Communication Skills for Young Actuaries


By Matt Bartley, ACIA

Not that long ago, I was enjoying my second year at London Life. I was at that point in one’s actuarial rotation where you start feeling like you’ve got a handle on things. In my case, things were par product development and pricing. I was also starting to feel like I had a handle on a big presentation I'd be delivering to the actuarial forum (the combined group of qualified actuaries and actuarial students) at London Life.

The topic of my presentation: engaging your audience. As you can imagine, when doing a presentation on presentation skills, the stakes are pretty high; let alone to an audience of one’s peers. I had an outline, I had held meetings with senior actuaries who were considered good presenters (once again, thank you!), and I had solicited some help in preparing a little workshop.

Inspiring Your Audience

I knew from the start that I not only needed to be engaging, but that I needed to convince people why it mattered. I needed my audience to care about the quality of their presentations; that you could and should talk about your mortality study in a way that inspires audience participation and begets understanding. To do this, I relied on what I believe is a common trait among actuaries, both qualified and prospective: ambition. I believe it takes a certain type of individual to complete the examination process and that all of us are meant to be leaders in one capacity or another.

I pored over every internal actuarial job posting that had found its way into my inbox in the last fifteen months. Every single one of them referenced communication skills: associate manager, manager, institutional risk counsellor; the last one citing "proven presentation and communication skills, including the ability to articulate complex topics clearly and appropriately for diverse and demanding audiences".

No matter what kind of actuary or leader you want to be, you need to be a good communicator.

Tailored Delivery

Certainly there is more to being a good communicator than engaging one’s audience or delivering poignant presentations, though. In my opinion, good communication comes down to a few key ideas: having a clear and transparent purpose, knowing your audience, tailoring your content around the first two items, and having a strong delivery. Such tailored delivery may require a great deal of preparation and doing so off the cuff requires both knowledge and experience.

In the same way that actuaries spend years preparing for exams, acquiring knowledge, and gaining experience on the job, communication skills must be built up over time. Some students are very successful at exams while others struggle. Some actuaries have a talent for communication and others are terrified at even the notion of standing in front of a crowd. As with exams though, a bit of targeted effort and perseverance can make a world of difference in both confidence and ability as a communicator.


When I look back nine years ago to when I began my university career, I was not the same person I am today. I’m sure most would say the same of themselves in that amount of time but in my case, I did not have the confidence or ability to speak up in meetings or to present my ideas both concisely and coherently. I made a decision in the middle of my second year to join Toastmasters, an international organization that helps members improve their communication and leadership skills through practice, peer feedback, and objective evaluation.

At a typical meeting, members take turns giving speeches or making presentations, and then receive feedback from other members at the meeting. Toastmasters also has educational materials and programs members can work through at their own pace. My past seven years as a Toastmaster have changed me for the better; seven years of delivering speeches, leading meetings, practising my impromptu speaking skills, listening and watching my fellow members, and receiving constructive feedback along the way.

Practice, Practice, Practice

That last part is really important. An actuarial student wouldn’t complete a practice exam without reviewing the responses that were incorrect, because they wouldn’t know what to work on. Unfortunately, we don’t receive regular feedback on how we communicate with our coworkers, on how effectively we lead meetings and guide discussion, or on our ability to present to a large audience. There may be other avenues for seeking this feedback, but I chose Toastmasters, and that investment continues to pay dividends every day.

That investment gave me the confidence, knowledge, and experience to prepare and deliver a successful presentation to the actuarial forum.

I would like to end with a sentiment that I expressed at the end of that presentation:

It would be natural to ask what made me join Toastmasters, but I think the better question is actually, "why am I still doing Toastmasters?" A simple answer would be that I see the value in public speaking and presentation skills, and that’s true. I do see the value. The bigger truth is this: I want actuaries to have the reputation for being good communicators. Help me to build that reputation by being an engaging presenter.

Matt Bartley, ACIA, is an actuarial associate, in-force management and management information, at London Life.

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires