Internal auditors must engage in lifelong learning. They “must possess the knowledge, skills, and other competencies needed to perform their individual responsibilities,” (Standard 1210) and this is often achieved by attending seminars, courses, and conferences. They are also increasingly participating in webinars and listening to podcasts. While all of these actions are conducive to learning, there is another learning opportunity that many internal auditors and compliance professionals may not be familiar with: Symposiums.

What is a Symposium?

A symposium is a meeting to discuss specific topics, often led by several facilitators. It is based on a conversation involving all or most participants, rather than one or a few individuals talking from a podium while attendees sit listening passively to the presentations.
This is a more interactive setting that produces a more engaging get-together. It facilitates the exchange of knowledge, perspectives and the discussion of common issues in a conversational way. Due to its very nature, symposiums tend to be smaller than conferences to make this dialogue possible and most productive.

How is a Symposium Conducted?

Subject-matter experts act as contributors and facilitators. They are practitioners and experts in internal audit and compliance with many years of experience. Not only have they acquired a great deal of knowledge, but they have mastered the craft and have assumed leadership positions in our profession. They are chief audit executives, directors and senior managers from various industries who are more than presenters, they are also engaging conversationalists who gladly share their experiences, what they learned from them, and how they have become successful.

Yes, they like to talk, but they also like to listen! They make it a practice to encourage others to share their views, ideas, and concerns. They are engaging, share easily and willingly what they know, but also realise that they don’t know the answer to every question or the solution to every dilemma. That’s why they are lifelong learners knowing that to advance in our profession we must share with one another, leverage our strengths and face our challenges together.

Why are Symposiums Useful?

Learning is essential for every internal auditor and compliance professional because the demands placed on us have never been greater, and they continue to increase. The world of risk is constantly changing so by engaging with others in our field we can become aware of emerging trends, compare the methodologies we use to address our concerns and find viable solutions to the issues we are facing.

Career development is also enhanced when we spend time with our peers. By coming together to learn together, we also shape our own work identities. Career development is not something we can focus on for a year and stop. Career development is a long-term process, so by growing our network and defining our direction and goals over time, we adopt a strategic mindset that shapes our professional direction and progression. Like-minded individuals can give us ideas, warn us of perils, help us craft our path so we find ways to navigate the ever-changing environment we work in.

Past symposium attendees have been primarily internal auditors and compliance professionals, giving the event an enviable depth. But increasingly we are being joined by risk management, process improvement, IT and cybersecurity experts as well as governance and ethics leaders. The sharing of ideas with a broader base makes for a highly rewarding environment that enriches the discussions and moves everyone towards a greater understanding of each other’s perspectives, challenges, needs, and priorities. This gives everyone some insights on how to collaborate more effectively with the Second Line of Defense.
Networking is undoubtedly important to our careers, and a symposium provides a great opportunity to meet old acquaintances and make new ones. The result is that we grow our network of colleagues, have more experts to reach out to when we need to talk with someone to get their opinion, and become aware of opportunities that may otherwise go unnoticed.

As our risk registers, methodologies and staff backgrounds evolve, it is important that we question past practices and examine new approaches through debate. Pre-conceived notions, adherence to the status quo, apathy and group-think are not only outdated, but they are also dangerous to our careers and our profession. A symposium provides a suitable environment to engage in lively discussion of various subjects in the company of like-minded professionals, all looking to take themselves and their departments to the next level.

Beyond Titles, Who Attends Symposiums?

Since the driving dynamic is discussion, anyone willing to learn, exchange ideas, share their opinion, and listen to visiting experts should attend a symposium. Those with higher-level management and leadership responsibilities generally gain the most benefit from these events because they are able to relate their role and experiences better to the topics being discussed.

The background of attendees is often quite diverse. They represent small and large organisations, for-profit and non-profit institutions, and come from different countries, which provides an enriching environment to compare, contrast, question, debate and opine on diverse topics affecting internal auditors and compliance professionals worldwide.

What Are Some of the Topics Discussed?

Given current dynamics affecting internal audit and compliance, current hot topics include ways to incorporate the latest technology tools into our processes; trends in risk, governance and internal audit; ways to brand and increase the prestige of the internal audit function; how to benefit from and increase the maturity of our data analytics programs; and the challenges of small and medium audit departments.  Other topics of interest are key metrics to measure and improve the productivity of internal auditors; how to achieve combined assurance; ways to become more agile; what works and what does not when attempting to improve the relationship with the audit committee and management; and techniques to become more persuasive. 

The common thread throughout is the identification of the best practices to embrace, and mistakes to avoid, so we develop action plans to deliver our services faster, cheaper and better to our clients.