Thursday, May 19, 2011


I like numbers more than words. That’s natural for an accountant, right? Not necessarily. When I graduated from college and began my career in public accounting, I soon learned that understanding numbers was a requirement, but having the ability to communicate well was critical to my success as a professional.

Effective communication can be a challenge, especially for those who are new to the profession. Communication skills are not usually emphasized in most major college accounting curriculums. However, written and oral communication is just as important to the accountant or tax professional as knowledge of tax and accounting rules and regulations. Almost everything you do as a professional accountant results in some form of written or verbal communication to your client or staff. If that communication is not well written or delivered, it reflects poorly on you and the firm you represent. Cultivating effective communication skills will help you advance more quickly than those without good communication skills. Most firms could benefit significantly by providing training to help its professionals develop effective communication skills.

A little over 20 years ago I was hired as a technical editor for Practitioners Publishing Company. I had always thought that I had pretty good communication skills, but I was in for a big surprise. I wrote a chapter about governmental accounting and submitted it to my copy editor (an individual with a journalism degree), expecting rave reviews on my writing skills. When she returned the chapter, I knew she needed a transfusion because she had bled all over my manuscript. I had never seen so much red ink in my life. I was crushed, but I tried to learn from the experience. I never seemed to know where the comma should go or if I should use “which” or “that.” Learning to write correctly is a difficult process, but over the next five years she continued to point out ways to improve my writing and in the process made me a much better writer.

If you want to improve your writing skills, here are some books that I highly recommend:

“The Elements of Style,” by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
“100 Ways to Improve Your Writing,” by Gary Provost
“The Kings English,” by W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler

Speaking in front of an audience has also been part of my job for over 30 years. It has been said that public speaking is feared more than death. Toastmasters helped me to overcome that fear, or at least control it. It taught me to eliminate mannerisms such as continually saying “Uh” to fill my pauses and to look at my audience when speaking. Accountants don’t just sit in their offices crunching numbers. Public speaking is a large part of the job. Accountants must present audit reports and discuss tax findings, among other things. Being able to address a group clearly and with confidence will only enhance an accountant’s professional image. So, if you are interested in improving your oral presentation skills, I recommend joining your local Toastmasters International club. It is one of the best things I ever did.