Story- telling, mythologizing and rhetoric should be part of an accountant’s tool kit and such can transform a good accountant into a great communicator
Since Ancient Greece we have marvelled at the oratory of great speakers and their ability to present coherent points of view supported by their delivery, command of language and expression.
Fast forward to social media and the new ways of communicating means that twitter concision is still using these techniques albeit in different patois.
Whatever the chosen words or delivery, the idea is the same -using an opportunity to get the message across and capture the imagination.
That doesn’t mean we all should use language like Aristotle or Shakespeare. (Allusion)
When you see job descriptions or advertisements wanting a ‘good communicator’, it doesn’t mean someone who excels at Excel. ( Analogy)
The use of pivot tables and V look ups may be a sign of technical proficiency, but if your audience needs a degree in aeronautical engineering (Simile) to understand the spreadsheet and you move your cursor around that screen too fast, you will not get your message across.
Accountants would love to manage people with numbers and there is lots of research about presentational style influencing and changing behaviour.
Communication, effective communication, (Amplification) entails a narrative that proposes a relevant meaning and grounds for debate.
When people question’ that figure can’t possibly be correct ‘, the accountant has to question what do they mean? (Anaphora)
Having a purposeful narrative and using rhetorical devices may just provide a better answer than clamming up and retreating into your numerical shell- be comforted in knowing that you have at least opened up the debate. Your role is to communicate good and bad news so choosing words carefully, having a narrative/story and clearly setting out your assumptions is key to communicating.
Remember rhetoric is trying to engage human imagination and getting your audiences to think. The spreadsheet doesn’t have to look pretty but it has to work. ( Antanogoge)
Why is this idea so important to accountants?
Firstly we are trained in numbers so words don’t come easily and our training is also non persuasive because for every credit there is a debit and there is a compromise when trying to balance, which leads us to instinctively seek a middle ground.
Secondly we are versed in compliance and following rules, business practice, entrepreneurial thinking and risk management does not always sit comfortably with custom and practice.
Thirdly to get to the top in Accountancy, like most professions you have to question some basic beliefs with which you have been trained and see the world through other eyes.
Communicating performance to shareholders via Annual accounts or making presentations to Stakeholders is a different level of rhetoric
- Alliteration – the recurrence of initial consonant sounds – rubber baby buggy bumpers
- Allusion – a reference to an event, literary work or person – I can’t do that because I am not Superman.
- Amplification – repeats a word or expression for emphasis – Love, real love, takes time.
- Analogy – compares two different things that have some similar characteristics – He is flaky as a snowstorm.
- Anaphora – repeats a word or phrase in successive phrases – “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” (Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare)
- Antanagoge – places a criticism and compliment together to lessen the impact – The car is not pretty but it runs great.
- Antimetabole – repeats words or phrases in reverse order – “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” (J F Kennedy)
- Antiphrasis – uses a word with an opposite meaning – The Chihuahua was named Goliath.
- Antithesis – makes a connection between two things – “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Neil Armstrong)
- Appositive – places a noun or phrase next to another noun for descriptive purposes – Mary, queen of the land, hosted the ball.
- Enumeratio – makes a point with details – Renovation included a spa, tennis court, pool and lounge.
- Epanalepsis – repeats something from the beginning of a sentence at the end – My ears heard what you said but I couldn’t believe my ears.
- Epithet – using an adjective or adjective phrase to describe – mesmerizing eyes
- Epizeuxis – repeats one word for emphasis – The amusement park was fun, fun, fun.
- Hyperbole – an exaggeration – I have done this a thousand times.
- Litotes – makes an understatement by denying the opposite of a word that may have been used – The terms of the contract are not disagreeable to me.
- Metanoia – corrects or qualifies a statement – You are the most beautiful woman in this town, nay the entire world.
- Metaphor – compares two things by stating one is the other – The eyes are the windows of the soul.
- Metonymy – a metaphor where something being compared is referred to by something closely associated with it – The knights are loyal to the crown.
- Onomatopoeia – words that imitate the sound they describe – plunk, whiz, pop
- Oxymoron – a two word paradox – near miss, seriously funny
- Parallelism – uses words or phrases with a similar structure – I went to the store, parked the car and bought a pizza.
- Simile – compares one object to another – He smokes like a chimney.
- Understatement – makes an idea less important that it really is – The hurricane disrupted traffic