When we are honest, we have to admit that internal auditors don't always enjoy a positive reputation. Partly, unfavorable perceptions exist because people don't know what we do. And unfortunately, they also stem from people who think they do know what we do. So we always have to be ready to share our side of the story--sometimes at a moment's notice.
On my way to speak at a recent IIA-Fort Worth chapter meeting, I struck up a conversation with someone in an elevator. When I mentioned I was giving a presentation, he asked what I was speaking about. Fearful of the response I was sure to receive, I told him, "Internal audit." He did not disappoint, forming a cross with his fingers and jokingly--I hope--saying, "Keep away!"
I laughed. "Don't worry, I'm not one of those auditors," I said. "I don't try to find people doing things wrong; I try to help people do their jobs better."
I could tell he didn't believe me, but he also seemed willing to give me the benefit of the doubt (if for no other reason than hoping this might free him from being audited while on the elevator). And at that point I had a sudden realization. "You know," I said, "they always say you're supposed to have an elevator speech. I guess I just gave mine. Did it work?"
He laughed. "Well, at least it was short."
Yes, I actually got a chance to give an elevator speech. And I got to give it on an elevator. Did I make a difference? Did this person come away with a new perspective on internal audit? I really can't say, but I learned three things.
First, elevator speeches really happen. Our days are filled with brief...