Who’s Your User? Understanding the Importance of Situational Awareness

By Samantha Taylor, PME, CPA, CA
Dec 3, 2021
My colleague, let’s call him Steve, gave a presentation pre-COVID to a room full of two hundred business professors. Luckily for us, it was recorded. When I pressed play, I saw Steve, in a suit and in front of a large, wooden podium. Steve’s talk was great. He spoke fluently, paused appropriately. Then, about halfway through his twelve-minute presentation, Steve started discussing the history of accounting. His face lit up, hands flying around enthusiastically, and then the audience erupted into laughter. Steve paused, looked perplexed, then smiled and resumed his speech. 


Steve received a nice round of applause with two people post-talk who “rushed” the podium. I emailed Steve to congratulate him on the polished talk, then asked him about his “joke” – did he mean to make a joke about how cool the history of accounting was?  “No,” he shared. “It is always important to know your audience.” 

Know Your Audience 

How often have we “missed the mark” when having a conversation? Steve’s story reminds us to remember our audience and direct the communication accordingly. Essential advice for giving presentations, imperative when case writing, and applicable to the workplace. 

I recently received an email from a candidate who questioned the relatability of CPA PEP’s practice cases to the real-life workplace: 

I really hate the 1-hour thing. At no point in our career would we have only 1 hour to complete a project that we had minimal prior knowledge about and no ability to ask for help... it just wouldn't happen.

I get it, sometimes it is difficult to see how practice cases apply to the real world. This is why my reply focused on empathy and included some tough love.

Embrace the Gap 

This process is frustrating, and while often the frustration results in growth, frustration never really feels good. I completely understand and agree with you; in the real world we would have (at least) a week and a team to address complex business cases such as these. 


It’s Always the Audience 

The thing about CPA PEP is that it requires both education and real-life work experience. I suggest candidates look it at not as a trade-off, but rather, a complementary process, which is why your CPA designation requires both successfully passing the module exams and the CFE, AND completing relevant work experience. 

In the modules, the expectation is not at the level of what you would submit to a boss or a client. Candidates who adjust how they define "done" for a module case or exam often tend to buy in and improve their performance in the module.

Change your Frame (of Mind) 

Consider thinking of case responses as a "snapshot" of what a candidate could do, almost like an elevator pitch. A well-crafted response is a valuable skill; as if someone is given a week and a team to execute the ideas captured in the practice case “snapshot”, the additional resources would magnify, for better or worse, what was written in the “snapshot” practice case. Through time-restricted brevity, one may display their critical thinking skills are sufficient; that they can sort through various details and create that path to addressing users' needs. 


Assistance is Available

Your facilitators would love to hear from you to discuss how you can “action” on their feedback. If you are looking for additional resources outside of your facilitators and what has already been provided by CPA PEP, please do not hesitate to reach out to CPAWBS’s Learner Support to offer custom solutions for learners looking to tailor their program to their needs. Learner Support can be reached at learnersupport@cpawsb.ca

Parting advice: Don’t be too hard on yourself. We do not always get it right, but the important thing is we debrief, learn from our missteps and carry forward. Steve still speaks excitedly about accounting history, only now it is to a (virtual) room of The History of Accounting symposium attendees. 

Do you have feedback on this post or a question you’d like answered by an experienced CPAWSB educator? Please contact your facilitator or send a question to the General Topic in the Candidate Discussion forum. 

Samantha Taylor, PME, CPA, CA, is an educator and lead policy advisor for CPAWSB and a Senior Instructor of accounting at Dalhousie University. She is on a mission to understand and enable learner efficacy while eliminating doldrums occasionally associated with accounting education. Read more of Sam’s posts at the CPAWSB blog.