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.

5 Must-know Techniques to Minimize Your Risk When Writing

I’m hot off a tour of Europe delivering four International Audit Report Writing workshops back-to-back. A common theme amongst workshop participants? How to minimize the risk that readers don’t arrive at the same conclusions we did. If we can minimize that risk, we stand a good chance that our recommendations will be accepted. And that makes it worth the time and effort we put in before and during the writing of the report.

Communicating in writing is a challenge

In several workshops, participants shared that after their on-site audit missions, they spent days, even weeks in some cases, drafting and editing their audit reports. The goal was always to deliver value-added recommendations to the audited entity and the organization in general. The challenges were writing clearly, concisely and persuasively.

If they didn’t, endless discussions and disagreements arose with auditees. Multiple meetings and calls followed; edits and sometimes rewrites were necessary. At times, this resulted in watered-down recommendations, escalations, and in the end, a less effective report.

To make it even more complicated, there were reviews and edits by four or five reviewers up the line once the initial reports were drafted. Some participants protested that the result looked nothing like the original text, and others were pained that someone else’s style was imposed over their own. Sound familiar?

Minimize your risk

There are numerous things you can do to minimize the risk that your readers won’t come to the same conclusions you did, and to ensure your recommendations are accepted. And it starts BEFORE you write!

Before you put pen to paper:

During the writing process:

  1. Write in short, digestible sentences. If you aren’t sure if your sentences are ‘the right length’, run the readability check available in MS Word to find out your average sentence length.
  2. Use plain English. There’s no need to use mysterious jargon, complex connecting words, and complicated verb structures. KISS is still a popular acronym for a reason.
  3. Interpret for your reader. Yes, the facts must be stated and ideally be indisputable. But facts aren’t enough. Interpret those facts for the reader, or they will do it for you.
  4. Structure your arguments. In audit, we use criteria, condition, cause, risk and recommendation as the desired structure. Not an auditor? Other structures work, too, to take the reader by the hand in a logical, persuasive fashion. The point is to have one.
  5. Make an action-oriented recommendation. One of the most frustrating things for readers is to plough through a long report and then not have a clear recommendation to act on. Tell your reader what you want them to do. Find out more here.

How do you minimize the risk when writing your reports? Share your writing strategies and techniques in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

Wishing you every success in your writing.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

P.S.: I’m launching an Audit Report Writing webinar soon! One-hour of coaching for YOU from the comfort of your office or sofa. So stay tuned!

Oops, I did it again

This week I was in a meeting with 11 other attendees and I did the unimaginable. I interrupted the speaker in the middle of their speech. Thirty seconds later, I could have crawled under the table and been perfectly happy to stay there the rest of the meeting. You see, I fell off the wagon…

I have for years considered myself to be a recovering ‘interrupter’. I used to do it more often, say 10 years ago. I mostly had trouble during those annoying conference calls where you think someone has stopped speaking so you start. But in reality, they haven’t stopped talking – they were just taking a breath. I’m guessing most of you have experienced something similar.

But those weren’t the only occasions I interrupted. Sometimes it was inadvertent, and other times I wanted to jump in with my point – which is rude if I’m honest with myself.

How to stop interrupting others?

So I came up with a ‘recovery’ plan: On conference calls, I would literally sit at my desk in my office and bite the front of my tongue so that I wouldn’t speak. It worked most of the time, and I considered myself fairly cured of my interrupting habit.

Yes, I slip occasionally. Sometimes I catch myself: A sound has come out of my mouth already, but I stop there and try to focus once again on listening. And THAT is the real issue, isn’t it? Listening to what the other person is saying.

Most of us aren’t perfect listeners. (If you are, congratulations! Please share how you do it in the comments below – seriously.)

Why do we stop listening?

Some of you might be interrupters like me. Some of you may be daydreamers. Daydreamers think about something totally different from the topic being discussed in the meeting. (Because frankly, thinking about an upcoming holiday is far more interesting – sound familiar??)

Others ‘rehearse’ – I hear this often from my audit clients during my Interviewing Skills workshops. Auditors have certain questions they must ask, and they’re so focused on making sure they don’t forget the next question that they actually stop listening to their business counterpart. This is a dangerous listening block for an auditor because you can actually miss key points or evidence that is needed to achieve the right audit result.

Why should you listen carefully?

Here are three quick reasons to listen to your business counterparts:

  1. It’s a sign of respect. Someone is sharing their thoughts, opinions and results of their work with you. Give them your full attention, even if it is just long enough to ask them to come back later.
  2. You may learn something that will help you move forward in your work or your life.
  3. It’s an opportunity to learn what your business counterpart wants and needs. And once you know that, you can propose a solution, product or service that will fill their want and help you build your business.

What are YOUR listening blocks?

Have a look at these examples and choose the block, or blocks, that are most applicable to you. Then sit back and think of how you can overcome this block(s).

Common Listening Blocks: Which are yours and how will you overcome them?

  • Filtering: Listening for particular information and ignoring the rest.
  • Judging: Jumping to conclusions based on your own opinions and experience.
  • Solving: Thinking about solutions before your business counterpart has stopped speaking.
  • Appeasing: Politely agreeing so you can move the conversation forward more quickly.
  • Rehearsing: Determining what to ask next while the interviewee is speaking.
  • Daydreaming: Letting your mind wander to other (more interesting) topics.
  • Interrupting: Interjecting before the other person is finished speaking.

Good luck in your self-assessment of your listening blocks. Get in touch if you would like some advice!

Wishing you every success with your listening skills.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

Why your audience is critical to your success

No matter which workshop I’m teaching, we always talk about ‘the audience’ of your communication. Because the audience is relevant, whether you’re delivering a presentation, crafting a report, giving an update in a meeting, or writing an email.

In fact, if you’re communicating anything – to anyone – you have an audience, which is fantastic: It’s an opportunity for you to share, connect and add value to others.

And when you do that, you can create positive change and growth: for your audience, for you, for your company, for the world.

Take advantage of the opportunity

Your audience wants something from you. They want you to give them wisdom, insight, facts and figures, results of research, a recommendation, details on the new process, etc. And they want you not to waste their time, because they are all busy.

In business, your audience might be a set of stakeholders that you communicate with regularly. Do you know exactly who they are and what they need from you?

A real-life stakeholder conundrum

In a recent presentation I gave to a group of audit executives at the Audit Challenge in Frankfurt, we talked about audit report stakeholders, and how knowing their needs drives audit’s success in an organization.

Case in point: There were 12 participants in one my audit report writing workshops earlier in the year. I asked two questions at the beginning of the first day of the workshop:

  1. Who are your stakeholders?
  2. What do they need from your audit reports?

I got eight different opinions, not just on stakeholder needs, but on who those main stakeholders were. (Nope, not kidding!)

Why were there so many different opinions, especially since all of the participants worked for the same company?

Blame it on poor communication

I believe it was a communication issue, or to be more precise, a ‘lack of communication’ issue.

This team couldn’t agree on who their main stakeholders were because they had never discussed it before. They had assumed it was clear within the team, but that wasn’t the reality.

Not having agreement on who their main stakeholders were created the follow-on challenge of trying to identify the most critical information to include in the audit reports.

As a result, this team’s reports were not as effective as audit management wanted. Their department was not adding the desired value to the organization. And that can spell disaster for long-term trust, confidence and growth.

The lesson learned

This team learned that they needed to regroup and ask some questions, both internally within their department and externally within the company.

  • Who are the potential stakeholders of their reports?
  • Of those, who are the main stakeholders?

Then they put themselves in the shoes of those main stakeholders and asked:

  • What would I need from the audit reports to do my job better?

The department then took a very important step:

  • They asked these stakeholders what they wanted from the audit reports.

Finally, the department compared this information to their own ideas, and made minor modifications to the audit report template and guidance to ensure their stakeholder needs were being met – and ideally, exceeded.

Applying these lessons to your communication

You may not be an auditor, but there may be takeaways for you, too, in this tale.

Every time you communicate with an audience, learn who they are and what they need and want from you. Then make sure you give it to them.

You may want to give them more, but don’t give more without giving what’s truly needed. And don’t give them so much that they can’t find what they need because of excess information.

And remember: Your stakeholders’ needs can change over time. So if you have an audience you communicate with regularly, make sure to build in a mechanism to find out if their needs and wants have changed. The information you provide will stay relevant, and so will you!

Wishing you every success in your communication!

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication

Writing Efficiently Is An Art, Not Rocket Science


Writing efficiently is a concept that sometimes seems unachievable. We write, and then we edit. And then our bosses comment and edit. Then we rewrite. Then our boss comments and edits again. This can go round and round, especially when multiple stakeholders have a say in the final document that is released.

The question becomes, how do we minimize everyone’s time invested in writing a quality document that achieves the desired result?

It’s not rocket science. It’s an art. And it all hinges on planning.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but the more time we spend up front planning, the less time it will take to create the desired final document. As Mark Twain says, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Here are my top 5 techniques and strategies for writing efficiently:

1. Know your purpose

Why are you writing this particular document? What are you trying to achieve? Try writing the purpose of your report in 140 characters or less. The clearer you are on your purpose, the more efficient you will be when you write. Because everything you include should support that purpose, no more and no less.

2. Know your reader

Who will read the report? What information do they need from you to do their jobs better, make a decision, or approve your recommendation? Understanding what your reader needs means you don’t have to include what they don’t need.

3. Plan the content

Start with your template. What are the sections you need to include, and what is the main point(s) for each section? If you’re old school like me, scribble your notes on a pad of paper or use small cards, one for each main point. If you prefer using technology, use your tablet to draw a diagram of concepts or some other program to record your ideas – without starting to write the full document.

4. Cut, cut, cut

Forget about writing everything you know about the topic, or everything you did to come to your conclusions and recommendation. Granted, sometimes this is necessary, e.g. in a research report, but most business documents are not research reports. Include only what you need to support your conclusions and recommendations. That means facts, figures and surrounding context. You’re not writing a book; you’re writing with a specific purpose.

5. Put yourself in the readers’ shoes

As you finish up with your document, think back to your planning stage. What do your readers need from this document? Read the report as if you are your reader, whether it’s your boss or five other people in the organization. Would you need all of the information included in the report? Many times we feel like we must include all of the extra information because it shows the amount of effort we put into the research, it shows how well we understand the topic, and sometimes, that it justifies our being on the payroll. My response to that? Leave it out.

The end result

By spending up-front time planning what should be in the document, you’ll end up writing less. This means less writing time, and less editing time when you send it to your boss or other stakeholders for their input.

Over time, you’ll see your report writing efficiency increase. It’s like exercising and creating muscle memory. The more you practice these efficiency techniques, the faster you’ll get, and the more time savings you’ll realize. Your reports will be short, clear and concise. And your readers will thank you.

We all have our own techniques and strategies for writing efficiently. What are yours? Share them in the comments below. Because by sharing, we create more value for those around us who have the same interests and needs.

All the best,

Tracie Marquardt

Quality Assurance Communication