Presenting, Storytelling and Communicating for Accountants | Alexandra Bond Burnett
Presenting, Storytelling and Communicating for Accountants | Alexandra Bond Burnett
“When I talk about influence and being an influence is about using your powers for good. If you think about the best teacher you ever had at school and someone who made a real difference or managed to describe something and it blew your mind and you went, “Wow.” That’s what I would like accountants to be for a business.”
– Alexandra Bond Burnett, Speaking Ambition
Today I’m speaking with Alexandra Bond Burnett from Accounting, Presenting, and Presence Coach of Speaking Ambition. In this episode, we talk about . . .
The importance of communication training for the accounting industry
Recognising how to surface your mojo, to improve your presence
The concept of taking clients on a journey through data storytelling
The Professional Presence Equation = Reveal, Resonate, Retell Represent and Reach
Amplifying your authenticity and the difference between reciting and speaking
The technology stack used in her business – Xero, Zoom, Zapier, Calendly, Practice Ignition
Which character from a Shakespeare play would you like to meet?
Alexandra: I thought you were about to say would I like to be, and I was ready and waiting. Who I’d like to meet? Which character would I like to meet? That’s really interesting. I do like Shakespeare, as well. There’s the fun value, but I think I’m going to go dark. I’m going to go dark and say Iago because do you know what, I’d love to coach Iago.
Heather: I don’t even know who Iago is.
Alexandra: Iago is in Othello, and he is commonly known… If you’ve ever seen Aladdin, Disney’s Aladdin and they’ve got the parrot, he’s also called Iago after that character. He fundamentally is that little voice that tells Othello, the main character, basically becomes his undoing, pokes jealousy. So there’s him, but actually potentially Lady Macbeth as well. She’s an ambitious woman. She’s very forward-thinking in some ways, and clearly absolutely bonkers in another, so she’d be quite fun to meet.
Heather: Well, that’s both very interesting.
Do you think Iago, the little parrot chappy, was narcissistic?
Alexandra: Yes, but also very submissive because he orchestrates but from the back.
Heather: Isn’t that typically what a narcissist does?
Alexandra: Yeah, very much. But it is all about them, it’s all about them and their needs. So usually when you have someone who is driving that kind of behaviour I quite like to unpick it and see what’s actually going on under the hood, because often when you’re presented with someone it isn’t exactly what’s going on underneath. So I think that’s what makes it quite interesting in characters, anyway.
Heather: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. That’s a very interesting one that I think will stay with people who’ve listened in.
Can you share a bit about your background adding some Disney magic into it?
Alexandra: Yes. I do. Yeah. I have a very diverse background, which isn’t very usual in accounting or bookkeeping. I am a speaking and communication coach, and I work specifically with people in finance and specifically with accountants. And the reason why is that I have a background in financial services. My first few jobs were in the corporate finance world and I worked in global teams, for some big companies. That was a really great kicking off point and it gave me a background very early on, we’re talking early 2000s, in using automated systems in receipts, actually expenses.
Alexandra: And so I worked with that. But, as often happens, sometimes in our early lives, we realise this isn’t quite good enough. For me, it was actually a car crash I had in 2008 at the beginning. I’d rolled a car, and it was one of those moments where I thought you’re meant to have this whole vision of your life flashing past you and I was going, “Huh.” I was left there going, “Oh. Really? Is that it?” And realised I wasn’t really doing what I loved to do. I liked it, but sometimes like… isn’t good enough. So I had that moment and that’s when I decided I really wanted to go to drama school. I started auditioning, and I got into a place in central London and I did two years of acting diploma. It’s very diverse, but I come from a really creative family, so actually, finance was me being the black sheep.
Alexandra: That led to a really interesting set of roles. But what I really noticed was it wasn’t potentially performing that I loved so much. It was understanding how humans work and how we engage with each other, how we communicate, and how we can apply that, and what happens when we are connecting, what happens when we share a message. How do we do that with impact, that’s what happens on a stage. That took me down the route of education facilitation and coaching. And I started working with, funnily enough, a Shakespeare company and developing education programme and training people and facilitating workshops and content, and that was for theatre tours. And then, I became the head of education at a training company and it was all about using those skills, those performance skills, to use our body language to perform, to present, to be confident in ourselves, to be articulate.
Alexandra: And that was fantastic, and I did that role and I got as high as I could be and I decided to go freelance. And at that time, when you go freelance as a facilitator, a coach, much like a lot of things, you have to take that dive from your paycheck, going, “Oh no, what am I going to do?” And because I had run departments, I used to work in financial services, it was actually my husband that said to me, “Well, you could do bookkeeping. You know all the stuff, you know the technology, you know the gear.” So I did everything I needed to do in the UK regulations wise, and I just started a little bit of bookkeeping and then I started my own accountancy practice. That became, as of last year, a chartered accountancy practice in the UK, digital firm. It’s won a couple of awards which is lovely.
Alexandra: I don’t have a lot to do with it these days, but that’s where my journey started. So suddenly this facilitation that I was doing, I was asked to work with bookkeepers and I was asked to work with accountants. And that’s really the end of the story in a sense. I’ve been out solely by going, “Oh, these skills.” These skills have been fantastic working with helping people, especially with digital transformation, these skills learning to work with people.
Alexandra: But I did promise you some Disney. So when I went freelance I actually got a job, which I still have, and so it’s been six years as a Disney theatrical teaching artist. I work for a couple of the West End shows in London, in the UK, and basically, I run workshops for Disney and I work with them. So with a couple of shows, like The Lion King, and we had Aladdin and Mary Poppins and all sorts of things. Occasionally, I put my Disney hat on as well, and it’s all about acting and singing and things like that.
Heather: Absolutely. That is wonderful. Thank you very much for sharing your back story. Quite a colourful and theatrical story there as well. I was very excited to get the Disney element in there because people who’ve listened in will notice that the last guest I interviewed, she also worked at Disney. And she did a webinar, which was my favourite webinar this year, which was Bringing the Disney Customer Experience to your Accounting Practice, which was a really cool one.
Heather: Yeah. I think it’s really good to be in one industry, but really understand another industry and be able to do that crossover, whatever industry it is because it does help you expand your growth mindset in terms of that. That’s very exciting. Thank you very much for sharing that with us.
Do you think it’s true that everyone is terrified by speaking?
Alexandra: A large portion, a large portion of the world is. Funnily enough, it comes up, so glossophobia, which is the fear of public speaking, comes up in the top five of fears. Many people feel extreme fear and physiological responses to the thought of speaking in public. There’s a Jerry Seinfeld quote, which I always mention because I love it. It’s very funny in perspective, which is the fact that public speaking got listed above death in the US for fears. So you had spiders, which makes me shiver, spiders, snakes, heights, and then you had public speaking, and then you have death. And Jerry Seinfeld had this joke that meant that crazily a lot of people in the US would rather be in the coffin that speaking the eulogy at a funeral, and that’s how scared they were of speaking. So predominantly many people are, but it’s such an exposing thing.
Heather: Yeah. So many interesting things there. See, I love spiders and I named my daughter after a spider, so I’m not fitting in with that alignment there. But it’s interesting because I did Toastmasters, which is a public speaking training regular community event, organisation. And one of the guys I did it with actually was doing it because he couldn’t speak at his father’s… he was supposed to give the eulogy and he couldn’t, and he said he felt so terrible. And we actually went for two years and then fortunately/unfortunately he got to give it at another very important person’s event, and he came full circle. Which was rather good-bad, but he felt really good about it.
Alexandra: It is hard, especially when you’ve got a topic that’s so emotive. Actually, it’s a really early memory for me as well is my mom, who is someone who is quite old and gregarious usually, is terrified, terrified of public speaking, it’s her one big fear. I wonder if that’s got something to do with what I do? So that was one of my first encounters as well, and I think it is for a lot of people, particularly in the past, now we have to be so much more visible. But my grandfather’s funeral, she couldn’t do it, I had to as a young child stand up there, and it is… So for anyone who is doing that kind of thing, it’s very sad, but it’s more the importance I think, you want to give so much respect, don’t you?
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely.
Why is communication training important for the accounting industry?
Alexandra: Well, it’s funny isn’t it, because sometimes we don’t think about communication skills, or soft skills, as the vital parts of being an accountant. But, and I don’t know how you feel about this, but now that everything is more on a digital and more on an automated, sometimes, process, it’s actually the relationships that you have with people that have become more essential when you’re working in accountancy.
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely.
Alexandra: Yeah. And it’s funny because it’s so much so we think of ourselves as, accountants especially, and bookkeepers, think of ourselves as technical and being very task-focused, very detail orientated personality types, but many are also people-focused. So you have every accounting joke or accountant or bookkeeper joke out there about being an introvert. But being an introvert doesn’t mean that you don’t speak to people, it just means that sometimes it can be a draining experience.
Heather: Yes, actually, the draining experience is really key. It can be energy draining.
Alexandra: Yeah. And the thing is some of the most outgoing people out there have been introverts and they’re public… Barack Obama, introvert. An introvert purely means that being out there, putting yourself out there and being around lots and lots of people can really just drain the energy from you. Whereas people who are extroverts get their energy filled up, they get a power boost from speaking to people. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy it. But on the whole, communication, it isn’t just about public speaking, it is about having to get people to buy into an idea. And if you’re trying to help your clients and help people with a process, especially a brand new process, then you really need to get that buy-in.
Heather: Absolutely. I’m keen to explore data storytelling.
How does the suburban accountant tell their clients the story behind their numbers and where do they start? What do we mean when we talk about this data storytelling?
Alexandra: Yeah. It’s become a real phrase of late, hasn’t it? I like to think of it as simply taking someone on a journey. And that’s the thing when we look at a report and you pull out some reports from Xero for instance, and you’ve got the, say P&L, something like that. It’s reflecting information back at you. Now that’s fine, that’s the data there, but if we actually put it into a series of a start point, a middle point and an endpoint for someone else, then it becomes a series of actions. It becomes a reflection, this is where we are, we’re setting the scene, but if we don’t do something now, this is what’s going to happen. And that’s what I call the what do we do now point in a story. And then, you’ve got to lead them towards a resolution. Now that there is a presentation, it’s also an element of coaching or advising, what you see.
Alexandra: And actually, one of my favourite clients, in a way… I feel like I shouldn’t say that, it’s like saying a favourite child. One of my favourite clients put it to me at the beginning of our journey, and they said, “When they leave the room, I want them to see what I see.” And I thought that’s the most beautiful, so that’s what data storytelling should be, it should be actually getting those numbers and translating your expertise so that the client sees what you see.
Heather: Yeah. I love that. I think that conceptually some of this, and I’m going to keep in that phrase, suburban accountants and suburban bookkeepers think that this concept of the advisory is way beyond anything that they can reach. However, they understand what the profit and loss statement or the balance sheet is telling them because they’ve produced it, they’ve done all that effort into producing it. And the way you’ve broken it down there just gives them some really key questions to answer and to sit in front of their small business clients and talk to them about. I know that sometimes it’s about convincing them about that, but many of them, they’re daunted by it and you actually have that information to explain it back to them. So I really love that.
Heather: Alexandra, I’d like to run through some different communication platforms with you.
Can you share some brief tips with our audience to improve their presence when they’re in a board meeting or a meeting with a client?
Alexandra: Are we talking face to face or virtual, or both?
Heather: Let’s have it a face to face meeting.
Alexandra: A face to face meeting.
Heather: Or a board meeting where there’s maybe multiple people in there and you’re trying to have a voice, but sometimes you just feel difficult to say anything.
Alexandra: Yes, absolutely, and that happens so often. Okay. Well, the first thing is, it all starts with understanding and revealing yourself to yourself because so much of the time we actually don’t really have a very deep understanding of what’s going on underneath our bonnets, as it were, in our heads. Recognise what you’re feeling before. If you visualise going into that space, into that board room, into that room, visualise what’s happening to you because if it’s going on in your brain it’ll come out with what I call leak out into your physiological communicators, so your body language, your eye contact, your facial expressions.
Alexandra: If you’re just even raising that level of awareness, “Okay. What’s happening? How do I feel? Am I tired beforehand? Am I stressed?” Then you can start to really figure out when are you at your best? When do you really have that presence that you want to have, that you want to show people, that gives you creditability, that gives you strength and power of voice? And that’s the first step. So the first step is really revealing, revealing what’s going on with you, what does your personality need, what do your values need when you’re in that room.
Is part of your methodology being able to surface your mojo?
Alexandra: Yeah. I love that. Surface your mojo. Exactly. If you think about the times when you are absolutely in mojo, I’m going to keep going with it. When you’ve got your mojo going and you’re thinking, “Yes. This is the best version of me, and this is me I want people to see.” Okay. We’ve got to recreate this, we’ve got to create a physical and emotional memory here that you’re going to use as you walk into that room. Sometimes it can just be one image that you have, so some people have their walk-on music as you’re going back… You know you’ve got your walk-on music. But literally, they just have to think of a bit of that song just to change them. And you know it, you know the one that you sing in the car that you’re hollering out and you think, “Yeah, this is my song.” Not necessarily what you want to bring into a boardroom, but it will give you a bit of a lift. It was a bit like the Amy Cuddy power posing. It’s something that just gives you that connection, that confidence of what you want to do.
Alexandra: But the real question is, “What is present when you’re walking into a room”? So to answer a question with a question, really have a think about who’ve you recognised as really having presence and what do they do, what do they not do? What is it about them, the way they move, the way they talk? A lot of the time it’s that there is a real calm, there’s a real sense of humour, a human element, but they are very much in control of what’s about to happen.
Alexandra: And then, the next tip which I will say because it’s so simple but so useful, is simply to take ownership of the space before you speak. One of the big, big issues that happen is that when people get nervous or they’re trying to jump in or they’re getting a bit frazzled for whatever reason, is that then they can talk really fast and then they can’t really get a hold of themselves. Just happens all the time. Or they’re too busy trying to think too much about what they’re going to say that they, again, they trip, stumble, it doesn’t come out right, they lose their voice, something happens and that presence has gone.
Alexandra: The easiest way is to give yourself that chance to collect yourself and actually do what I call a three-second pause. So literally just breathe in, hold yourself, one, two, three, and during that time you’re gathering your space in the room, your space in the conversation. You’re getting that cool, calm, collected presence, and you’re giving your brain a second to get ahead of yourself when you’re about to speak. So instead of going, “Oh, well, I think from this year’s report”, you go, “Well, I’d love to be able to answer that.” And you start with a really steady, cool pace, you’re in control, you’re cool, you’re calm. So three seconds, breathing in, every time you speak just give yourself that space.
What if you’re on stage at a conference or on stage at a local business event, like the Chamber of Commerce events?
Alexandra: Okay. To have a presence on stage I would always, always say get the opportunity to be in that space. A lot of it, a lot of presence is ownership, your ownership of that space and feeling comfortable in it. So if you think about, again, where you are most comfortable you’ve got to take an element of that in with you. But when we come to speak at a conference, you have got to communicate with your entire body. You might think of some of these big conferences where people stride and it seems like miles, doesn’t it, some of them, they’re walking for ages before they get to the middle. But there’s a real sense of how they hold themselves, how they gesture, how they move their arms. Every single thing is done with purpose. So that’s what I’d say, you have to move and sync your voice and your brain all on purpose, instead of flailing around with none.
What if I have to do an online presentation?
Alexandra: For an online presentation you have to work that bit harder when it comes to the square, the top half of your body. Back in the late ’60s, I think it was 1969, Albert Mehrabian was in UCAL, I think, believe it was. I’m now doubting myself. But he broke down what communication is, so any type of communication when we’re speaking to one another, he broke it down as 55% is body language. 55% is body language, 38% is our tonality, the way we say things, and 7% is content. So really it’s about how you make people feel. Now, if you’re thinking about, you’ve already got… virtually, you’ve got a barrier of a camera. So right now we’re looking at each other and you can look through the camera lens to keep eye contact, but it’s difficult because you want to look down at the screens as well.
Alexandra: But if you think about how you make people feel, one tactic that has worked quite well is being able to, when someone else is speaking, watch them on the screen, but when you are speaking then go to the lens and have that dialogue. If you are presenting to many and you’re finding that quite overwhelming, just think of that one person that you can easily converse with, that you can chat to, your friend, someone who you know, who you can think is on the other end of that call.
Heather: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Alexandra: I think most importantly be seen as well. Seen quite a lot of Zoom bingo this year from dark backgrounds or a light behind you which silhouettes you and makes you look like you’re in some sort of 1930s thriller. So it’s about the be seen, be heard. And make sure that you’ve got a good amount of your upper torso as well so that people can see you physically communicating as well.
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely. We’re about halfway through, and I’m kind of freaked out that you haven’t um’ed or ah’ed for the last 30 minutes. So you are truly a speaking goddess at this stage.
Alexandra: Now I’m going to tank it just when you’ve said that.
Heather: I’m like, “Is she ever going to um or ah like most of us?” I’m in an awe of you. So Alexandra, can you explain the professional presence equation? As accountants, we do love an equation. I guess you’ll know it, but I’ll read it out to you. Reveal, resonate, retell, represent and reach.
Alexandra: Yes. This is my methodology in terms of what we do as we equate. I mentioned this earlier in terms of the first step. Now, a lot of people would go and go, “Right, I’m going to learn presentation skills, or I’m going to learn how to speak to the camera.” Or all of these things, these courses, which is great, or have a presence on video. The funny thing is, is after all these years of working with so many people you realise that the reason why they’re struggling, so if you think about the reason why you get nervous or the reason why people have struggled with difficult conversations even in terms of being a manager or having that executive-level presence, is actually something that’s going on with them that they haven’t notice. You end up with either personality clashes with people, you end up with having friction points of your own or you get triggered easily by someone else’s tone of voice, the way you react and interact with people.
Alexandra: So reveal is the first step and it’s all about understanding yourself. I always do a DISC assessment, which is a personality traits tool rather than profiling tool. It just gives you an idea of where your strengths are in terms of how dominant or influential, conscientious and steady, steadiness, you are. And what your preferences are, because it tells you a little bit about how you interact and how you like to have information and how you like to give information. I do that, and then it’s about understanding how you interact with people and react to people because you are always influencing and being influenced. We talk a lot about being an influence or having influence, but not a lot of people talk about how you react when you are influenced. And this happens all the time when we feel someone is being critical or even when we’re… especially when you’re working with clients, sometimes you end up parenting them because they’re too needy and you end up in this cycle.
Alexandra: So understanding yourself, that’s the first, really important because suddenly it just unlocks so much about your own presence. And then, we start building up the technical skills. So then once you do that you learn to resonate, you learn to have more emotional intelligence, you raise your EQ, which is something ACCA now recognise as a future skill. That’s how you regulate your emotions and recognise them, and you’re able to build deeper relationships at that level. And then, the next stage is being able to retell, so actually take what you know and being able to retell it in a story to other people. Then you represent the information by presenting skills, so voice, body language, facial expressions. And then reach them on any platform, so that’s a stage, video, podcasts for instance.
Alexandra: When you do all of those things you do something, which is what I call you to make waves in accountancy, in your profession, which is to say that you are totally wide awake to who you are and what you do. You make allies in your business. You’re well aware of your values and what you stand for, and they don’t get in the way, because often actually we find that a lot of issues are because our values are being infringed. And you express ideas clearly and fluidly and they land, and you have those success skills overall so that you are well rounded in your people skills as much as your technical skills.
What do you mean by amplified authenticity?
Alexandra: Amplified authenticity. Well, the thing is, when it comes to speaking or presenting or anything like that, a lot of people feel, and especially if you are in a more reserved personality. So a lot of people I work with when I do the DISC assessment, they come out as actually it’s quite a similar personality, which is that they’re very reserved, they’re task-focused, but they’re really accommodating and even-tempered. So they have a bit of task focus but also people focus, but they want to have a bit more influence. They feel like they are effectively being a round peg into a square hole. I’ve got to be loud, I’ve got to be this, I’ve got to be, I’ve got to be, I’ve got to be. And it’s like, “No. No, no, no, no.”
Alexandra: You can only be you. You can only be you when you’re speaking, so it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter if you are naturally a quiet person. It doesn’t matter if you are naturally quite direct and abrupt, potentially. It’s about finding a way to open you up to connect with people in a way that is absolutely authentic because if you are anything other than who you are people smell it, they know it’s not right. They sniff it out, they figure it out and then it’s put off. You have to be you. You have to be authentically you, but with speaking skills, with soft skills. It’s about amplifying that.
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s interesting because I sometimes find that the quieter voice is actually the more interesting voice. And that, I’m old but the people who make the most noise I normally am like, “Okay, I’ve heard that all before,” and I’m actually interested in surfacing those quieter voices. I get, as listeners would know, I get involved in a lot of conference organisation in the Australia, New Zealand geographical location and I’m always trying to find the expert who we may not actually know on the speaking circuit, who can come along there. And I’ll moderate the session, but get them to surface who they really are and surface their knowledge. It would be nice if they had speaking skills there, that may not necessarily be the case, but they do have the expertise and lying back into that authenticity. The accounting audience is like that as well, so it’s the same type of person talking to the same type of person. And sometimes when we have the loud person on stage it’s like, “I’m just really scared of this.”
Alexandra: Terrifying. It really is interesting, and it’s something… so the past two years I’ve worked with Accountex here in the UK on helping diversify their speakers. We’ve run a Speak Up women campaign specifically. The reason is, is because actually the applications are so much lower and they just wanted people just to take that step. And what’s happening is someone who was marvellously accomplished and so awesome at what they do, but they go, “No one wants to really hear me. No one wants to hear what I have to say.” Well, actually we need to hear what you’ve got to say, and your clients need to hear, or your stakeholders need to hear what you’ve got to say because you’re the expert, you’re the one in the know.
How can the audience enhance and improve the diversity of people speaking on stage? How effective was running your campaign? Did it increase the number of applicants and was the outcome positive?
Alexandra: Yes. Absolutely. It’s Zoe Lacey-Cooper who’s the portfolio director over at Accountex. She was one of the ones, and she’s been really aware of how you diversify panels especially. But equally, it’s about giving opportunities where previously there haven’t been. There’s a lot that could be said on diversity. But this campaign, what we did was actively ask, “Please, we would like to have more applications in. It is the fact that people are not putting themselves forward.” And as well, the numbers that aren’t there. Last year we changed it up, we also did a webinar and I did a session on how to get women speaking, give them that confidence, get over imposter syndrome, that kind of thing, actually give them a framework. And that really helped, and actually, we had quite a few people that went, “Do you know, I’ve…”
Alexandra: And in their roles, they’re feared, they’re so good, they’re on top of it, they’re in charge, they know what they’re doing. But their engine is saying, “Gosh, I’m so nervous about speaking or doing this,” or sharing their experience, their technical experience and professional experience. But yeah, it was the highest uptake they’ve had. And just being able to support, to give people that leg up, that safe space to be able to practice a bit. So yeah, for anyone who is trying to diversify their panels it’s a case of looking at giving someone the opportunity to go… You may have already discounted that, that you would be accepted because you do see some of the same names and faces. But A, they’re really good at what they do because they’re professional. But B, sometimes it’s because you need to have someone that you can rely on that will turn up and be engaging and deliver a great session.
Alexandra: It’s about giving opportunities where people are often overlooked, and sometimes we do that to ourselves as well. We think, “I can’t do that. Who would listen to me?” Think actually you do every day something that is valuable to other people. And if you think about how you get inspired by other people standing on a stage and speaking. I mean, there’s a reason why we do this. There’s a reason why we have events.
Heather: Absolutely. I know that I facilitate the organisation of lots of panels, and I find it really hard to get females on board, as you were saying. And probably looking back it’s only really 35% for whatever reason. But that’s important about turning up, showing up. But I spend a lot of time talking to them about what will happen on stage and hopefully trying to give them the confidence and calm them in that we just want to hear their insights. And I’ll sit and watch their presentation, et cetera, beforehand, et cetera, just to try and keep it going. But we do need to give people smaller opportunities before they perhaps get the bigger opportunities so they can actually grow in that phase. Yeah. I was due to go in Accountex in May, but COVID hit, but it was cancelled and everything.
Alexandra: Yes. I had a full diary until COVID hit.
Heather: Yeah. It was going to be Will Farnell, me and Liz Mason, which would have been amazing, but there you go. I’m going to ask you a sneaky, cheeky question.
Who’s one of your favourite UK speakers who we should look out for?
Alexandra: Gosh, now I’m going to have to think about that. Anyone?
Heather: Who’s someone who’s impactful? Yeah, it can be anyone. It can be impactful, just something, oh, you’re going to get something if you actually listen to this person.
Alexandra: There are so many good speakers out there, and now I’m trying to filter through all of them. But of course, you’ve just said Will Farnell, and I have to say Will is a brilliant speaker.
Heather: Okay. We can take Will again.
Alexandra: He is. You can have Will again. He’s great because he’s been there, seen that, done that, got the T-shirt. Alex Falcon Huerta is an accountant in the UK and she often does a lot of speaking and she’s brilliant because she just says it how it is. She is someone who is authentically amplified in a sense that what you see is what you get. She’s fabulous that way. There are some brilliant speakers.
Heather: Awesome. No, that’s wonderful. Alex has been on the podcast much earlier, probably about five years ago. But yeah, she’s a fabulous speaker and a good friend of mine. Thank you very much for sharing that. I know it’s a bit of a cheeky question, but I thought for the audience it’s worth going, “I should make a special effort to listen to that person because maybe I can pick up some tips from them.”
Alexandra: I think I was more trying to think of the UK as well because there’s so many you try and think where is that person from because everything has become so global in a way, it’s so accessible.
Heather: Yeah. No, it has done and that’s been great about 2020 in that it really has opened up people’s mindsets in that people can speak anywhere and globally, which has been great. Still hoping to travel back to some glorious places still.
What are your thoughts on people using presentation decks in speeches on stage?
Alexandra: Yes. I have strong thoughts on this.
Heather: Do you?
Alexandra: Rightly or wrongly. Okay. I very much believe that a presentation deck is the scenery, is the background. So if you think of a theatre or a music concert and they have lighting and they have a background and they have colours or paintings, all of that there is to give you background information. And when I say background information I mean setting the scene. It’s giving you a feeling, it’s giving you a sense of time and space and where you are, and a little bit of referencing information. So if you think of a famous musical, I’m trying to think of one of course, like Hamilton or something like that, you’ll have things wheeling in and out. And the purpose of that, even though… Actually, Hamilton has a very static set. But the lighting changes, things change, not to give you all of the information that’s happening on the stage, the singers, the music, everything, it’s to give you a certain ambience and a certain level of just where you are in history, and that’s the thing.
Alexandra: That’s exactly what presentation slides should be. You are the one that knows what you’re talking about, and that can feel very daunting because you think, “Well, what if I don’t know it?” Remember things like stats and statistic, you will remember if you’ve applied context to it if you have gone on that journey that I mentioned earlier. You’re taking someone and yourself from the start of somewhere, here we are, this is what these numbers say and this is what I can tell is happening, and then this is going to escalate to the point where we need a resolution. And here is where we go on our journey.
Alexandra: There are seven stories in the world. Seven story frameworks, I was about to say. So things like the hero’s journey is someone a lot of people know, that the hero goes on a quest. So they leave home, the world is all fine until something happens and they get called away on a quest and they have to go and obtain something, like a ring up a mountain for instance, or have to give it back. And then they come back and it’s much the same. So you have this story framework that you follow. So the presentation should help set the scene for that. But reading slides, let’s put it this way, if you are reading the slide or if you are talking and there is too much information on the slide it means your audience is ready, you can’t read and listen at the same time. They need to be focused on you unless you’re taking a pause and you’re making a statement with a big number or a fact behind you.
What are your thoughts on people who memorise their talks?
Alexandra: It can work really well. Yeah. Actors memorise all the time. If that works for you, fantastic. Again, it has to go with something that works for you. The risk is becoming very static and a bit like using a teleprompter. Lots of people always ask me about teleprompters or apps and things like that, and I say, “That’s great, but there’s a reason why you’re on video or you’re on a conference and that is because they want to hear you talk, not to hear you read.” Memorising a speech can mean, if you’re not careful, you end up saying everything the same way in a very monotone way. And it is reciting and not speaking, and when it’s speaking, you can do it when you memorise it, but you still need to be able to have that skill to relay it in an authentic way.
Do comedians recite or do comedians speak?
Alexandra: I like that. Comedians recite because the thing about any type of communication is that it’s two ways, very much like a debit and credit system. You’ve got to be reactionary and you’ve got to be reading your audience and seeing what’s happening to them and feeling it. In theatre when you perform you will perform the same script, the same data basically, the same information night after night, the same music, the same whatever, same script. Every performance will be different and that is because of what’s happening with the actual performers themselves, what they’re bringing to the table, and also the audience affects the room as well. It’s about having that two-way conversation, and even if they’re not talking back at you, even if you’re doing a podcast by yourself or a training session where you’re recording a video by yourself you are still having a conversation and it affects you, and people… you react and interact.
What resonated with you the most about the book ‘Dare to Lead’ by Brené Brown?
Alexandra: Do you know, I still have this book by my bedside table. I hate to say it, sorry Brené, but sometimes it feels like a bit of a cliché. But a cliché is a cliché because it’s so good because it works. I really liked when she speaks about vulnerability, and also she talks about rumbling. I have this thing where so many people talk and when they’re talking or asking questions or a request or you’ve had emails going back and forth, and back and forth because people aren’t actually saying what they want to say because they’re restricting themselves and holding themselves back. Of course, we have to do that because don’t want to let out what’s in the head, we don’t want people to really know what we’re thinking sometimes. It could be disastrous for any business. But equally, it means that you’re being passive-aggressive, and passive-aggressive needs to sometimes be called out. Have you read it?
Heather: No, I haven’t. No.
Alexandra: There’s a brilliant process she’s called rumbling, so having a meeting and the rumble basically means that you’re just going, “Right, we’re going in. We’re diving in. We’re being a bit on the knuckle here and I’m going to call you out on something. In a safe space, in a position of this is going to be growth, this is to help us all be better, it’s for the common good. But I’m going to call you out on what you just said because I don’t think that’s what you meant.”
Heather: Awesome. Okay. Thank you for sharing that. I guess I sometimes do have those sorts of meetings with people in terms of how they are reacting and interacting with the community. That’s interesting. I’ll have to read it. As a writer, I find it really difficult to read something and not then let it influence what I’m writing. Like if I read Shakespeare I’ll start going, “Wherefore art thou is this debit on this statement?” I just don’t have the ability to chop and change and pull them apart, so I’m always very wary of reading, which I know is bizarre.
Alexandra: No, not at all. We do it with accents as well. That’s how you get regional accents, so you do it with your reading brain as much as we do. Our accents usually change because we absorb things.
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely. I do that too, I pick up accents. I used to when I lived in Singapore, I would dream in Chinese and I’d have English subtitles.
Alexandra: You’re kidding.
Heather: I had no idea what was happening, but I was reading the subtitles of my dream. And I was going, “Yeah. This is bizarre.”
Alexandra: That’s brilliant. Are you bilingual?
Heather: No, not at all.
Heather: Not at all. But they do say sometimes people get banged on the head and all of a sudden can pick up a different language, so I was just going, “Something’s happening. I don’t know.”
Alexandra: Exactly. You never know.
What technology are you using in your businesses? Just share with our audience five of them that you’re using.
Alexandra: Sure. Absolutely. We’ve got some experiences. With the accountancy business when I start I think the first thing I did, apart from obviously all the paperwork and everything and starting up as I signed up with Xero, so we are a Xero practice.
Heather: And then you got your background Xero, blue and your blue pot plant happening behind you.
Alexandra: I do. I don’t even have it with me, I have my Xero cup. Best day ever when they started delivering their experience centre as well in the UK, I was like, “That’s very exciting.” But yes. So Xero, definitely, absolutely love how intuitive it is, and I use that of course in both businesses. Zapier, which I always used to say as Zapier but on the website it actually says you have to say it Zapier. Which is one of my favourite ones because suddenly you’ve just eliminated so many… With technology, what gets me is doing things unnecessarily. That winds me up, in a sense. So automation must always be led.
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely.
Alexandra: Yeah. Don’t do something more than once if you can help it, if you can repeat the process, brilliant, love it. So Zapier is a really good way of doing that. Calendly for appointment booking in both instances. Absolutely in love with Calendly, how easy is that? Instantly sends up and sets up Zoom. Zoom. Zoom is a really good one, I use that as well. It can record everything, it can cast live. It’s a great way of being interactive with other people and break rooms and things like that, especially in a meeting when you’re training or teaching or giving people space as well to be included, love that. How many am I up to?
Heather: Yeah. What’s that? That’s four. You’ve got one more to go.
Alexandra: I’ve got one more. I’m staring over at my computer as well trying to think of… like it’s going to give me an answer and talk back to me.
Heather: Well, okay. Let’s expand on the Zapier. Tell us some things that you’re doing on Zapier.
Alexandra: Good question. Memory serves, with the accounting process we use Practice Ignition to onboard.
Heather: There you’ve got the fifth one there.
Alexandra: There we go, Practice Ignition. Yeah. I was thinking Otter.ai for transcribing. Practice Ignition. So Practice Ignition, fantastic. When someone is onboarded, and I’ll soon integrate this into my coaching practice as well, they have very clearly laid out a letter of engagement, it’s all fabulous. You can even include video and you can include brochures, wonderful. What a lovely experience. They can all sign online and then pay, as soon as someone hits that accept button it then fires off about a billion things in Zapier for the rest of the team. So for instance, then a 90-day onboarding calendar, like calendar dates get set up in the team calendar, a notification goes out to the entire team saying, “We got a new client,” and letting them know.
Alexandra: And it’s like the flicking of the domino as it goes around you, so it initiates a sequence of events of all sorts of things. It’s very clever that way. It sends off document requests, emails, Google forms, data gathering. It means that all of the buttons are ticked, you’ve suddenly done so much of the onboarding to-do list and you didn’t do anything, they did, they initiated it.
Did you get that from the Practice Ignition blog post written by Brian Clare on how he uses Zapier with PI or did you come up with it yourself?
Alexandra: No. There’d been a lot of talk about various things, and I think about a year or so ago I got… I get really excited by technology and processes, this is a bit sad, but I feel like I’m in good company.
Heather: That’s what the podcast is on.
Alexandra: I’m in good company. You guys know how excited is when you get these things working. I think I spent going, “Oh, look at this, I can get it to do this.” And then, I created, I have an A4 pad that I keep on my desks, I have one at home, I have one in the office, and I draw things. So I like to draw the process and how it’s going to connect the dots. Because just because you can do something, of course, doesn’t mean you should. I really loved that, that I got this sequence of events. And then, you can turn it around and think about the user experience. So I loved that I hadn’t even got into the office at one point and I’d seen an email come in that Practice Ignition notified that someone had accepted an offer. And by the time I got into the office they had already sent through all the documents, done their client questionnaire. It already set up folders in various places ready to go, sent them more information so they felt like they were being nurtured and cared for. It’s very exciting.
Heather: Yeah. Well, that sounds sensational. And that’s exactly what we should be doing, we should be using the robots to automate as much as possible so we can actually be human and spend that quality conversation, doing the data storytelling on their business numbers. That was a nice wrap-up.
What is next for you, Alexandra?
Alexandra: What is next for me? It’s simply running my programme. I’ve been doing coaching and presentation training for a few years, and last year I just had this overwhelming feeling that I love ending a session, but when you’re starting that transformation there needs to be more. I started last year developing this actual end to end programme, which is where I developed the equation that we were talking about earlier, so the R equation as it were, the reach equation, and I put this all together. I started working with clients earlier this year and it’s been fantastic. I call this Limitless. That for me is running my Limitless because it’s only limitations that stop us from being really influential, from really making an impact and having, as you just said, those human relationships. It’s only what limits us, so that’s why I called it Limitless. And so that you can make waves.
Alexandra: It’s really focusing on that, running masterclasses. I’ve got some exciting events coming up in terms of speaking and things, but I don’t know if I can say them. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to announce them just yet. But also helping, one of my real missions is not only to help people who feel like they are being restricted like they’re not being as good as they can be. But actually, it’s something you touched on earlier, which is gender and overall promoting diversity. There’s a case of not being able to speak well and having presence and influence, but sometimes it’s also about giving people a voice when they don’t have one. That’s a real, I suppose, passion project potentially. There’s something in 2021 that will be coming out to do with that, and helping set up a mentoring system for people who don’t usually get access to that kind of help.
Heather: Yeah. Excellent. That all sound brilliant. It’s interesting that you frequently use the word influential, and sometimes I find people almost treat influential as a dirty word. But if we are experts and we know about what we do and we understand what we’re doing then I believe… I don’t necessarily want to tell a business what to do, but I do think we have a role to talk to them about it and put some information in front of them. When you write a For Dummies book, because I wrote Xero For Dummies, and one of the guidelines is you tell someone one way to do it because there are always six ways to do something.
Heather: You tell someone one way to do it, and once they know that one way they’re equipped to work out other ways, which is completely fine, and they can do that. But you don’t confuse them and tell them three ways to do something. You go, “This is one way to do it.” Yeah. I don’t know whether that was rambling, but I was just like, “You use it in such a positive way,” and then sometimes I feel that people use it in such a, it’s a dirty word.
Alexandra: I know what you’re talking about, but I’d love to hear from you what’s dirty about it, in a way.
Heather: I think people are saying you’re influencing other people, and it lacks the integrity to actually be doing that. And so, you’ve talked about it as a very positive way, and sometimes people say, “I’m an influencer.” And then, sometimes people say, “I’m lacking integrity because I’m talking about this.” And I’m like, “All I’m doing is putting something in front of people. I’m talking about technology. I’m trying to explain it in terms of what is useful for an accountant or for a bookkeeper and thus their small business owner.” And it’s just this little thing that burns away in the back of my brain.
Alexandra: No. I totally, totally understand what you mean. Because just the word influencer is actually in itself it’s like ugh.
Heather: Yeah. Exactly. And I completely agree. Yeah.
Alexandra: Yeah. We see people doing things basically for money, for personal gain. And you’re right, when I talk about influence and being an influence is about using your powers for good. If you think about the best teacher you ever had at school and someone who made a real difference or managed to describe something and it blew your mind and you went, “Wow.” That’s what I would like accountants to be for a business. And so much of the time we almost get in our own way.
Alexandra: If you think back to that break down of 55% of body language and then 38% is what you say and how you say it. You imagine that actually, you could be saying the best thing in the world, but it isn’t landing, it isn’t being understood by someone because you need to take a little time about how they are digesting it or thinking about their personality type and how they like to receive information or what helps them learn. Or even with digital transformation, what helps them actually take that step into more digital processes. And you get change resistance because they’re scared of what’s new. And if you know the way to unlock a process for them, especially with tech, especially with finance, if they’re not that way inclined, then that’s definitely influencing for good.
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely. I’m not of the philosophy that I’m going to tell anyone what to do. However, if you can through that conversation open their mind to something that’s really going to benefit them, then I really want to try and do that. Alexandra, thank you so much for being on the Cloud Stories podcast with me today. I think we’ve all learnt so much. I found it super interesting. I’ve got two things for you. I need you to say um or ah because you didn’t manage to say it during the session. I don’t know how that was even physically possible.
Alexandra: Absolutely. I’ll tell you a secret, you’ll listen back to this and you’ll hear I say so a lot.
Heather: I say so a lot. And then I say like a lot, and I’m like, “Why do I say so and like a lot?”
Alexandra: It’s the new um and ah.
Alexandra: For sure.
Heather: At least I’m doing something young.
Alexandra: I don’t know where it’s come from, but if I listen back on myself it’s my um, as it were. What were we saying? Where can you find-
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience? How can they get in contact with you, and find out about your training programmes?
Alexandra: Lovely. Yes. Absolutely. Well, my company is called Speaking Ambition, and that’s speakingambition.com, so you can go there and find out more about me. I’m also on Instagram personally as Alexandra Bond Burnett, so quite, hopefully, easy to find. On LinkedIn, I hang out there a lot as well as Alexandra Bond Burnett Presents. But more importantly, if you want to find out more, less about me but more about yourself then I do have a scorecard which measures your impact and the impact you have. It measures against how you make waves as an accountant, so it measures the waves that we looked at earlier in terms of being wide awake and how you build a relationship with allies, all of those, and your values and your speaking skills. If you want to get a personalised report then do have a look at that. And you can find that at speakingambition.scoreapp.com.
Heather: Awesome. Thank you so much. I’ll include the links in the show notes. Really appreciate you being on the show today. I’ve learnt so much from you, and hopefully our listeners, I’m sure our listeners will have enjoyed hearing from you as well.
Alexandra: Well, thank you so much for having me on, and it was really great to speak to you all.
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About Heather Smith
USA Accounting Today listed Heather as one of 21 people helping shape (and reshape) the accounting industry in 2020.
A technology and lifestyle accountant with a deep understanding of automated integrated cloud business tools and how business apps can be implemented and utilised effectively to improve workflow and surface information useful for data-informed decisions. She extensively shares her methodologies, business strategies and work-life balance practices through the ‘Cloud Stories’ podcast, multiple Cloud Accounting books, the Accounting Apps newsletter, blogs and social media platforms.
A FCA, FCCA, FICB, commerce graduate, and accredited trainer.