The value of asking the question, ‘What brings you joy?’

Hosted by Neil Amato

John Garrett is rarely at a loss for words. A former CPA turned stand-up comic, Garrett these days is a speaker, podcast host, and author, and he's a repeat guest on the Journal of Accountancy podcast for good reason. This episode puts a 2022 spin on two previous discussion topics: advice for presenting to groups and the tie-in between outside passions and work.

And make sure to listen to Garrett's wardrobe story before packing for that in-person work meeting or conference.

Also, hear a summary of news from the IRS commissioner's testimony at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • What Garrett says has been "crucial" to people's mental wellness the past two years.
  • Why conversations about Zoom or home backgrounds should continue.
  • The reason sound quality is so important for virtual meetings.
  • The importance of "a little bit of grace" as people return to in-person events such as conferences.
  • Why Garrett had to adjust his wardrobe plans before going to a speaking engagement.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

— To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at


Neil Amato: Hello, listeners. Welcome to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. I'm your host, Neil Amato. It is my pleasure to welcome back to the podcast speaker and author John Garrett. You'll hear my conversation with John right after this word from our sponsor.

Amato: Welcome back to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. I'm joined for this segment by John Garrett. John may be a name you know. John Garrett is an author, an award-winning author even, a keynote speaker, and just really an all-around, I guess, rabblerouser, I'd say. John, thanks for being back on the podcast.

John Garrett: I appreciate it, Neil. Rabblerouser, I will take any day, any day. I love it.

Amato: Seriously though, we have had you on the podcast in the past to talk presentation tips and also nearly four years ago now on the topic of why our passions are essential to work success. What would you say now, in 2022, about the importance of sharing some of the things we care most about, some of the things that make us unique as individuals? Why is it important to have that out there about ourselves?

Garrett: I think first of all, just for yourself as an individual, having something outside of work in the last two years has been absolutely crucial, just from a mental wellness standpoint. If all you were doing was work and now that a lot of people are working from home, the work is always there, the home, everything was blending even more than ever before. So having something to take a break, to have a reprieve, have a mental break, even an emotional break, and something to look forward to is so crucial just from your own individual standpoint.

But then also, too, organizations and firms that thought that they had a culture. But it was based on complaining about the coffee in the break room or passing each other in the hallway and having a superficial, "Hey, how's it going?" "Fine." "Great." Then all of a sudden, now when you don't have that, you have no culture, which I would argue you didn't have one in the first place. But creating connections with people is going to have to happen on a human level.

The human level is not, how many hours did you work? What work are you doing? Or anything work related really. The human level is, who are you as a person? I mean, the subtitle of my book is Unlock the Person Within the Professional. Behind that job title is a human being with other dimensions to their life. We need to embrace that and shine a light on that and really celebrate that.

Amato: That main book title I guess, is What's Your "And"?

Garrett: Right.

Amato: That topic of "And" actually came up in a recent conversation on this very podcast, the Journal of Accountancy podcast, with the March Last Word featured CPA, a guy named Steven Harris. Steven said he was just hesitant at first to share about himself. He was shy and for that reason he really struggled to make a connection to people in his firm, and that was in an in-person environment.

It's got to be tougher now. Obviously, people are getting back to more in-person contact. But just that importance to be able to share, it helps you get to know people better. Right?

Garrett: Yeah, absolutely. It creates actually other connection points with other people. When we were doing video calls in our homes, we've now been in each other's house. Like you've been in my living room, you've been in my dining room, my home office. You've seen my dog barking at the Amazon delivery. You've seen my kids yelling because they can't log in to home school or whatever it is. You've seen the art that's on the walls and the pictures or the knick-knacks that are behind me. Ask about those. They're there for a reason. I mean, they bring that person joy, and to have them talk about it. You see them light up, you see them alive, and what's truly important to them.

Now that we've been in each other's houses like that, and then as we go to in person, let's not act like that didn't happen. The toothpaste is out of the tube now. Continue to ask people about their dogs or their cats or about the things that were behind them on their Zoom calls, and just talk to them about that because that's who they really are.

When you think about it, the firm or the company hired the whole person, not just the accountant part. You hired all these other parts, too, that come with it. Shine a light on that and celebrate that and nurture that. Why do we only worry about technical skills training and CPE? Why don't we worry about other things? Someone that likes to run. Like "Hey, there's a 5K race that's happening. Did you know about it? Why don't you go do it." Care about the other parts of people as well beyond just the parts that you think that they're hired to do at the job.

Amato: Yeah. I think you even had an example of that back when you were a practicing CPA where someone remembered you. Of course, not at all for work, and that's not to say anything about your quality of work, but it was about what you did outside of work.

Garrett: Right. It's because that person worked in the tax department, and I'm one of the cool CPAs that doesn't know how taxes work. I never even went to the tax floor. I don't even know what that guy looks like, and he told a meeting professional, "I know John Garrett, that's the guy who did comedy at night." It's like, "How do you remember me 12 years later for a hobby?"

It's because, well, we never even worked together. We never even met. But word spreads of who John Garrett actually is. It's almost like the phrase, "Who else are you?" You're an accountant, you're a CPA, you're whatever, you're a CFO, but what else are you? You're more than that. Celebrate that, and shine a light on that, and the people around you are more than their job titles as well.

Amato: The other topic that we've addressed with you on a previous podcast, I believe I called you a repeat offender in that episode.

Garrett: Look at all the great titles when I talk to you, Neil.

Amato: Was presentation skills. Now, that episode aired in 2019. I'd ask, how are presentation skills different now, and would the advice you give change any?

Garrett: Yeah. It's certainly different because a lot more virtual presentations are happening, a lot more on camera. For that, now you all of a sudden have to be a TV producer as well as a speaker. Lighting is huge, audio is huge, video is right there, but not as huge, oddly enough. I mean, so many times I've seen setups where somebody is sitting in front of a bright window. Well, you're just a dark silhouette now. It's terrible, so have the light be facing you. The audio, just have a decent microphone. It doesn't have to be expensive, but something that's decent. Because if people can't hear you and if they have to really work hard to hear you, then they're just going to check out. It doesn't matter if the lighting and the video's amazing. Well, if they can't hear you or they really have to strain to hear you, then it's not good.

Then the other part is, you are on basically a small TV. Mix up the camera angles. Mix up different ways that you can present or things that you can change the depth while you're talking, as opposed to just sitting there and droning on and on. Have some visual aids, have some things that maybe in person we wouldn't be able to do. But because you're now on video, there are some cool things that we can do that you wouldn't be able to do in person.

Really explore what those are, and lean into that. Because you want to keep people engaged, and you want to keep people paying attention. Well then, you're going to have to bring a little bit more production value than you would in person.

Amato: There is going to be more in-person contact. We're recording in early April 2022. It is getting into "Conference Season." Do you think that people, I mean, maybe not you, social butterfly that you are, but people in general got rusty when it came to interacting with others? If so, what do they need to do to practice for seeing people again at events such as conferences?

Garrett: Yeah. Well, I'm a lot more introverted than you would think, to be honest. But I mean, first of all, you're going to have to wear your outside pants again. Making sure that they fit, that was something that I had to do last fall when I had an in-person conference to go speak at. I was like, "Oh wow, two of my suits don't fit anymore. That's awesome. We have work on that one."

But as far as the interaction goes, I guess, the important thing is even more than before, it's just we're all going through something. The way that this pandemic has impacted us on a personal level, not just professionally, is different for everyone. Just because maybe you're fine or you think you're fine and everything's normal for you, that doesn't mean that it's the case for the other person or the people that are around you. A little bit of grace, I think, is pretty important.

Then ask people about the things that light them up. Because I think in the last two years we've come to realize that, you know what? Hey, I've got other things, too, that I do care about and that are important to me. Find out what those are. Because those conversations and the follow-up questions that you're going to have are so much more entertaining and rich than "talk about work some more." It's just not where the connection happens on a human level.

Amato: That's a really good point. I guess I'll ask you, are you a big Colorado Avalanche fan now?

Garrett: I don't know if big is the word for it, but they're certainly very good. They're fun to watch. That makes it a little easier.

Amato: That may not be your true passion, but because you're Denver-based, I figured I would ask with the NHL playoffs coming up.

Garrett: Right. No, they're very good, and they're fun to watch, so that it makes it easier. It's easier to be an Avalanche fan than it is a Broncos fan right now for sure.

Amato: Exactly. John, anything that you'd like to add in closing?

Garrett: No, I just appreciate you having me back on, and I just encourage everyone to just find your "and" and share your "and." Really good things happen when it comes to attracting and retaining talent when you can really connect with people on a human level, so go deeper.

Amato: Again, that was John Garrett. Thanks to him for his time. John is the host of the What's Your "And"? podcast, an excellent show that you can check out by searching "What's Your And?" on Apple Podcasts or other platforms.

In other news, Paul Bonner of the JofA has coverage of IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig's appearance last week before the Senate Finance Committee. It's an article we will link to in the show notes for this episode. A quick summary of that article: Rettig was questioned repeatedly about the IRS backlog of returns from earlier tax years. In addressing how the IRS is doing to get caught up, Rettig said, "Our efforts are working. We're trending in the right direction."

That's our episode for Tuesday, April 12th. A reminder, if you haven't already, to subscribe to the Journal of Accountancy podcast and share it with your friends. Also leave us a rating and review. We'd love to hear your feedback on the show. Thank you for listening.