Engaging Your Audience workshop – A constructive environment to practice key soft skills

On Thursday 8 April 2021, the Young Actuaries Advisory Board (YAAB) hosted the first ‘Engaging Your Audience’ workshop – a series of mock meetings aimed at providing a low stress environment to practice high stress soft skills; critical to being a successful actuary.

During these mock meetings, young actuaries were each assigned roles to practice, including chairing meetings, presenting information and providing feedback. 

The first workshop was broken up into two sections; an initial introduction/warmup, followed by breakout room facilitated mock meetings.

Introduction & Warmup with Ryan Boyd

Assisting the YAAB, Ryan Boyd, a Member of the Actuaries Institute and a former TedX presenter, provided pointers and anecdotes of his life to help prepare participants for their mock meetings.

Ryan describing how even after hundreds, if not thousands of presentations, that he still gets nervous before a presentation. As nerves are natural, Ryan emphasised the importance of a presentation’s introduction, as often the introduction is what the presenter knows best (as it is around themselves), so it can help settle any nerves and can dictate how the rest of the presentation will go.

Ryan Boyd

Ryan emphasised the importance of good presentation structure by using an anecdote of a trip to Singapore for the United Nations. Through this engaging story, Ryan demonstrated why it is important for the audience to care about how a problem could be an issue, as well as how cultural differences can materially impact the reception of a presentation’s message.

Lastly, Ryan described how Q&A is generally his favourite part of a presentation, as this is when presenters are most vulnerable. Ryan compared the impacts between virtual and in person Q&A’s, as well as the challenges around presenting technical knowledge to a technically knowledgeable audience.

The Mock Meetings

Following Ryan’s encouraging words, participants were sent to breakout rooms with 5-6 other participants, where a nominated chair provided introductions and facilitated the flow of the meeting. Presenters spoke about their chosen topics and feedback providers actively listened and commented on any apparent strengths of presenters and any areas that could be improved.

Participants were allocated their roles prior to the event and were provided some preliminary reading material outlining tips and tricks for their roles, as well as the expectations for each role.

Presenters were requested to provide a speech on one of the following topics:

  1. Discuss your favourite holiday destination. Explain why this is your favourite and why the audience should consider visiting the destination themselves;

  2. Discuss one of your hobbies. Explain why this interests you and the benefits of participating in this hobby;

  3. Discuss a recent TV series or movie that you watched. Explain why you enjoyed the TV series/movie considering the plot, character development, soundtrack, etc…; or,

  4. Discuss an actuarial topic you have recently researched or a project that you have recently worked on. What did you learn and find interesting about the topic/project?

The chosen topic was suggested to follow the theme of:

“You are presenting at a conference to a theatre of 100 people and have 5-7 minutes to share your experiences”.

A wide range of topics were chosen, including a story of eating sushi in Japan, a review of ‘Friends’ (the TV show) and an analysis on how to optimise selling Apple products.

Some presenters appeared to have done significant preparation, with clear thought and effort integrated into the content and structure of their speeches as well as supplementary slides used.

Notwithstanding this, even presenters with limited preparation time appeared to enjoy themselves, focusing on practicing their presentation skills, with feedback providers acknowledging that in the work environment, preparation time can often be a luxury not afforded.

Looking Ahead

The next ‘Engaging Your Audience’ workshop is scheduled to be held on 14 July 2021.

Like the first session, participants of all experience levels (university level, recently graduated and experienced actuaries) are encouraged to join as significant improvement can be gained from a small amount of pre-workshop preparation time and a 1-hour session.

The YAAB would like to thank Ryan Boyd and all meeting facilitators, presenters and feedback providers who were able to participate in the first workshop.

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