Imagine attending an opening meeting for a scheduled audit. The audit topic is somewhat controversial and there has been pushback on the review’s timing. The auditor-in-charge worked hard to find time to get everyone to attend (8-10 people). The meeting is held in a huge conference room, so people are waving across the room and jokingly asking, “How’s the weather over there?” There is anticipation mixed with nervousness and anxiety as the auditors introduce themselves. The auditor-in-charge turns on the projector and forwards through the 12 slides in the opening meeting slide deck in about five minutes. She asks if there are any questions (there are none) and thanks them for their time. The group proceeds to exit the conference room feeling deflated. Everyone thinks, “What was the point of that?”
Now imagine attending a closing meeting for a different audit that went well. The clients are engaged with the issues internal audit finds and want to use the audit to help drive improvements in their business. The meeting is held in a huge training room set up with circular tables suitable for 36 people. The auditor-in-charge had difficulty aligning everyone’s schedules, so the meeting is held at 4 p.m. on Friday. Six of the 18 people call in to attend the meeting while the rest sit at the back of the room. Unfortunately, the auditor-in-charge shows up just five minutes before the meeting starts and has multiple issues with the technology — he neglects to bring an adapter for the laptop and doesn’t know how to use the projector. As a result, the meeting starts 15 minutes late. Two slides in, the meeting is derailed by someone on the phone asking a question, resulting in a five-minute side conversation between the auditor-in-charge and the person on the phone as the others disengage into side conversations or checking their phones and laptops.
Many times, internal audit takes opening and closing meetings for granted and just goes through the motions to conduct them. The difference between meetings that are successful and meetings that are not is preparation and clear objectives. Internal auditors can follow guidelines that will ensure these meetings are informative and engage their audit clients.
Conducting Effective Meetings
Because the opening meeting can set the tone for the audit and the closing meeting is a crucial last step in the audit process, internal auditors can benefit from tips to run the meetings in the most professional manner possible.
- Consider your appearance at the meetings. Because internal audit is positioning itself as a competent team of professionals, they should look the part and dress appropriately.
- Never sit opposite the clients in an “us vs. them” setup. The audit team should mingle to make the meeting more collaborative.
- Don’t use “auditee” or other internal audit jargon with clients or other meeting participants. The only people who use those words are auditors.
- Never read directly from the slides or the audit report. Points should be made as if the auditor is having a conversation. Use the slide deck and audit report as a guide, not a crutch. If an auditor is unable to do that, then he or she has not prepared well enough for the meeting.
- Remarks should be addressed to the most senior (nonaudit) person in the room. This is simply good etiquette.
- Be culturally sensitive. In the U.S., staff members present their own findings as a development opportunity. In other countries, the senior member of the audit team is expected to do so. There may be some other cultural etiquette for meetings, as well. Internal auditors should always research cultural norms if they are presenting in another country.
- The auditor-in-charge should stand up during the meeting, if appropriate. Standing reinforces that he or she is facilitating the discussion.
Prepare for the Meeting The meeting room should be visited the day before the meeting to make sure it is appropriate for the number of people attending and that the auditor running the meeting understands how to use the technology in the room. If the auditor-in-charge is uncomfortable speaking in front of people, he or she should rehearse the entire meeting.
Make Your Objective Clear A meeting must have a specific and defined purpose. Before sending that calendar invitation, ask yourself: What do I want to accomplish? This should be shared ahead of time with the client.
Consider Who Is Invited Think about who really needs to be in the meeting. When people feel that what’s being discussed isn’t relevant to them, or that they lack the skills or expertise to be of assistance, they’ll view their attendance as a waste of time. If there are any doubts about certain attendees, make them optional and let them decide whether to attend.
Stick to the Schedule Create an agenda (or slide deck, in this case) that lays out everything that will be covered in the meeting, along with a timeline that allots a certain number of minutes to each item, and email it to people in advance.
Be Assertive If one person is monopolizing the conversation — the fastest way to derail a meeting — call him or her out delicately. For example, “We appreciate your contributions, but let’s get some input from others.” Establishing ground rules early on will create a framework for how the group functions. Internal audit is in charge of the meeting. Discussions of risk ratings, for example, can be a derailer that the auditor should consider discussing outside of the meeting.
Start on Time, End on Time Knowing that time is valuable, do not schedule any meeting for more than an hour. Sixty minutes is generally the longest time people can remain truly engaged. A
Harvard Business Review article, “The 50-minute Meeting,” suggests allowing 10 minutes of the 60 minutes for travel and administrative time. And if only 30 minutes is needed, don’t schedule an hour.
Ban Technology Laptops and smartphones distract people from being focused on the meeting or contributing to it. Instead, they’ll be sending emails or surfing the web.
Note Action Items and Follow-up So that everyone is on the same page, a follow-up email highlighting what was accomplished should be sent within 24 hours to all who attended. Document the responsibilities given, tasks delegated, and any assigned deadlines.
If opening and closing meetings seem repetitive and boring, consider the actors who perform in some Broadway plays for years. They strive to do every performance, even the 873rd, with the same passion as the first. They polish and perfect it each time. Clients deserve the best from internal auditors, and there will always be someone in the room who hasn’t seen the slide deck or been through an audit before. The right preparation can make these meetings valuable and productive for auditor and client.