Be a star CPE instructor: being a discussion leader offers plenty of opportunities to unleash your inner pedagogue.

Author:Schaefer, James
Position::Continuing professional education


Providers of continuing professional education are frequently looking for discussion leaders to teach classes. And most at some point have probably wondered what it would take to be a discussion leader.

The benefits include pay as well as what most discussion leaders find is a greater reward: the satisfaction of sharing knowledge. Discussion leaders also earn CPE credit for themselves. However, being a discussion leader is harder than it looks, and most CPAs have little or no training as public speakers. But with the proper attitude, sufficient preparation and development of presentation skills, anyone can become a good discussion leader. This article explains how preparation and knowing what to expect can help make the experience a successful one.


The most important component of a good discussion leader is a desire to succeed. Keep in mind that live CPE is expensive, and participants are giving up valuable time to attend. Your goal should be to give the participants knowledge and perspective that helps them in their careers in ways they can readily appreciate. In his book How to Run Seminars & Workshops, Robert Jolles suggests that a realistic expectation is a stimulating training session that is "delivered professionally and leaves the participant motivated and satisfied."

Second is knowledge of the subject matter. The discussion leader must know the material backward and forward. Every audience at a CPE program will include CPAs who have worked with the material and have questions regarding its implementation.

The third component is being a good presenter. The discussion leader sets the tone for the whole program. More than just presenting the material, he or she answers questions, involves participants and keeps the program on track.


There are many ways to become a discussion leader. One approach is to attend five CPE programs. State CPA societies offer a variety of CPE programming, often hiring discussion leaders for course materials they have purchased from publishers such as the AICPA. The advantage to teaching an AICPA course offered by a state CPA society is that the course materials are already developed and are updated regularly.

Attending state CPA society-sponsored CPE programs allows you to make contact with the society's personnel. Tell them you are interested in becoming a discussion leader and ask how to get started. Michael Matthews, the director of CPE for the Florida Institute of CPAs, asks potential discussion leaders to send a one-page biography, including any testimonials received from previous speaking engagements.

Stacey Wilson, the manager of member services for the Indiana CPA Society, adds, "We look for people with the potential to be both dynamic and interactive. Another aspect is finding someone who is very knowledgeable, if not an expert, on the topic at hand."

The importance of credentials depends on the nature of the course. "If it is a course on digital forensics, being an expert is more important than credentials held," says Allan Bachman, education manager for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. "But if it is a course on fraud...

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