The curriculum of a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science, one of the top degrees for the highest-paying business careers, revolves largely around math. You might be surprised to find out that communication skills are among the most important qualities you need to work in this field, and how strongly experts recommend taking public speaking courses. Although analyzing numbers to quantify risk is the primary function of an actuary, a number of tasks required in this occupation necessitate strong public speaking skills. Through taking public speaking classes and finding other opportunities to practice giving presentations, you can become good at and even comfortable with public speaking.
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Actuary Job Duties That Require Public Speaking Skills
Some of the core job duties of an actuary require some degree of public speaking. Numbers don’t always speak for themselves, especially to your future colleagues and clients who don’t have the math-heavy educational background you have.
An essential part of the job is to explain your conclusions to clients, managers, shareholders and regulators, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). When you give proposals or presentations, you are, in some ways, selling or pitching your interpretation of data. The way you approach presenting your findings matters. Sure, a well-managed business wouldn’t choose to implement changes based on unsound data just because the actuary is a master public speaker. However, it’s certainly possible that a valid and insightful conclusion could be overlooked because the speaker seems unprepared, unsure of themselves and their findings and unable to make a compelling point drawn from the data.
What makes an actuary’s communication skills particularly important is the technical complexity of their work. When the topic about which you are communicating is outside the sphere of common knowledge, as much of an actuary’s work is, you must be able to explain it in a way that is accessible to those who don’t have an extensive background in math. That may mean focusing on the high-level concepts without getting bogged down in the technical details that will only confuse your audience.
In some instances, an actuary serves as an advisor or a consulting expert, O*NET reported. When you work in a consulting role, for yourself or as part of a consulting firm, your job is to use your knowledge of the actuarial science of calculating risk to help clients make decisions. How you provide this advice may take different forms, from a presentation in front of a board to a one-on-one meeting with a top executive or a phone conference with a department, but being able to speak eloquently and confidently about your recommendations makes it more likely for your client to view you as an authority and to trust your advice. You might also be asked to testify as an expert in a court matter or in a hearing on proposed public policy and legislation.
One thing actuaries should know is that public speaking isn’t always about the size of your audience, but its makeup: people you may not know or not know well, often coming from different academic backgrounds and career fields. Whether you’re giving a presentation to a small group of colleagues or making a speech in front of hundreds to thousands of attendees at a conference, you need the same level of confidence and the same skills of reading and engaging with your audience.
Actuaries often work with insurance underwriters, claims experts, computer programmers and senior managers, O*NET reported. Each of these professionals has a distinct educational background, so you must learn how to communicate across job functions.
How Much Public Speaking Matters for Actuaries
When the majority of your classes emphasize math, statistics, and business, it’s easy to be lulled into thinking that communication skills aren’t that crucial. However, having strong soft skills are as important as having technical skills, especially when looking at long-term job performance, the Society of Actuary’s The Actuary Magazine reported.
The best way to improve your public speaking skills, and overcome any anxiety you may have, is through practice. Most colleges offer a public speaking course – and many require it as part of a students’ general education coursework – that exposes students to the foundations of effective public speaking techniques. You may also have to give presentations as part of your actuarial science coursework or during an internship experience. However, your options for advancing your public speaking skills aren’t limited to the classroom. Established actuaries and instructors often recommend that students get involved in extracurricular activities that give them the opportunity to gain public speaking experience, such as campus-based Toastmasters International clubs and informal experience like performing at a comedy club, the Society of Actuaries reported.
If the thought of having to speak in front of a crowded room gives you the jitters, you’re in good company. Researchers have consistently found that public speaking is one of the most – if not the most – common fear, affecting one-third to one-half of the population.