Effective Actuarial Communication – an oxymoron or not?

Sample actuarial presentation

“Communication Breakdown, It’s always the same, I’m having a nervous breakdown, Drive me insane!”


“The … umm … Embedded Value increased .. umm .. because, I think … umm …” – BIG NO NO!!!

How are you going to get your message across effectively like this?

The myth about actuaries is that we are very technically savvy, but no one can understand what we are saying because we are crap at explaining things to a non-technical audience. There is some truth to that, I must admit!

How do we break this stereotype and ensure we are top dogs in effective communication? Here are some tips:


Communicate in Bullet Points

If you have to present the results of your calculations, explain your model or even describe your experience at an interview, it always helps to spend some time structuring your thoughts. You could always wing it and unleash verbal diarrhea on your audience, however it is unlikely they will take anything away from what you said.

Just like it is easier to read bullet-pointed text on a slide deck rather than long-winded paragraphs, it is the same in oral presentations. Spend a few minutes arranging your content into a bullet pointed list. Don’t go any deeper than two or three sub-levels for each bullet or you risk losing your audience attention as they try to keep track of you in their heads.

Example of a structured actuarial slide


Use Guy Kawasaki Principle for Presentation Structure

If you need to present something at a meeting, consider the Guy Kawasaki principle for presentation structure. Guy Kawasaki used to be an evangelist for Apple. He since published a whole lot of books and is now evangelizing Motorola. He popularized a simple, yet effective rule for Powerpoint presentations – the 10/20/30 Rule. The Rule is simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points. You can read more on this in his book The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything.


Use Visuals

It is much easier to include a chart with a few bullet points and walk your audience through it, rather than include several paragraphs of descriptions. People tend to comprehend complex data easily if they have a visual point of reference. A great tool for explaining the analysis of change from one time period to another (something actuaries do all the time) is to use a “waterfall” chart, like this one:

Actuarial Waterfall Chart

Coincidentally, you can get a copy of the template for this chart if you Subscribe to our mailing list.


Improve Your Skills

Okay, you’ve organized all the content in your head in bullet lists and made awesome looking charts and diagrams. You are now sitting in a meeting and still cannot put two words together, just because you have a public speaking phobia. No worries, happens to everyone!

I have one advice that is guaranteed to help, provided you apply yourself – Toastmasters! No, this is not a drinking club. It is a global organization with close to 300,000 members, in almost 15,000 clubs in over 120 countries. There is likely to be a club just meters away from where you are sitting now. If you happen to work at a big company, your company likely has their own club.

You can sit in on a few meetings as a guest, without any commitment to join.

I hope all of the above helps and to wrap things up I leave you with the article in the Actuary magazine that Tonya Manning recently authored.


Quote source: Led Zeppelin – Communication Breakdown

Leave a Reply