Three Reasons Why Actuarial Presentations Fail--Ryan Morgan

Actuaries tend to be viewed by non-actuaries as rather poor communicators. And what is fascinating is that a study conducted by the Actuarial Foundation showed that "that clients view the actuaries that communicate best to be the best actuaries." While we study for hours to learn the content on actuarial exams, many of the people we are interacting with are judging us solely on the basis our communication skills. Doesn't it seem reasonable that we work to develop these skills as well? For it is true that the best spreadsheet in the world is of little value if its creator cannot explain its meaning to people who do not know a Poisson distribution from a Weibull. Therefore, it is important for actuaries to shine when they are given the opportunity to discuss work that they have done with others, both for ones prospects for advancement and the reputation of actuaries in general. So without further ado, I would like to recap the three most common shortcomings in business presentations and what we can do about them.

1) Uncomfortable speaking style

Having an uncomfortable speaking style can prevent a presentation from ever getting off of the ground. Even if what you say is outstanding, it won't matter if the audience never gets past a nervous gesture or phrase you keep repeating. On her blog, Yukki has provided many links on body language and non-verbal communication, and it is important to heed the great advice these resources provide. In addition, it is often helpful to simply have an honest friend watch you practice speaking and critique your mannerisms and speaking tone. Most things in this area are easily fixable if you know that they are an issue.

2) Lack of rapport with audience

From my experience, actuaries as a group fair poorly in this area. I believe the problem is that when we present, we see ourselves as having important and valuable information that people should be very curious about, and therefore, we should not have to work to maintain the attention of the audience. However, we live in a very highly entertained world of people who have strong desires to feel validated. We need to make our presentations more audience-centered. There are numerous ways of accomplishing this and none of them are all that difficult: anticipating and discussing the questions an audience member might have as you are explaining an idea, talking about how knowledge or information you will be presenting will help your attendees in some meaningful way, or even something as simple as putting the logo of the organization you are speaking to on your PowerPoint presentation. Eye contact and talking to the audience rather than reading at them is also invaluable to creating rapport. For it is essential that we gain rapport with the audience, as an audience that sees you as one "their side" is much more likely to think highly of you and engage in the material you are presenting than one that does not.

3) Uninteresting content

Most non-actuaries consider much of the material actuaries present to be rather dry. This makes it especially important that your presentation help the audience to both understand what your content means and how it fits into the big picture. Again, it must be stressed that your presentation should address the audience's question of "What's in it for me?" as people will find content that relates to themselves or their job to be more interesting than one which focuses on the technical details of a procedure that they will never have to perform.

When practicing for your next presentation, see how you stack up against these criteria. Ensuring that you avoid each of these common pitfalls will go a long way towards helping you to give the best presentation possible.


James said...

Welcome Ryan! I look forward to reading you on the blog!