“Fun,” “creative,” and “outside-the-box” are not terms that often come to mind when one thinks of CPE education. Most of us envision long hours in brightly-lit conference rooms, surviving from cup-to-cup of dark coffee. Some choose to study at home, parking in front of the laptop for a webcast or delving through pages of a written course. But more than 20 years ago, Jeff Sailor, CPA, realized CPE didn’t have to equate boredom.

The Beginning
In 1992, Jeff was sitting in a CPE seminar, fulfilling his annual requirements for his accounting practice. “It was horrid,” he said honestly. “Some speakers were fair, but overall the experience was lifeless and boring.” On one side of him, a fellow attendee had his head on the table—asleep, drooling, and snoring.

He turned to the CPA on his other said and asked, “Are you enjoying this?”

The answer? A flat, “Of course not.” It was assumed—and accepted—that obtaining one’s CPE would be a miserable experience.

“It clicked,” Jeff shared. “Why do we as accountants put up with this?” He went home and told his wife, an award-winning advertising professional, that he wanted to create better, more engaging CPE. After listening to his experience, she replied, “Oh no,” and immediately helped him undertake the project. And so, Jeff Sailor Seminars was born.

Thinking Outside the Box
From its inception in 1992, Jeff knew he wanted to approach CPE differently. He began to film the funny, short videos that he’s known for today, offering educational content nestled within funny, pop-culture references. His daughter recently digitized the early works, providing an interesting look back into how far his teaching style has evolved over the years.

“[As a presenter], you have someone’s attention for eight hours. I decided to do some crazy stuff that no one had done before,” he shared. As with any new approach, the response was mixed. “There was a bit of polarization; some people loved it, others really didn’t. We’ve refined the process over the years; focused more on how we weave the educational material into it. That educational aspect is the reason we’re there.”

It’s a creative approach that intrigues the best of the best; Sailor has been invited to speak at two national NASBA conferences about how to make CPE more exciting.

The Evolution
One challenge with new ideas is the lack of precedent; there was no real model for Sailor to work from, no mentor to advise on this unique approach. He reflects, “What I was doing was very cutting edge. No one had ever done this.”

He credits a man named R. Bob Smith, CPA, with instilling a love of approaching things differently. Sailor remembers Smith as a “big picture thinker, not a checklist man,” and credits him for grounding the idea one must be an entertainer/professional speaker first and an educator second. He’s keen to continue learning from fellow instructors, noting, “Western has the cream of the crop; every chance I have, I sit in and listen.”

Growing as a Professional
Jeff’s unrelenting energy is palpable as he talks about professional development—as a speaker, a business professional, and an individual. In his own practice, he shares two guidelines. First? “You ain’t got time for bad clients.” If possible, try to limit yourself to clients who you enjoy. Second? He’s a big believer in a gatekeeper to avoid workflow interruption; a system to not let technology interfere with workflow. “I love technology, I really do,” he shared. “But you should never let technology create more work for you.”

The business world is rife with young professionals just entering the job marketplace and looking to make their mark on the world. For those youngsters (and for seasoned professionals looking to grow) Sailor offers these three tips for professional development:

  • #1: Think outside the box. Brick and mortar is not the only way to go these days. What do you really want to do in your work?
  • #2: Never let your business run your life. “I work so I can live, I don’t live to work,” he stated plainly. “I’m lucky enough to enjoy what I do.” The day his daughter was born, he began only working 8–5, Monday–Friday—no weekends. “If you have that [balance] as your focus, you can make it work.”
  • #3: Always step back and ask, “Why.” Avoid the checklist mentality. Ask, “What does this really mean?”

As a presenter, he noted two things are key: preparation and confidence. “You have to own the room before the first person walks in,” he offered, adding that event preparation begins long before that first person enters; presenters must check the room layout, the equipment, and their own presentations to ensure everything works smoothly.

Tips for Conference Attendees
Attending your first conference? Or maybe you’re about to attend your fifth but want to ensure you’re making the most of your time on location. Sailor offers these three tips for conference, seminar, and event attendees:

  • #1: Bring a jacket: your physical needs come first. Stay comfortable.
  • #2: Stretch: clear it with the instructor first, but don’t be afraid to get out of your seat and stretch in the back of the room.
  • #3: Plan what you want to get out of the day; determine what’s relevant to you and come to the event with pre-determined goals.

Keeping It Real
Work-life balance is key, Sailor realizes, and he’s keen on developing his interests outside of his bustling professional career. He’s a passionate traveler; he and his wife both try to log at least two international trips a year. He subscribes to the idea that life itself is worth a laugh or two, and it’s all about the small things. When asked what last made him laugh out loud, he replied, “Everything! I see humor in everything. You just look around and you see people doing things, and it’s funny.”

He enjoys reading, finding fiction both an inspiration and a good escape from the rigors of a busy work schedule. He recently delved into The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, noting it “really pushed my buttons.” Sailor enjoyed the way Gaiman “gets way out there in his writing; [this book] really pushed the boundaries of what is and what isn’t reality.” Even talk of fiction novels rounds back to the accounting world, and he reflected, “Out of the box thinking. That’s a problem with CPAs; we really don’t think outside the box.”

Creativity, however, is a frequently-used tool in Sailor’s arsenal. He’s busy building a new studio in Florida, eagerly anticipating the ability to shorten the process—to be able to see a need, go into the studio, film, produce, package, and BOOM! And, above all, he’s looking forward to the opportunity for growth. “Stretching what I do,” he shared. “I’m more willing now to stick my neck out and say, ‘This is what I think.’ To think outside the box.”

Our conversation moves to travel and stories of recent trips, and I ask what quote he’d pen onto a fortune cookie if he could. He laughs and replies, “We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy. It’s a fitting quote for a man who makes the conscious choice to think outside the box and see the magic in everyday life.