Are you putting your best foot forward when you present to the Audit Committee or other important stakeholders? AuditBoard’s Pamela Young breaks down her top strategies for preparing to deliver a confident, relevant, and impactful presentation to the Audit Committee.
No one wants to be caught flat-footed and unprepared when delivering a presentation — and the stakes are high when the audience is the Audit Committee. Audit Committee members are sharp, accomplished, and busy professionals who can be a tough audience for those who aren’t experienced at presenting audit findings or talking to an audience more generally. Audit Committees want to know about risks that the organization is facing, what management is doing to get in front of those risks or how they intend to remediate any issues, and the end results of all of these actions. For newer and even experienced auditors, preparing and speaking in front of Board and specifically the Audit Committee can be nerve-wracking.
I’ve developed strategies for success during my years presenting on internal audit and Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) results to management and the Audit Committee. I’ve collected some of my best practices to help you prepare effectively and showcase the best version of yourself when delivering your presentation. Preparing to put your best foot forward is essential, whether you’ve been presenting to an Audit Committee for years or you’re gearing up for your first time.
Best Practices for Presenting to the Audit Committee
1. Get the lay of the land and know what’s important to your Audit Committee
Whether it’s your very first Audit Committee presentation or the first you’re making to the Audit Committee with a new company — do some reconnaissance first. Talk to your CFO, CAO, CEO, or other senior management about who you’ll be talking to, and how these meetings typically go — these are your partners who will work with you to ensure the right message is delivered and received. Reach out to colleagues who have presented to the Audit Committee before to get a sense of expectations, typical questions, and potential pitfalls.
You may want to get thoughts and feedback on your presentation with the Audit Committee Chair or your CFO before your meeting. Oftentimes, the presentation (or the “deck”) will be reviewed by senior leadership beforehand, so you’ll have time to make adjustments or improvements to your presentation. Synthesize all of the above information to determine how best to frame your message, what to include, and what to truncate as you craft your presentation.
2. Put in the effort to make it look effortless
Know your material inside and out. You’ll be more effective and will be able to speak more comfortably and concisely when you approach presenting as if you’re an expert educating your audience — which means that you’ll need to take the time to develop that expertise for each presentation.
Perhaps some people can pull off a perfect presentation on the fly, but for me making a presentation look effortless is always the result of putting in a tremendous amount of preparatory work. Take the time to understand what your organization is going through, learn about how the industry is trending. This will give you the business acumen you need to be mindful of tone and delivery. Being prepped to a tee enables you to be sharp in your delivery actions — like a CEO who seems relaxed because it’s their millionth board meeting, but who already knows everything that’s going on.
3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
In the days before an Audit Committee meeting, I literally practice in front of the mirror, my dog, my husband, sometimes my mother. People who seem the most relaxed in meetings likely have the most detailed knowledge — but they are also the most well prepared.
Go through your presentation with a colleague or your boss to gauge how long different parts of the presentation take, and ask for their honest feedback about your own speaking pace and rhythm. There can be a tendency to speak too quickly when talking to an audience, so you’ll want to practice until you can nail a consistent pace over the entire presentation. As you rehearse, listen for any parts that are difficult to say out loud, and consider rephrasing to make them simpler and less likely to cause you to stumble during your delivery.
4. Don’t read off of the slides
Reading off the slides is one of the most mind-numbingly awful ways of presenting. In most cases, the Audit Committee has been given the slides in advance, which means they’ve already read through them and know what’s important to them.
Your presentation talk track should add value beyond what’s written on the slide. For example, if management is implementing a new accounting standard, I would create slides detailing what the new accounting standard is, how or when it would impact the organization, and what internal audit is doing to assist management through this implementation.
During the presentation, I would say, “We’re implementing this standard, and internal audit is working with management and our External Audit team to get it done. We’re about 80% of the way done at the present moment, and we plan to complete the remaining 20% within the next month.” This provides some context about what’s on our minds, what management is doing to be prepared for this requirement, and completion status beyond the description provided in the slides themselves.
5. Don’t go in cold or freeze
Going in cold, not knowing anything about what you’re presenting, or not having an answer when somebody asks a meaningful question undermines your credibility. When the Audit Committee asks you a question, they don’t want to hear crickets, watch you stammer out “I don’t know,” or see you run out of the meeting to get an answer.
Although you’re not expected to understand everything that’s going on with the company globally, you should have a strong grasp of the material you’re presenting. Make sure you come equipped with the answers — or at least with some semblance of an answer — for questions that you would anticipate being asked based on the information on your slides. When a question is asked, take a moment to collect your thoughts before replying. It’s far better to pause momentarily to reflect than to give a meandering stream of consciousness response.
6. Take yourself seriously
Seasoned auditors might have a lot of chaos and stress swirling in the background — yet they can make presenting look easy by being clear and succinct in their communications. If you’re not an experienced presenter, my best advice is to prepare and practice. Remember, in this important meeting with executive management and the Board, you are representing the Internal Audit department and the value that you bring to the organization. The process should be given due respect, which includes a high level of professionalism. Consider speaking from a persona similar to that of your audience — putting yourself in the Audit Committee’s position and viewing it from their perspective. Strive to embody the best version of yourself for the duration of the presentation — which will be easier because you will have done the prep work necessary to be well-versed in your subject and confident in your ability to communicate it.
Whatever your level of experience with presenting to the Audit Committee, it doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. Personally, it was one of my favorite parts of the job and something I looked forward to every quarter. You have the opportunity to hear the ideas and guidance of the most experienced and highest advisors of your organization. It can be an invigorating opportunity to learn and grow as a professional. By getting the lay of the land, being well versed in what you’re presenting, and putting the best version of yourself forward, you’ll be in a strong position for a successful Audit Committee presentation that satisfies the audience and makes you look like a pro.