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Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication


From Good to Great Business Reports in 3 Easy Steps

Working with a new client recently has hammered home a few key points about how any team can take their business reports from good to great. This is especially critical if you have a new team, new report writing responsibilities in an existing team, or a team that is located around the globe.

As part of the project to improve their report writing abilities, I analysed the reports this new department had published so far. In parallel, I had in-depth conversations with management about the department’s role, their stakeholders and the desired impact of their reports on the organisation.

What I realized was that the same limitations and roadblocks that affect well-established teams as they write and publish business reports affected this department. Very often:

  • A report template exists, but it is being used differently by the teams or team members within the department.
  • Report writing guidance in the form of a manual doesn’t exist, or it exists but isn’t being used actively by members of the team.
  • No official report writing ‘quality control mechanism’ exists within the department, except for the ‘chain of command’ review when a team is finalizing a report.

As a result, there is no consistent content, style, language or formality in the reports published.

This can be further complicated by having strict limitations on the length of reports. One recent conversation with a client went like this:

Me: “How long are your reports on average?”

Client: “Up to 30 pages, two pages maximum is allowed per topic, and the executive summary can only be one page long.”

Me: “I notice that risk to the business isn’t addressed in the executive summaries of half of the reports.”

Client: “That’s because we ran out of space, so we left it out.”

Me (in my head): Ouch.

Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, there are 3 easy steps that you can take to ensure your team’s business reports go from good to great:

1. Document internal guidelines

Document internal guidelines for business report writing that define the content required in each section of the report, common terms that should be used in your specific context, and style and formality requirements.

It’s okay to include desired length of sections, chapters and the full report, but these should be a guidelines. If team members are struggling to meet these limits, the underlying cause may not be report length, but critical thinking skills.

2. Conduct team training globally

Conduct team training globally to push out the new report writing guidelines. Such training is much easier these days because of the wonders of technology. Gone are the days of having to bring your entire team together physically.

It can also be helpful to provide the team with a report that is already written using the new guidelines. That way, your team has a model so they can see how the new guidelines work in practice. When the team is aware of and understands your expectations, they can meet them!

3. Get buy in from the top.

It’s important that the team’s top managers support the guidelines and contribute to having them taken on board. This might mean an encouraging email sent to all team members or a short introduction at the beginning of the training session.

Feedback will ensure the new guidelines are followed. I propose that as a team manager, you edit less, and instead, meet with your team member who wrote the report. Highlight where the report hits the mark, and where the report misses the report. Then send the team member off to make the necessary adjustments.

In no time at all, your team will be writing more consistent, professional, value-added reports. Your stakeholders will notice the improvement (remember, no news is good news, but positive feedback is great). And you’ll save time, because you aren’t the one actually making the revisions. Win, win, win!

All the best,


Quality Assurance Communication

Put Your Dancing Shoes On, It’s Time to Rock the Stage

Preparation is critical to my success, whether I’m delivering a workshop or speaking to a roomful of my ideal clients.  And whenever I get ready to speak in those situations, I like to take a step back and plan my dance moves… I like to call it my ‘choreography’.

This week I’m delivering two Audit Report Writing workshops to a new client. Because it’s the first time I’m delivering a full workshop(s) to them, it’s important that I get it right.

I’ve invested time getting to know the client and their staff, I’ve tailored the training material to their audit methodology, and I’ve gotten the stamp of approval from the Head of Internal Audit to deliver the workshops.

There’s one thing left to do before I go ‘on stage’: make sure I am ready to seamlessly move from one key message to the next, change from one slide to the next, and transition from topic to topic.

Here are 7 of the strategies I use to prepare myself for any presentation or speech, which I share in more detail in my Preparing Powerful Content workshop:

  1. Plan the first section of your presentation carefully. I still do it for my Audit Report Writing workshop, even though I’ve delivered it well over 50 times.
  2. Identify the relevant aspects of your experience and qualifications to resonate with that particular audience. This will create instant credibility during your self-introduction.
  3. Plan the key messages for every slide. Include supporting anecdote/example/comparison, and timing.
  4. Identify the ‘Ah-a moment’ of each slide in the body of your presentation. If there isn’t one, don’t show the slide.
  5. Plan the transitions between slides and topics. Use signposting language to take your audience by the hand with you.
  6. Know what you can cut out per slide and overall. Flexibility is key, and the audience shouldn’t feel that you are cutting anything out even if you are.
  7. Plan your conclusion. Skip the ‘Thank you for your attention’ slide and instead, focus on your main messages and call to action.

Why choreograph your next presentation?

When you are clear on these things, you can deliver with confidence and authenticity. Planning may take you 5 minutes, 50 minutes or 5 hours. Regardless, you will be far more successful, and your audience is much more likely to benefit from your messages if your choreography is mapped out before you put on your dancing shoes and step onto the stage.

Wishing you much success in your next presentation, speech or workshop!

All the best,


Quality Assurance Communication

Create a communication playbook to get better results

“Tracie, I’m frustrated. At meetings, I need to get agreement from my business partners, and it’s just not happening, or the process is lengthy and painful. How can I get better results from my meetings?”

This was one of the questions that was posed to me at the beginning of my Global Communication Competence workshop last week. Almost every workshop participant was nodding their head in unison as Mark asked the question.

It’s a common pain point: We spend so much time in meetings, discussing back and forth, often not really hearing what the other is saying. And as a result, no one actually gets ‘their’ desired outcome.

There is a host of things you can do before, during and after a meeting to support an outcome that suits all or most stakeholders. One of my favorites is making sure your communication playbook is updated and in order before the meeting. That way you can reference it during the meeting exactly when you need to.

What is a communication playbook?

An easy way to understand a communication playbook is to think about a sports playbook. If you’ve ever watched an NFL football game, you’ll be familiar with the concept.

A playbook is a collection of ‘plays’ or tactics that cover possible situations that the team wants to execute or react to on the football field. The plays in the book include common plays that are used quite often, and other plays that are used less frequently but are useful to get the football down the field in tricky situations.

Your communication playbook should include tactics and strategies for common communication interactions and challenging situations that might arise.

In Mark’s case, his communication playbook should include how to prepare for meetings where he has to get agreement with stakeholders, whether that agreement is on recommendations, audit findings, or next steps.



What should you include in your communication playbook?

Your personal communication playbook is just that: personal. You decide what to include and in how much detail. You decide if it is written in a notebook, on your computer, on the back of an envelope, or is only in your head.

At a minimum, I recommend addressing common communication interactions in your communication playbook, as in Mark’s case above.

To help Mark get started, I proposed he add the following aspects to each play in his communication playbook, and then add relevant questions for each aspect. I’ve given you a couple of examples to get started:

  1. Stakeholders
    Who are the stakeholders in the meeting?
    What do I know about each stakeholder? Include both personal and professional details.
  2. Objectives
    What is my objective for the meeting?
    What do I think their objective is?
  3. Positioning
    What is my position?
    What do I think their position is?
  4. Objections
    What might their objections be? List each objection.
    How can I overcome each objection?
  5. Team
    Who is on my team with me?
    What role will each of us play?

How can you benefit most from your communication playbook?

Prepare for each situation by first looking at existing plays in your communication playbook to determine which would best apply. But don’t forget that every communication interaction is slightly different: different business partners, different topics, different goals, different conditions and different consequences.

It’s a good idea to consult your playbook and then reflect on this particular situation. Decide how you might use the identified differences to create a different strategy, and likely a better outcome, than if you apply the same strategy to every communication interaction.

Wishing you every success as you develop and use your communication playbook!

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

P.S: Start 2018 the RIGHT way! Mark your calendar: My open webinar How to Write a Persuasive Audit Report will take place on January 9, 2018, at 18:00 CET. You’ll learn strategies and techniques that I’ve shared with thousands of audit professionals around the world. So save the date in your calendar TODAY. A registration link will follow in my next Up Your Impact newsletter.