Photograph: Hyon Smith
As an actuary, your technical ability is widely accepted, in large part because of the rigor of the exam process you have successfully completed. However, opportunities for career advancement, especially to management positions, will require you to also have the reputation of being a strong communicator. While we know that data analysis is an actuarial strength, communicating those findings to nonactuarial audiences, in a way that is understandable and will cause them to listen and engage, is perhaps an even more important skill.
How others view actuaries doesn’t always fit with reality. While many see actuaries as data experts who are introverted and unable to communicate their findings in layperson’s terms, that perception can be changed over time. Actuaries can become known as savvy communicators who are revered for their ability to simplify the complicated and help decision makers draw the correct conclusions from the data.
For those of you who do not know me, I am a frequent presenter at actuarial and other national industry meetings. However, when I first began my actuarial career, I was a poster child for the introverted actuary stereotype. Fortunately for me, just a few years into my career, I reported to the vice president of marketing, who required me to present to the company’s field force in a series of one-hour presentations shortly after new products became available to sell. It was an extremely intimidating experience, one that didn’t become comfortable for me until many years after that initial presentation, despite the fact I was presenting on areas of my actuarial expertise while receiving lots of positive feedback from the audience. I doubt the opportunity I received to move into senior management, and eventually become an insurance company president, would have happened if not for being forced to develop communication skills some 40 years ago.
I recognize that developing your communication skills is entirely a voluntary activity, unless, of course, you are fortunate enough to have a boss who makes you do it. But for those of you who are willing, here are some ideas to try on for size:
- Conduct a self-assessment of the Competency Framework.
- Join a local Toastmasters International club.
- Participate as a moderator or speaker at meetings.
It is always exciting for me to see our future actuaries build their communication skill sets, from mock-interviews to participating in session discussions. In January 2018, I delivered a presentation to more than 700 Canadian actuarial students during the annual Actuarial Students’ National Association (ASNA) conference in Ottawa. It was both a way to interact with candidates in-person and to share with them some of my own personal experiences. I encourage you to consider speaking with math students at colleges or high schools near you about opportunities in the actuarial profession. Not only will you be giving back to the next generation, but I know you will find this personally rewarding and a great opportunity to develop your presentation skills to a welcoming audience. Please contact CandidateConnect@soa.org if you would like assistance finding schools near you that would welcome your participation.
There are several other volunteer opportunities—such as being a session moderator or working on a project oversight group—to help you harness your skills. Also, the Leadership and Development Section’s The Stepping Stone newsletter recently highlighted communication strategies for leadership, steps to consider before preparing and presenting a speech, and tips on building interpersonal skills. There’s a two-part article on how to increase your influencer skills, and I am sure you will find these types of tips helpful for gaining a different perspective and putting your newly found skills to immediate use. Toastmasters International is another resource to develop your abilities and test them out. Practice makes perfect and builds confidence.
I can assure you that spending the time and effort to build your communication skills and obtain the experience necessary to feel more comfortable in both formal and informal settings will pay dividends in opening up future career opportunities you might not achieve otherwise.
So, whether you are a seasoned communicator or someone who has never made a formal group presentation, please look for opportunities to develop those skills, and please reach out if there are additional ways we can help you develop them. I know from my own experience that this may be the most important skill you can develop for your future career advancement.
Copyright © 2019 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.