] Yeah.

Cara: [00:38:39] It’s really not a generational thing. Everybody wants to be treated with that respect. Now, a quick explanation of why people were willing to get beat up in the past, why they put up with that, the baby boomers were so much larger than the generation X who came behind them. And so, what could the Gen-Xers do? They couldn’t fight their bosses. They couldn’t say, “No, we don’t want to wear pantyhose,” you know, or, “No, we don’t want to follow that policy or wear a suit,” you know or whatever. They didn’t want that stuff. They pushed back on the same things the millennials are pushing back on now. They wanted work-life balance. They didn’t want to work on Saturday mornings. But the Gen-Xers were such a small cohort, they didn’t have the strength in numbers to push back and to change anything.

Peter: [00:39:29] Right.

Cara: [00:39:29] So, they put up with it. Plus, their parents taught them to put up with it. They said, “You stick it out. You make a commitment. You stay late. You stick it out. You deal with a bad boss, who cares. They write your paycheck,” you know.

Peter: [00:39:43] Right, right.

Cara: [00:39:43] Where the millennials were taught … First of all, we’re a huge cohort. We’re already bigger than the Gen-Xers and bigger than the boomers. In two years, we will outnumber the boomers and Xers combined. So, heads up on that. But we’re huge, and that’s why we’re moving things along.

Cara: [00:40:01] But, also, we live in a different world today. So, with technology, and we were taught to push back on authority. We were taught to question authority. And if we see something. say something. And we should have our voices count. And that’s totally different than the way the previous generations were raised. “Because my mom told me, if you’re not happy, get out. If you don’t like your boss, get out because life is too short.” And we translated it into, you might have heard the phrase YOLO, which means you only live once solo. YOLO.

Peter: [00:40:39] YOLO.

Cara: [00:40:40] Yeah, which, by the way, it’s not cool anymore. It’s like so 2012, but that’s what a lot of the millennials think is like, “Oh, I don’t like my boss. I’m out. I’m going to quit. I’m going to go work somewhere else. Everybody’s hiring,” or “I don’t like my schedule,” or “I don’t like the attire policy you have,” or, you know, anything like that. They can absolutely walk out the door today. So, the power has shifted, and it’s time for your mindset to shift as well.

Peter: [00:41:08] It is. But I know that some of the angst out there, as I hear, “How do you manage these different generations?” And there’s a firm that they acquired another firm, and from what I understand, the original firm had a lot of younger generation, and this firm that they bought were very much for the older generation. And there was no middle.

Cara: [00:41:30] Yup.

Peter: [00:41:30] And having a hard time managing the organization because the older generation, they’re stuck. They don’t want to move. The younger generation wants to move. They want to do, and trying to get everybody motivated, and moving in the same direction. It’s become a big challenge for them.

Cara: [00:41:47] Yeah. It’s imperative that both sides see the other side of the coin.

Peter: [00:41:52] Right.

Cara: [00:41:52] So, we talk specifically. And I evolved my presentation in this direction over the past several years about generational differences is there is a spectrum and there’s a reason that people have a more traditional mindset because they were raised in a day with only three TV channels. So, you didn’t have options. You didn’t have choices. And then, today, we have Netflix, and Hulu, and Amazon streaming, and, you know, all these other things where we have choices, and we have drive-through windows, and credit cards to go get what we want.

Cara: [00:42:26] So, it’s no wonder that people at those two different ends, even age-wise, they were raised completely differently. And once you share the other side of that story, and you tell the managers, “Well, think about the way the millennials were raised and the times in which they were raised with scandal, after scandal, after scandal hitting the media. I mean, Watergate happened before I was born. So-

Peter: [00:42:50] Oh my God. I’m feeling old now.

Cara: [00:42:53] I know, right.

Peter: [00:42:53] What a gut punch.

Cara: [00:42:55] Yeah, sorry, sorry. But, you know, since that time we just hear over and over about people not being who they said they were, or doing things wrong, and illegally, and stuff. So, of course, we were raised differently. We don’t trust anybody, and we don’t trust the company to have our best interest at heart, you know. So, once you share those stories of how our society changed, and how the millennials were truly raised differently, it helps the older managers understand and build more empathy for the staff, not in a fluffy way. I’m not trying to say, you know, “Oh, let’s all just be friends,” and you know all of that.

Cara: [00:43:34] But as a leader, just understanding where people are coming from, and then the same, sharing that message of the spectrum with the millennials. They have no idea how business had been done for the past 30 or 40 years. And when you say, “Well, you know, my dad told me to be the first one in and the last one to leave,” I’m just going to like shrug my shoulders. That doesn’t make any sense to me because I have a 3-year-old, and I go back to work after he goes to bed at night. I’m a hard worker. I work a lot of hours, but I’m not sitting at a desk from 9:00 to 5:00.

Cara: [00:44:09] So, you know, just sharing those messages, and really explaining the spectrum, and the fact that there’s no right or wrong. There’s no right or wrong whether you have a more traditional mindset or a more millennial mindset. But what we do have to do is get along. I mean, we do have to work together. And the managers and partners, I mean, they have to figure out what’s going on in the millennials’ heads if they’re going to keep a solid staff and get that staffing stability they need to provide all of the services for their clients.

Peter: [00:44:43] Exactly. Hold on one second, Cara. Were you born when I was in office? It’s President Clinton here. Were were you born during my administration?

Cara: [00:44:56] I think, I was actually born with Reagan.

Peter: [00:44:59] Okay.

Cara: [00:45:01] Yeah.

Peter: [00:45:01] I feel better now.

Cara: [00:45:01] One earlier. I barely remember Reagan. Clinton is really the first president I remember.

Peter: [00:45:08] Okay.

Cara: [00:45:08] I remember him being President. So, that was pretty much it. But yeah, I was born in 1981.

Peter: [00:45:14] Okay. Okay. So, there’s a second gut punch. So, as we wrap up, there’s one last topic I want to hit on.

Cara: [00:45:24] Okay.

Peter: [00:45:25] And because it’s going to affect a lot of professions, especially, it’s going to affect the accounting profession, is technology, artificial intelligence, and Watson, and I don’t have to crunch numbers. I have to understand them, but I don’t have to … I’ve said this that Excel will be extinct in about five years. They will never need another 10-key again, and they still. That’s blasphemy when I say a 10-key. Some people go, “What’s a 10-key?” You know that adding machine with the tape on the desk? But as technology continues to evolve, the professionals can be changed more of a consulting role versus a compliance role, and talk about a different set of skills that we’ve already talked about become even more important than ever before.

Cara: [00:46:20] Yeah, absolutely. In fact, my CPA and I just had this conversation last week. She just made partner at her firm, and she said that a lot of the work we do will not be necessary in 10 years, the actual number crunching, like you said, and she knows that.

Cara: [00:46:37] So, first of all, their firm is staying on top of the technology. They are early adopters on getting where they need to be to be the cutting-edge group to meet their clients’ needs. But, also, they are starting to partner with and acquire more of those consultative services type companies. They’re starting to offer year-round services, and even things about HR compliance, and any type of solving business problems, the financial services beyond just the tax side of it-

Peter: [00:47:12] Right.

Cara: [00:47:13] … but a lot more services. So, we absolutely cannot rest on our laurels and think that the model we have today, the staffing model is not going to be the same, the technology we’re using is not going to be the same. And so, we have to think about what does our staff need to be in 5 to 10 years, and what is that for our clients, you know, how are we going to serve the clients in that time, and what are the skill sets and the structure that we need to have to do that.

Cara: [00:47:43] So, I encourage you to keep your eye moving forward even if you’re, you know, say, five years from retirement. There is going to be a lot of change in the next five years. And if you just say, ” Well, I’m on my way out. I’m just going to coast, and the next leadership team can deal with that,” you’re really setting that group up for a very difficult time. Please do not coast. Please do not hold anybody back from the changes and the advancement that we have to make, whether it’s the technology advancement, new systems, and processes, or it’s the staffing changes, and it’s new leadership models, and a new staffing structure. Please don’t hold anybody back from making those changes that we’re going to need to be competitive and to be sustainable over the next 5, 10, 15 years.

Peter: [00:48:31] And sustainable is a big word that we have to evolve in order … If we don’t, we’re going to die. And, you know, we’ve been talking about this technology for a number of years, but, now, we’re really seeing it. We’re seeing the impact of it, of artificial intelligence, of block chain. I don’t understand block chain. I will. I thought it was an intestinal disorder, but I know it’s not. But what I do see is that what we do moving forward is going to be so different. And if we’re waiting for the universities to provide us with the students, no. I think, companies are seeing this. Now, they’re going to be responsible for teaching that student all of this other stuff that universities are not doing. And the university, that’s a whole other conversation. They need to change on what they’re doing, but that’s like moving a battleship on a dime.

Cara: [00:49:29] Yup.

Peter: [00:49:30] It’s become more the employers’ responsibility to talk about business writing, and talking about these interpersonal skills, and doing all this other stuff. And it just kind of always evolve.

Cara: [00:49:41] You’re exactly right. That responsibility is going to fall onto the companies. And that’s why you have to start implementing more training now on the technical side, as the technology changes. And, of course, compliance, and regulations, and things are always changing. We have to do that, but we have got to improve our soft skills, and even just the creative thinking, and innovation that we bring in, those types of things. But definitely the people skills, we’ve got to bring back more of that training.

Peter: [00:50:11] Yes, we do. And before we leave, prior to us recording this, Cara has a special gift for our listeners. So, would you like to share that with them?

Cara: [00:50:22] Yeah, absolutely. So, we are going to offer a free autographed copy of Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave and How to Keep Them Longer, which is my new book. We’re going to offer a free copy. So, what we want you to do is go on to Peter’s social media for the Change our Mindset Podcast. Go on to any of his social media platforms and tag yourself, tag your friends, leave a comment. And after a week, we will, then, pick one lucky winner from his social media to receive that signed copy of my book.

Cara: [00:50:58] So, we hope that you enjoy that. And, certainly, tell your friends if any of you are dealing with or struggling with employee retention, or managing and understanding millennials, then, definitely, you want to get a copy of the book or reach out to Peter and I.

Peter: [00:51:13] Great. And thank you for doing that. I greatly appreciate that. When I put this out of my social media, I’ll also write about it, and it’s to remind you of this giveaway. And I can’t thank you enough for taking time. It’s absolute pleasure meeting you. You’re the nicest U of L person I’ve ever met.

Cara: [00:51:36] Haha Good.

Peter: [00:51:37] And I’m looking forward to probably seeing you at Influence in Dallas. And I know you’re coming to our chapter. I’m looking forward to that as well.

Cara: [00:51:46] Absolutely. Thanks. It’s been a pleasure, Peter.

Peter: [00:51:49] Thank you.



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.