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Oct 1991

Practitioner's guide to making student presentations. (Management of an Accounting Practice)

by Schmutte, James

    Abstract- Presentations aimed at introducing students to the professional world of accounting offer accounting firms the opportunity to enhance on-campus recruiting activities. Small firms, in particular, should take advantage of this chance to display the financial attractiveness of non-national firms, as compared to the much larger national firms, through a show of their viability and professionalism. Crucial to a presentation is the selection of a suitable topic or theme with the assistance of the school's faculty, the use of sufficient lead time in the preparation of the presentation, and the development of a detailed and logical outline of the presentation. Other useful tips in enhancing student presentations are presented.

As an accounting practitioner, you may be called upon to make an on- campus presentation to students. The invitation may come from a professor who wants your "real world" perspective to complement the "theoretical" approach often found in textbooks. Perhaps, you may be approached by a student group, such as Beta Alpha Psi, to present a program intended to introduce students to the accounting profession and its challenges.

Accepting the Invitation or Offering Your Time and Expertise

If you accept such an invitation, or extend an offer to a school or student group, you must approach the presentation's preparation and delivery with the same degree of professionalism as if the program was for a group of potential clients. The accounting academician can occasionally give a poor lecture or have a bad day in class and still have the balance of the term to regain the students' respect. You, on the other hand, have this one opportunity to impress and have impact on the students. This is especially important because students often apply their reaction to you and your presentation to your firm in general.

Thus, the quality of your presentation can influence, either positively or negatively, your firm's future recruiting efforts at that school.

This carryover effect can be especially beneficial to the small firm that is often faced with the task of having to overcome the dominant on- campus presence and "aura" of the national firms.

By presenting a well-prepared program, you can very quickly demonstrate the viability and professionalism available in the non- national firm. On the other hand, a less-than sterling presentation may create or reinforce the perception that firm size equates to firm quality. The discussion that follows details several suggestions and guidelines to help you prepare for your first campus presentation.

Timing is Everything

The timing of the presentation is influenced by whether the program is intended as a complement to a professor's course or a self-contained program for a student organization. Regardless of the program's purpose, you should allow ample lead time to develop and prepare the presentation. When scheduling the date, be sure to consider your practice commitments as well as the time required to develop the presentation. If the presentation is intended for a class, the professor will usually be constrained by a course syllabus or sequencing of topics. Accordingly, you should defer as much as possible to the instructor's time table. On the other hand, greater flexibility is generally available when scheduling student group presentations.

The uncertainties associated with practice and client demands will require you to arrange, within your firm, for a qualified alternate presenter. You should keep the alternate abreast of the program's development in case a last minute change is necessary.

Selecting an Exciting Topic

If the program is being planned for a student group, selecting an appropriate topic can prove to be a challenging task. This is due to the lack of direction the group's representatives often have and the significant differences in the levels of accounting education within the group. In these situations, you would be wise to consult with the group's faculty advisor who can suggest topics appropriate for the membership.

If the program is to complement an accounting course, you will need to work closely with the instructor to assure the coordination between your presentation and the students' current course work. It is important to understand the students' familiarity with the topic, including not only the material covered in the course, but also any other courses in the school's accounting program. You and the professor should agree on a topic that you feel comfortable presenting. The instructor may have a specific area of interest or provide a short list of suggested topics. Likewise, you may have a particular area of expertise that you would like to share with the students, but, remember, the instructor is responsible for ensuring that the topic is appropriate for the class.

Don't Wing It

An outline should be developed and followed to ensure that your presentation is both logical and complete. You may be tempted to "wing the presentation" based on your recollections of how college professors lecture. The fallacy is that good professors, the ones you probably remember and desire to emulate, actually work from an outline and only give the appearance of being able to "just talk about any accounting topic." Students, who later become practitioners, do not realize that professors often teach multiple sections of a course each term and tend to teach the same courses each year. Thus, professors are continually repeating and refining their lectures and easily create the impression that their lectures are spontaneous. Accordingly, you should develop a detailed outline that covers the entire program, not just its technical content.

You're On!

Arrive Early. Plan on arriving at the presentation site early enough to make sure the necessary equipment is on hand. Set up and familiarize yourself with its use, and make sure your materials are in the proper order. Nothing ruins a presentation more than having to wait for the equipment to be located and set up or watching the presenter fumble with the equipment or root through a stack of transparencies.

Tricks of the Trade. The success of any presentation depends on following a few "tricks of the trade." Visual aids, such as overhead transparencies and slides, are useful techniques that add structure to a program. But, be careful not to turn your presentation into a series of quickly changing overheads that you read to the class. Limit your use of overheads to presenting complex or intricate situations and serving as focal points for your discussion. Your visual materials should be professional in appearance and arranged in the proper order for presentation. If you will be using overhead transparencies, it is a good idea to bring some extra clear transparencies and a marker for any unanticipated examples or spontaneous notations you might want to make. Providing a booklet that corresponds with your visual aids gives students something tangible to work with and keeps them involved in the presentation.

Don't Read or Memorize. The presentation should be neither "read" nor "memorized;" rather, it should flow from your outline. Prepare a detailed outline of what you want to say but not how to say it. By repeatedly going over the outline, you will be able to fill in and expand around the material. This approach will give the presentation a more natural flow and spontaneous appearance. Avoid the temptation to ad-lib or deviate from your outline. Both practices can turn a well- designed program into a meaningless presentation.

Limit Your Use of War Stories. Avoid turning the presentation into a series of "war stories." Incorporating your experiences can greatly improve the presentation; however, they should be used sparingly and relate to a specific point. In general, do not tell a war story if it encompasses too many facts, takes too long to relate, or is not directly related to the topic.

Avoid Jargon and Acronyms. Your presentation should be free of technical jargon and acronyms. While practitioners are comfortable when talking about SSARS, SAS, ACRS, MACRS, and various tax code sections, students are not. The heavy use of such terminologies can turn an informative presentation into a meaningless blur for the students.

Make Connections Between Courses, Real World. You can really add to the presentation's educational value by pointing out wherever possible how accounting's various dimensions are interrelated in practice. Students proceed through their accounting education course by course and often fail to see the interrelationship between the courses in the curriculum. For example, you might illustrate how a topic covered in a cost accounting class can be used in a tax or audit engagement. In a similar vein, do not denigrate the students' education. Avoid constantly telling students how different the "real world" is from what they are studying in their classes or how much more they still have to learn after they graduate.

Use Jokes Carefully and Sparingly. Do not attempt to use jokes unless you can tell them well. A common mistake is to try to open the presentation with a "humorous story." While it is important to put the audience at ease, not everyone has the ability to tell a good joke. Too many otherwise excellent presentations have been ruined by a poorly told joke. Remember, students have not been exposed to many of the situations that become the basis of "accounting jokes;" thus, they may completely miss the "humor" in your story. If you do use humor in your presentation, make sure it is in good taste and will not offend any member of your audience.

Don't Turn Your Presentation into a Recruiting Pitch. Your program is intended to be an educational experience for the students. The program's recruiting value will come from the professionalism of your presentation and not your salesmanship. In fact, overselling your firm can create a negative image among the students.

Don't Put Down Other Firms. Do not make any derogatory remarks concerning other types of CPA firms or career alternatives. Such actions only serve to present both you and your firm in an unfavorable light.

Handouts Should Relate to Presentation. While it is appropriate to describe your firm and distribute firm literature, handout materials should be related to the presentation.

Allow Time for Q & A. Plan your presentation to allow a small amount of time for questions; but do not expect to get too many. Students are usually hesitant to ask questions, especially when the practitioner is from a firm with whom they hope to interview. Thus, you should plan some time for questions but be prepared to end the presentation and avoid the awkward, "If there are no questions - thank you" closing.

Educator's and Faculty Sponsor's Roles

The educator should give the students advance notice of the presentation. This includes informing them of the topic, assigning any related readings or possibly distributing literature. If the presentation is part of a course, the instructor should assure that the students have a vested interest in the program. This can be accomplished by incorporating the presentation into a quiz or examination. The educator should attend the presentation not only as a matter of professional courtesy but also to be readily available if needed. The instructor should not use the presentation as an opportunity for a "substitute teacher." The educator's presence can help stimulate the discussion during the question and answer period. The educator's questions, however, should enhance the educational value of the program without turning the discussion into an academic debate that excludes students. If the presentation raises matters that interest the faculty member, these can be addressed separately at a later date.

If practitioner presentations are a regular element in a course, the educator should be sure to invite a variety of firms (both in number and type). Otherwise, students may interpret the faculty member's repeated use of the same firm as an endorsement of that firm or type of firm.

Don't Take the Invitation Lightly

Student presentations are an excellent means to increase your firm's on-campus presence. If approached by a faculty member or student organization, you should not take the invitation lightly. Also, you should consider contacting local college accounting departments and offer your time and expertise to classes or student groups. An impressive performance requires the investment of both your time and effort. That investment, however, can yield a generous return in terms of your firm's on-campus reputation and recruiting efforts. Remember, quality is the key.

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