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Do You Have Any Clue What You Are Trying to Say?​​

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Earlier this week, I began addressing a short, powerful blog post from speaker, author, and marketing expert Seth Godin. His post was about the need to write and, since internal auditors and writing seem to be in a constant struggle, I found his comments to be particularly insightful for the profession. As I suggested last time, take a second and read what he has to say. (Seriously, it won’t take long. It is barely more than 70 words.)

Last time I talked about the need to write reports rather than count on conversations and meetings to serve as an effective method for communicating. Let’s now look at the next point Seth made.​

“If you can learn to share what you hope to communicate, written in a way that even a stranger can understand, you’ll not only improve your communication, you’ll learn to think more clearly as well.”

Here’s another issue I’ve noticed over lo these many years. Quite often (far too often), internal auditors haven’t got a clue what they are trying to say. They have a report template, they have a bunch of facts, they have a plethora of disparate thoughts, and they have a specialized lexicon. Then, with little rhyme or reason, they just start using all that knowledge to fill in the blanks thinking that means they have written a report.

Well, I guess they have, indeed, written a report. But they really haven’t communicated anything.

You see, there is a fundamental error occurring that is often overlooked. Very often (far too often) internal auditors don’t really know what it is they are trying to communicate.

Here’s a quick test before starting any audit report. Can you communicate your message in one sentence? If, instead, it takes a convoluted convolution of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and twenty-seven 8x10 color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one is, then you have no business even starting.

If you cannot succinctly and accurately articulate what it is you are trying to say, how do you expect to achieve effective communication. Only when you can synthesize your thoughts down to that one, main point will you be able to use all those words — the voluminous report of which we are all so proud — to actually say something.

If you prepare a morass of verbiage in support of an undefined communication, then the reader of the report will have no chance of ever understanding what is going on. How can they? You don’t even know yourself.

Quite a few years ago, our audit department did an overhaul of our fraud reports. Unfortunately, our solution addressed only one of the problems. And not the biggest one.

One of the issues we were trying to address was that the basic information readers needed was scattered all over the report. And the location of that information would change from report to report. Huzzah! We solved that problem. Unfortunately, in the process of solving that problem, we developed what was, effectively, a fill-in-the-blanks fraud report.

Good news! All the information could now be easily located.

Bad news! We had avoided a more significant issue. In fact, we made it worse. With the focus on basic data, it was now hard to tell exactly how the fraud had been allowed to occur. We lost sight of the primary message we needed to deliver.

A lot of auditors really liked that report template. They loved it because they didn’t have to work to write a report. All they had to do was fill in the blanks.

Take this home and bank it. If you do not find it hard work putting together a report, then that report probably has very little value. It is either reporting on something that really doesn’t matter or it is not telling the story that needs to be heard.

And with that thought in mind, we come to the end of Godin’s post:

“The person who benefits most from your writing is you.”

If, in writing reports, you focus on communication, on understanding the message, on spending the time necessary to ensure that the message is accurately delivered, you will learn.

If you don’t — if, instead, you try to find the quickest way to slap down all the information there is to print — then you will learn nothing, the reader of the report will learn nothing, and the entire exercise will be nothing more than squirts of bad perfume in a desert wind.

Go read the Seth Godin post, go back and read some of his prior posts, check in with him every day to see what else he has to say, and don’t even go near the keyboard to begin writing until you have some idea what it is you want to say.​

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