Business Skills for Aspiring Actuaries: 3 Myths about Effective Communication
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This Episode’s Roadmap
“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so”–William Shakespeare
Let’s explore three of the most common myths about communicating effectively, and explain why accepting to these myths as truth can trip you up, plus we’ll explore advice on how to sidestep the pitfalls of these myths.
Destination of Today’s Journey
After this episode, you’ll be able to:
- Identify three myths about communicating effectively
- Utilize at least one technique for each myth to avoid it
Three Myths about Communicating Effectively for Aspiring Actuaries
The Difference between Communicating and Communicating Effectively
One of the areas that differentiate the actuarial profession from others that involve math, modeling, and forecasting is the expectation of the actuaries’ ability to apply and communicate the results of their analysis to real-world and business issues.
Because of this, when we refer to communication, assume that we’re talking about all forms, whether it be a spoken formal presentation, a written actuarial valuation report, a typed email message, or even just a conversation between you and a coworker.
Myth 1: Using Technical Words Makes You Sound More Official/Smart in Any Situation
This myth is founded on the idea of being impressive and wanting to impress others. There are people who believe that in order to be taken seriously in their presentations or reports, they have to use as many technical words (aka jargon), as possible.
This can actually slow down the communication process because not everyone is going to know what you’re talking about. What that can lead to is either you constantly being interrupted with questions about terminology, or your audience getting lost causing them to stop paying attention or reading.
Know your audience
The whole point of effective communication is making sure that what you have to say actually is understood by your intended audience. This means you won’t always get to use technical terms for things all the time. Know your audience.
Don’t be afraid of learning how to condense information and write out what you want to say in terms that your audience will understand. If you know you are addressing people who are not actuaries, using a lot of jargon may not be the wisest way to communicate. If, however, you are definitely in a room with people who share your passion for a particular topic, jargon may be perfectly acceptable.
For example, think about your favorite hobby, either now, or when growing up. Think about how much passion you had for that hobby and the time you took to learn things within that hobby—all the terms, the tools, etc. Now, think about how you might go about communicating that knowledge to a friend who has no background in this.
Do you toss out technical terms right and left, or do you try and explain what you do in terms that the other person might understand? If you know this other person well, you might use examples that they’d be able to relate to in order for them to mentally and emotionally connect with what you’re saying. This can apply when in more formal settings, like business meetings.
Myth 2: You Need To Portray a Certain Style In Order to Be Trusted and Seen As Credible
Some people have the belief that you have to act, speak, or write in a particular manner in order to seem credible about your topic. It likely comes from trying to emulate your managers speaking style, or your director’s writing style.
You might find yourself thinking, “That person did it this way, and he/she was successful. I’ll do it the same way.”
In other words, according to this logic, you have to act like someone you’re not in order to be heard or believable. This myth is problematic in two ways.
You are the Expert
First off, if you’re already communicating effectively, then by virtue of the topic you’re addressing, you already will appear credible. If your communication is clear, you’ll be getting things across, people will understand you and they will leave with the firm impression that you know what you’re talking about. You’re the expert. You know what’s what.
In fact, if you attempt to come across something or someone you’re not, it’s likely you’ll even lose credibility. To lose credibility means that you had to have it to begin with right?
This is because you’ll be trying so very hard to look like everyone else and fulfill a perhaps an unrealistic expectation. People would often rather listen to someone who’s authentic and being themselves. Your presentation will seem natural, and you’ll be more likely to be calm and composed.
Secondly, wearing other people’s styles can trip you up. Even if you’re comfortable with the material you’ve chosen to present, the results can be underwhelming. For example, if you try to mimic someone’s style to seem impressive, polished, etc, when you’re more conversational – you can come across as uncomfortable or find yourself stumbling over words.
Whether you are detail-oriented and super-polished, or you’re more laid-back and conversational, effective communication is strengthened by authenticity. Any style can be effective, but you have to do it in a way that your message gets through.
Myth 3: What You Choose To Communicate Is Exactly What Your Audience Member Pays Attention To
It is not so much what you say but how you are saying it. This has to do with more subtle things like body language, tone of voice, and eye contact. Your delivery is just as important as the content.
This comes up a lot when there are inconsistencies with your delivery and your intention.
Imagine how you would feel when:
- Reading an email boasting “Easier, streamlined approach (using these 28 steps!)”
- Forecasting based on a model where you’ve discovered several incorrect formulas
- Trusting someone whose focus shift all over the room (and never at you) as they try to give you insight into your business
- Reading a recommendations report with multiple typos
There’s a disconnect there right? So, how can you avoid creating these inconsistencies?
Practice, and practice often. Doing this in front of a mirror, or even someone else helps immensely. Work on your topic transitions and other weak points. Learn how to maintain eye contact with your audience.
Check your work (and then check it again). For writing communication and models, you get the chance to proofread and double-check things before passing it on to someone else. Just taking a few extra minutes to make sure all your numbers tie out or that their aren’t any broken links can go a long way in helping people ocus on what you’re actually trying to get across.
Overall, working as often as you can to avoid these three myths in communication will boost your success effectively communicating.
Let us know in the comments below – Which one of these myths do you find yourself most susceptible to believing when you are communicating?
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- Transcript of Today’s Episode
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Why hello there, fellow journeyers! Nemo Ashong here, and thank you for letting me be part of your actuarial journey. I’m really excited for today’s episode, which is all gonna be around communicating effectively. And you know this is something that came up in the Actuarial Talent Supply and Demand Study as a major talent challenge for actuarial employers. Finding actuaries and promoting actuaries who had strong communication skills.
So we’re going to look into that and dive into that a little bit more during this episode and also the next. I wanted to give you a little two part combo when it comes to communicating effectively. A lot of times people will talk about communication skills, and it can be kind of an open-ended area. So for me, in Actuarial Journey, it will always be around the idea of how can you effectively communicate what you’re trying to accomplish. And by that, what I mean is, each of us are capable of talking, each of us are capable of writing, but effective communication comes when someone else is able to understand what you’re trying to get them to take in. Especially in the actuarial world, being able to just present information is not necessarily enough. Being able to present information in a way that people can make decisions and in a way that ties the business outcomes, is really the step up that we have as actuaries, as opposed to just doing the valuations and the math behind it.
So keeping that in mind, when we talk about communicating effectively, it really has a lot to do with how the other person can receive what it is that you’re saying, showing or expressing in some kind of way: verbally through graphics, through words. Also, this falls underneath a broad umbrella.
Now today in particular, we’re gonna talk about three myths that you might have when it comes to communicating effectively. And with each of those myths, I’m gonna go ahead and also share some ways that you can avoid it. Now, when I say myths, these are things that you might be thinking, about what it takes to communicate effectively or what effective communication might be, and we’re gonna spend some time debunking those myths, and giving some tools for your actuarial journey that you can use in your day to day life, as well as on the job, and other activities.
So let’s go ahead and talk about today’s destination. By the end of today’s conversation, you should be able to identify three myths about communicating effectively. On top of that, you should be able to utilize at least one technique for each myth in order to avoid doing it. So let’s go ahead and share a quote for today. This quote comes from “Billy” Shakespeare, Mr. William Shakespeare, and it goes: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I think this is really important when we think about myths in general and they’re just our mindsets our mental way of approaching things. And what I really want to share with this quote here, is it really can be just a change in your mindset, that can allow you to immediately start to communicating more effectively.
So Myth #1, is using technical words makes you sound more official or smart, in any situation.
You know, going back to it, effective communication is all about the other person understanding what you want them to understand. For all about getting your message across to another person. Now technical words, or jargon as it might be called, can sometimes help that conversation take place and help that understanding take place, but often times, depending on your audience, it could actually be a barrier that’s keeping you from accomplishing it. I like to think back to hobbies. That’s something that everyone has to some extent or another and so, like why don’t you think about your hobbies? What makes it so special to you? What are some of the rules of when you’re engaging in that hobby?
What are some of the names of the specific roles, or some of the specific activities that you do? When you’re thinking through this how many of those things are hobby specific? How many of those things may not apply to a wide variety of people? But if you’re in the hobby, you get it. You know what—exactly what you’re trying to get across.
For me, I’ll go to the barbershop example. We talk a lot about “ringing chords” and “getting resonance,” and “having lift,” and there’s all these words that after a while you can more or less, you can start to orient yourself to. However, in a general conversation, if I went to someone who was talking and wanted to sing, and I said, “Well you just need to have more lift to your sound,” it really wouldn’t make much sense to them. But within the context of other barbershoppers, it does.
And so that’s an important thing to think about when you are communicating: what words are you using? Now, on that end, technical words are not a bad thing. It does depend on your audience, and if you need to use a technical word because it helps you convey one topic very quickly to another group of people, that’s fine. It just—what I recommend is making sure that you are aware of what those words are so that you can spend the time addressing and defining them before you actually use it. So if you need to help someone understand what’s taking place in regards to a change in the regulations, and you’re talking about, let’s say, curtailments, or settlements, those words can easily be used going forward, as long as you take some time to define it so that whoever your audience member is, gets a chance to really come along for the journey with you.
I should also add to this—I started out saying “technical words make you sound more official,” but this really comes down to anything that you might say that might not be known to your audience member. A lot of times, acronyms are also something that you can keep in mind. So if something like the Affordable Care Act, is something that, on a day to day, you might say with your colleagues, or around other people within the health care industry, for example, and you might call it “ACA” or whatever. To someone on the outside, they might need it to be defined just one time, before going with the rest of the conversation. So ultimately, take the time to define what it is that you’re looking to do, and that’s how you can avoid using technical words just to make you sound more official and to keep technical words from putting up more barriers than you want.
Let’s move on to myth number two.
So the second myth is that you need to portray a certain style in order to be trusted and to be seen as credible. You know, I think there are two things to kinda point out here. The first one is that if you’re communicating effectively, then just by the very nature of what you’re talking about, you’re going to be seen as credible. When you’re presenting something, when you are giving the information to someone else, you are the expert. There is a reason they came to that room. There’s a reason why they are engaged in that conversation, because you do know something, and you also know what you don’t know, even if that means, “hey, I can tell you what my thoughts are on this, but you might want to go follow it up with some additional research,” or “here is the person that might actually have the answer for you.” All of that is fine.
But just feel confident that people are coming to you, they are already expecting you to be an expert, or to be someone who can help them achieve their goals. So by trying to come off as something that you’re not, you actually run the risk of coming off inauthentic. So you know, along here with myth #2, I think if I was going to boil it down into something pretty concrete, it’s the idea that you’re going to go ahead and give a speech, or have a conversation with someone, you need to come off in a certain way. It might be something that you have in your mind where, “I need to come off incredibly professional,” or “I need to come off very well polished,” or “I need to make sure that I’m coming off as the technical expert on all things actuarial.”
It could something be from the other side, not just what you need to be, but just some thoughts on what you can’t be. Perhaps your thought might be, “I can’t include humor,” or “I can’t show my personal side in this conversation,” or “I can’t allow my thoughts and opinions to come into play in this conversation.” So what this leads to, is you end up wearing a style of communication that really isn’t made for you, or aligned with you and that can really trip you up. And that kinda brings me to my second point here.
In fact, I’ll kind of illustrate this with a personal story. Some time ago, I was working with a team working on a presentation to one of our partners in the training environment. It was very low stakes—we had worked together for a week and we were just getting ready to present our results. Leading up to that presentation, I was sitting pretty; I did really well—I was able to work well with the team, provide relevant analysis and ultimately, had a high comfort level with the material. However, on the day of the presentation, I was the third person to speak. And the first two people before me, were really, really well polished, they spoke quickly, and were able to say their points in a very polished, or at least what came off as polished to me. And as I was the third person to speak, I felt pretty compelled to follow suit, to be “buttoned up,” and to just stick to the facts and present them.
Honestly, this is actually kind of embarrassing, but to me it was one of my speaking experiences to date. I stumbled over words, I got things confused, and I just felt that I looked uncomfortable. And I’m not sure how it is that the rest of the audience took it to be, but for me, I just wanted to be so super silky smooth. And I wasn’t able to accomplish that. The thing was that my feeling of my being uncomfortable was the truth, but it wasn’t that I was uncomfortable with the material, it was more that I was uncomfortable with the way I chose to come across. I know in my mind, that if I just kinda stuck to my guns and just kinda presented myself in a casual but authentic way, making sure to connect to that person in front of me on a personal level, like, that’s how I get across. That’s how I’m able to tell my story.
And there might be “ums” that might come up as a result of it, and there might be a little more pauses in between as I’m trying to gather some of my thought, but it will come off effectively and in a manner that they can connect with me. This is one of the reasons why I truly believe in being authentic, but professional when you’re presenting, or when you’re–even in the middle of, just any conversation. If you’re a very detail-oriented person or polished person, you know, let that come across in the way that you choose to communicate. If you’re more laid-back and conversational, great! Do that too. Both ways can be effective, but you have to do it in a way where ultimately, your message gets across to the person you need to.
So how can you go ahead and avoid this? First, just be you when you’re presenting. And I mean this with—add that professional touch to it, but feel comfortable in your shoes, and make sure that you’re bringing that value to that portion of the presentation. Second, get comfortable and get an understanding of your styles. What are the things that you excel at? How do you like to communicate to others? In fact, I actually recommend taking, like, various assessments and such you can find online or through diff places so you can get comfortable with this. One of my favorite assessments is called “The Fascination Advantage,” which is by Sally Hogshead, and it’s really meant for, like, the marketing world to kinda help people understand how they can, how brands can come across, and how they can use their most fascinating aspects to get across to other people.
And it’s something where they look at how the world sees you. And says “What is it about you? What is it about the way you come across to people that other people can sink their teeth into and really feel comes off as being you and they’re basically hanging off of your every word?” You know? Or perhaps it’s, you have, you’re a visual person and they’re just really, really in tune with each of the graphics that you put together or the charts you put together—it just makes so much sense. Or the presentations that you put together in PowerPoint perhaps? What aspects about you make you truly fascinating to someone else. And I’ll say fascinate doesn’t mean showy. Instead it means they’re really engaged in what you’re offering.
So what I’ll do is have a link on there so that if you’re interested, you can take this “Fascination Advantage” assessment. It’s gonna be on the show notes at actuarialjourney.com/43. That’s forty-three.
Let me know, send me a message, actually, put it in the comments—yeah, I think it would be really great to talk about—talk through this. And share which—what’s your fascination advantage. I’ll go ahead and let you know: mine is the Maverick Leader.
So if anyone wants to have a little conversation about this—I had a good conversation with this—with some work colleagues just the other day. I’d be happy to dive into a chat about it, because I think it’s really important to understand what makes you shine and to do that as often as you can.
Okay. That was myth number two. I’ll go ahead and wrap things up with myth number three.
And that myth is: What you choose to communicate is exactly what your audience member pays attention to.
So let’s go ahead and let me ask you a question: How many times have you drifted off during a presentation? You might even be drifting off right now, and that’s okay. I’m pullling you back in, all right? But in all seriousness, when you have a presentation, when the presentation’s coming off to you, and someone’s chatting with you—and this could even be a talk over at the coffee pot, you know? How many times have you drifted off during that conversation?
And the fact of the matter is even though that person was still talking, you may not have been in a place where you were actually receiving it. Or, let’s go on another side of things: how many times have two people gone to the same meeting, listen to the same words that were said, and came out with completely different ideas of what the next steps needed to be. These are just examples of the fact that just because you say something, just because you present something, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be interpreted in the way that you are expecting it to be. It also doesn’t mean that what you are saying is what people hear.
In fact, there’s way more of that’s going on there. And any—if you’re givin’ a–let’s say, you’re speaking, they might looking at your body language, the tone of your voice—that’s super-important. If you’re coming across to someone and you’re trying help them understand that they need to move in a new direction, but you’re coming off in a monotone voice there–are you instilling confidence that this might be the way to go? Or are you giving them cues that maybe you yourself don’t even feel confident in it?
Their body language—are you establishing eye contact, or are you looking around the room, looking at your shoes, looking at, you know, various things that don’t convey that you feel strongly about what you’re saying? Perhaps, if you’re a visual person, perhaps you’ve created the world’s best table, or best chart in your opinion—and has the analysis of 16 different lines of business, and they’re all on this one graph, and they each have all these different colors, and they’re all moving up and down, and intersecting and crossing, and have this well-laid-out legend at the bottom of the graph there. And it’s just like: “Can you guys see what I’m seeing here? This is clearly, clearly information that is going to change the way we do business here.”
However, to some people, perhaps they haven’t had the background or the amount of time to spend looking at that graphic, that ends up being a very confusing message to them because they’re just seeing a bunch of lines intersecting and a rainbow of various colors.
So just kinda think through that when you’re looking to communicate with someone. What you choose to communicate is not what what your aud member pays attention to. So how can you avoid: A) losing your audience member, and B) confusing them with an unclear message?
Firstly, if you need to, and it’s really important, practice. There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to practice what you’re saying—get in front of a couple different audience members, whether it’s a coworker, or if you’re not working right now, perhaps it’s a family member or someone that—or a friend, where you’re able to share your thoughts so that they can come and give you comments and feedback. If you have nothing of that available, or maybe it’s confidential, and you can’t really share, make sure you’re practicing it yourself.
I like to record myself—I’m an auditory person, so I will actually, like record myself on iPhone and say a couple things, and listen back to it a little bit later to see if I understood what I was trying to get across. Or if I accidentally put in too many stories, or examples and things like that. In fact I’m going to try and avoid doing that right now.
In terms of body language, eye contact, you know, use mirrors, talk to yourself in the mirror. See what hand gestures you’re using. If you don’t wanna use a mirror, you can also just put in—record yourself on video—this is something you can do alone. And I mean, the recording yourself on video is something that is super-useful because it’s the truth, you know, it is exactly what you are doing, and you can see if there is anything you are doing that is really distracting. I mentioned earlier that I took a class in oral communication. This is one of the biggest lessons that I learned from it—taking a video of yourself because I saw that even though I was trying to “command a room,” by maybe walking side to side, there were times I didn’t stay put in one place long enough for someone to be able to just follow what I was saying at that time.
Or there were times that I had really important messages that were lost because people were shifting around trying to follow me. So you can pick up on these things and use that to help guide your audience members to what you want them to be able to pick up from what you do.
And the last thing I would say if you were looking to avoid this is to work on your transitions and your weaker spots. How are you going from one topic to the next? How are you going from—how are you building your story? Perhaps if this is a presentation, what story are you looking to tell? Is it just five different slides and each slide just seems to jump from one place—from one aspect to another or does it all build upon itself in a logical way, so that a person who’s paying attention can see how all the information you presented in slide two leads to or is supported by, the information you present in slide three?
So I did wanna kinda give you some concrete ways that you can combat this myth along the way, but with that, I think we’re probably at a good place for today’s conversation to go ahead and end things, so let me just give you a recap of the destination.
By this time, you should be able to identify three myths to communicating effectively.
Myth 1) Using more technical words make you sound more official or smart in any situation.
Myth 2) You need to portray a certain style in order to be trusted and to be seen as credible.
Myth 3) What you choose to communicate is exactly what your audience members pay attention to.
Go back to the destination, you should also at this point, be able to utilize at least one technique for each myth in order to avoid it. And I say, at least one, because quite frankly there was a lot that we shared here. You might have to listen to this episode a few times to really get all these different ways underneath your belt. And we’ll kind of elaborate on these in future episodes as well. That can come off as a bit overwhelming, so my ask is that you look to employ one technique for each of the myths going forward. And once you have that, feeling good, you can go ahead and build on, and continue to incorporate. But I wanna make this tangible, something that you can take action on.
So that brings us to the end of today’s episode. As you know, the journey continues. You can go onto actuarialjourney.com/43 in order to get all of the show notes, resources and any accompanying downloads that come along with this. You’ll also be able to get a quick road map of how you can avoid the three myths—I’ll have it all ready for you and waiting for you online. You can just go to actuarialjourney.com/43download. All one word. And you’ll be able to get that resource right at your fingertips.
All right. Great, so things are going really well. We are moving forward with Business Skills here, and to tell you the truth, I can not just be more excited about it. We have the free business skills course specifically for actuaries and people of technical background, to help you put some of these things into action. If you’re interested in being part of the course, if you’re interested in helping to set the direction and get your questions through the course. I’m always building more material and looking for ways to better help and engage people, so all you need to do is let me know. You can do that by texting the word “skills” to 33444. Let’s just go into your text browser, type in 33444, and just write the word “SKILLS.” And just follow the instructions there, and you will be sent the free business skills course. So you can go ahead and working on it and start improving your business skills as well.
All right! Make sure to go do that: type “SKILLS” to 33444, and what I will say is, until the next time we talk, here’s to your success! Journey on!