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Oct 1994

Controlling how others see you is good business. (The CPA Manager)

by Miller, Sandra A.

    Abstract- Accountants should remember that every social encounter represents an opportunity for marketing their professional skills. They should also keep in mind that face-to-face encounters are perhaps the most opportune times for demonstrating professional expertise. To ensure that such encounters do not go to waste, accountants should hone their communication skills and take the time to study themselves and know what kind of impression they make on other poeple. Techniques for projecting positive impressions are given to assist accountants in their self-marketing campaigns. These techniques include preparing what to say beforehand, using eye contact, smiling sincerely, pausing regularly, and allowing body language to emphasize points that need to be stressed.

When you communicate with others, you are sending out verbal and non- verbal messages about yourself that people use to develop a feeling about the kind of person they think you are. With that feeling, they will either connect emotionally to you or tune you out. It takes only seconds of watching and listening to you for others to size you up in their minds. In less than 10 seconds, your audience of one or hundreds, is deciding if you are confident, trustworthy, and whether they would be comfortable doing business with you. If the perceived impression is one of disinterest, arrogance, or insincerity, the talent and competence behind that impression may never have a chance to come out.

With some self-observation, honest self-appraisal, and conscious practice of new skills, you can make those first impressions positive ones. It is much easier to make a good first impression than to try and change it afterwards. With such high stakes coming from such quick judgements, the successful professional makes it his or her responsibility to be aware of how he or she is coming across at all times. Taking control of how others see you is not only smart, it is good business.

For those of you who aren't yet comfortable marketing yourself, for those who have not yet seen the rewards of their personal marketing efforts, and for those whose communications skills can stand some polishing, take heart. The skills and techniques to give you more control over the impressions you make on others, and the responses that follow, can be learned. It begins with raising your awareness of how you send out messages about yourself and the almost instantaneous impressions that are formed. To do that, you will need to observe yourself on videotape when you are speaking. As you watch and listen, decide what you are doing or saying that is contributing to your effectiveness and what is getting in the way. Then, focusing on one skill at a time, consciously begin to modify those less-than-effective skills and techniques until you are pleased with the impressions that are projected and the responses you get.

To start building an awareness of how others see us and in turn make judgements about us, think about and visualize some well known speakers, in particular the ones who have made favorable impressions on you. What about them impressed you and how quickly were you impressed? Was it their energy? The way they used their voice? How they organized what they had to say? How about the people you choose to do business with? What did they say or do that made you agree to do business with them? You probably formed a favorable impression and an emotional connection with them almost immediately.

The following people are all considered good communicators. In their own way, each projects strong and favorable impressions about the kind of people they are. The verbal and non-verbal messages they send out are clear and convincing and help them get the responses they want from their listeners.

When Lee Iacocca speaks, he comes across as sincere, approachable, and caring. His highly effective communication style helped him win over banks, the government and unhappy employees, to turn Chrysler around.

Oprah Winfrey talks openly and naturally about herself and sends out messages to her listeners that she is no different than they are. The trust and comfort she establishes in her guests has gotten them to confide their deepest secrets on national television.

Norman Schwarzkopf's direct, clear and often humorous way of speaking helped him gain recognition as a spokesperson for the Persian Guff War and made him a wealthy man on the speakers' circuit afterwards.

You can change and control the way others see you and respond to you. The next time you are scheduled to speak, whether formally behind a podium or informally around the table, have yourself videotaped. Afterwards, watch and listen to yourself as if you were a member of the audience. What messages are you sending out about yourself by how you speak, how you move, and how you act? Do you come across as confident, trustworthy, caring and someone you would be comfortable with doing business?

When you watch yourself on tape, look out for the following communication styles and techniques that can send out messages of insincerity, lack of interest or lack of credibility.

Is your speech punctuated with lots of filler words, "uhms," "ahs," "wells?"

Are you stretched out in your seat, leaning back in your chair or standing on one hip?

Are you holding your head down or tilting it to the side?

Do you look up for inspiration or glance sideways rather than make eye contact with your listener?

Do you get to the point or tend to ramble on?

Is how you move, sound and act in sync with the point you are trying to make?

Is your physical appearance appropriate for your audience?

Does what you say and do help your listeners to feel comfortable with you?

Study your image and focus on those skills and techniques that help you create the appropriate impression for that situation and that audience and what is distracting. Ask your colleagues for their impressions of you when you speak with clients and other professionals on a daily basis. What do your listeners notice and respond to? What turns them off? Then decide what verbal and non-verbal skills and techniques you will consciously take control of, and the specific modifications you need to make in order to change, the way others see you and respond to you.

The following techniques, if practiced and used to their full advantage, work together to project favorable impressions of you when you are speaking with people and marketing your skills and services:

1. Think about and, whenever possible, prepare what you are going to say. Speakers that shoot from the hip often shoot themselves in the foot. Even in impromptu situations, you can have a pretty good idea of what you may be asked to speak about and can plan your words ahead of time.

2. When you begin to speak, make sure your listeners know right away what they will be getting from this particular communication. Don't leave your listeners guessing as to the point you are trying to get across.

3. Use eye contact to connect with your listeners and make this communication a personal experience. People are more likely to trust you and be willing to do business with you if they feel you are real and unafraid to look them in the eyes.

4. Smile. It energizes you and helps you to look self-confident.

5. Stand or sit naturally straight so you look energetic and interested.

6. Gesture occasionally to strengthen your voice, relax your body and help emphasize the point you are trying to get across.

7. Pause. It makes your words seem more important and gives others a chance to respond.

8. Speak using a variety of speech patterns. Vary the tone and volume of your voice to keep your listeners awake and interested.

9. Practice out loud. It helps fix the words in your memory. Hearing them also tells you if you are on the right track.

Be sure to work on only one new skill at a time until you can use it without consciously thinking about it beforehand. Do it even if it feels uncomfortable at first. Your mind will soon catch up with what the rest of you is doing.

The skills and techniques to control how others see you are meant to be used every day. The more consciously you use the skills, the more comfortable you will be with them. The more comfortable you are, the more confident you will be that the messages you are sending out and the impressions that are projected, no matter where you may be or who you are speaking with, are the right ones, the ones more likely to get and grow your business.

Sandra A. Miller has her own firm, Impact Communications Techniques (ICT), based in New York City and specializing in comprehensive, customized workshops to help professionals prepare, organize and deliver communications.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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