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Taming the Butterflies

As a former internal audit trainee, I am all too familiar with “pre-meeting anxiety”. Whether it is an initial scoping meeting or a meeting to discuss a draft report and recommendations, meetings with audit clients can be an intimidating experience.

Having studied Drama and Theatre studies at University, you might think that this is something that would come easy to me… If only! Not only was I was new to audit but I was new to the NHS too. I was on very unfamiliar ground. At least with a performance I could rehearse and go over and over my lines to make sure I was word perfect.

Starting out as a trainee, I often felt intimidated in interviews or meeting situations. What questions should I ask? Have I understood the subject properly? Can they tell I have no idea what I am doing?

The truth is, I did know what I was doing and I just lacked the confidence in my own ability. Despite preparing for meetings and doing my research, I sometimes stumbled over my words and waffled unnecessarily around a point, failing to clearly communicate what I wanted to say. I found this most difficult when meeting with more senior client staff.

Over the last four years my confidence in these situations has naturally improved. As with anything, practice makes perfect and the more you do these things the better you get at them. Some would argue that communication skills are one of the most important skills when auditing. Good communication is the foundation of any successful relationship after all. Few things can derail the audit client’s perception, confidence, and trust of internal audit faster and more profoundly than ineffective communications. It was therefore my responsibility to ensure that I wasn’t the one ‘letting the side down’.

Here a few things that I find useful when preparing for and attending an audit meeting.

  • Familiarise yourself with the subject matter to ensure that you have a sufficient foundation of knowledge in order to ask questions and understand the responses.
  • Prepare a series of questions ensuring that you have including everything that you would like to cover during the meeting.
  • Clearly explain the purpose of the meeting to the audit client. Depending on the type of meeting it might be useful to prepare an agenda.
  • Do not use jargon as you run the risk of confusing the interviewee, and decreasing the odds of getting buy-in into whatever it is you are trying to accomplish.
  • Confirm the facts as you go through to demonstrate your understanding of what has been said.
  • Be concise and do not add extra detail unnecessarily.
  • Do not be afraid to leave a pause after asking a question or making a statement however tempting it is to try and fill the gap. The interviewee may be inclined to add more information.
  • Use open questions and don’t be biased. Closed questions can be used if more detail is required
  • Be aware of signs or red flags in meetings that your communication efforts are not as effective as intended (eye contact, nodding, postures, smiles, distractions, etc.) and adjust or modify accordingly.
  • Ensure you have sufficient information and evidence when presenting audit findings, in the event they are challenged.
  • Don’t be late! It goes without saying.

 Sarah Hatherly, Auditor