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Commercial Actuarial Practice

Business Writing - Creating clear presentations

Session Course Material Page

Introduction 2
Key themes – creating clear presentations 3
1 Purpose 4
2 Begin with the audience in mind 7
3 Introductions and Conclusions 8
4 Selecting and Grouping the content 9
5 Structures – ordering the content 10
6 Summary statements 12


“There are 3 stages in the education of a professional man……the first is when he

is learning the meaning of the technical terms in order to be initiated into the
mysteries of his profession. The second is when he has learned to use these freely
and can thus freely exchange ideas with professional colleagues. The third is when
he has learned not to use them and can thus communicate freely with the layman.
Only at the third stage can he claim to be a professional man” Jim Peglar, 1969
IoA President

As you are about to embark upon the Commercial Actuarial Practice course, you
have already demonstrated that you have the technical capability to become an
Actuary. Congratulations! The challenge that lies ahead for you is to apply this
knowledge and capability in the different contexts that you will be confronted with in
your professional career, and to communicate this to the varying audiences who rely
on actuarial advice.

Communication is not something that can simply be tacked on as a separate

subject, perhaps as an afterthought to the “real stuff”; it is an essential component
of the broader actuarial control cycle. During the CAP Course, you will have the
opportunity to explore the communication principles and to see how you can out
them to best use. Enjoy!

Andrew Brown

Key Themes – Creating clear presentations

• The fundamental themes in creating clear presentations are :

• Begin with the audience in mind – As you consider who your audience is,
what their key convincers will be and, what their key concerns are, review your
summary statement and material again. It must be compelling to your audience
and must deliver on their expectations.

• Use introductions to set the scene and closings to highlight the main
points – The introduction is typically of the form situation -> complication ->
question -> solution. It should provide the context for the paper or presentation,
provide a link back to what the audience already know and agree with, and
provide the audience with an expectation that they will get something out of
reading the paper or attending the presentation. The close should leave the
audience in no doubt as to what the major points were and what the next steps

• Group your material into like areas - the mind organises information in
clusters by forming associations; if you can group your material in a way that
the audience can see the connections, it will be much clearer to them.

• Order the Groups – structure the information in an order that the audience can
easily follow. The basic types of order are: order of importance, chronological
order, logical order, and structural, ie how you might order the information in
your memory.

• Summarise into one key statement – what is they theme emerging from your
data and analysis? If you have 15 seconds to explain what the summary of your
presentation or report is and gain the attention of your audience, what will you

• Only include information that supports the summary statement – If

information doesn’t relate directly to the summary statement then it may confuse
the audience and will reduce the focus and hence impact of your report or
presentation. Be ruthless!

1. Purpose

1.1 Why purpose is essential to a successful presentation

Purpose is the reason you are delivering a presentation. It is the goal you are trying
to achieve with your presentation. If you don’t really know why you are delivering a
presentation, then it’s a certainty your audience won’t know the purpose either. Be
clear in your own mind as to what the purpose of the presentation is. When your
purpose is crystal clear, it becomes obvious what content or structure will support
the purpose, and what content is superfluous. It also helps guide the audience. The
purpose for NASA during the 1960s was to put a man on the moon. This was so
clear and so compelling a purpose that the first question asked for any new
proposals for money or staff was ‘does this help put a man on the moon?’. The
success of course is history.

A clear purpose will drive the material your presentation will contain (Step 2), and
how you will structure the material you deliver in your presentation (Step 3), even
the vocal and physical style you will use to deliver your presentation (Steps 4 and

All the elements for a successful presentation must be directly related to

achieving your Purpose!!!

What do we mean when we say purpose?

The primary purposes are:

• To inform
• To persuade
• To motivate the audience to act, to inspire

To Inform

It is almost impossible to write a presentation without informing your audience of

something, but what we need to identify is if it is primarily what we want to do. “I
want to inform the audience about …” By this we mean that we want to specifically
inform the audience of a fact or item which can be identified.
Be sure that your subject is relevant to the audience and be sure that they are
interested and engaged by your subject.

To Persuade

Have you ever noticed that some people just seem to have that ability to
influence, to be ‘natural persuaders’? Have you ever been frustrated that
despite your knowledge on a topic and belief in the importance of the
recommendations you are making, the audience has not been convinced? If
you have, then welcome to a very auspicious club. This club includes just
about every person who has had to give a presentation with the purpose of
persuading an audience to a particular outcome or course of action! Well, the
good news is that like most skills in written communication, building
persuasion into a presentation is all about building the right process.

The key steps in the persuasion process are:

• Build rapport - earn the right to influence, start with a point that the reader can
agree with
• Establish needs - demonstrate understanding by stating their request and the
context in which the advice is provided
• Plan - align with audience needs
• Next steps - gain buy-in / commitment

To motivate an audience to act, to inspire

While persuasion is involved with convincing people of a particular course of action,

motivation is getting the people excited enough to take action. The structure and
content that supports a motivational presentation may be very different from that
which supports a persuasive presentation. The heart of motivation is to:

1. Build in the audience’s mind such a compelling picture of all the good things that
will come of action that they simply must act. This is called ‘towards’ motivation.
2. Paint such a dire picture for the audience of the awful consequences of not
acting that they feel compelled to act. This is called ‘away from’ motivation.

When submitting a written proposal with this purpose you must ensure two things
• That the audience actually has the power / authority to affect the action
you have called them to.

• That you have clearly defined what that action is and how they should
go about performing it.

How do I go about selecting a purpose?

You should write down the purpose of your presentation in one sentence (e.g. “The
purpose of my presentation is to inform my audience about the benefits of daily
exercise”). As you can see from the example sentence it should contain two key
• The Primary Purpose “ to inform”
• The Subject or Topic “the benefits of daily exercise”

Avoid the temptation to use long-winded sentences joined by ‘and’ or ‘as well as.’
You have a single purpose and a single topic. Keep your topic as clearly focussed
on your purpose as possible. Make sure you have a clear goal in your mind.

You should be consistent in your purpose throughout. After a little time, come back
and review the purpose, to clarify and refine it.

2. Begin with the audience in mind

The key to any successful presentation is making sure you pitch the presentation at
the appropriate level for the audience, and make sure that you meet their needs.

Key questions to consider:

• Who will be reading the presentation?

• Who are the key decision-makers?
• What level of detail will they require?
• What is their level of knowledge on this topic?
• What are their major concerns (E.g. profit, value, capital, compliance, resources
• What questions are they likely to have?
• Do you need to provide alternatives or straight forward recommendations; what
are the pros and cons of different alternatives?
• WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) – How will you keep their attention by letting them
know what is in it for them?
• What are their key convincers?
• How can you relate the topic or issue back to their own experiences?
• What do you want them to understand (INFORM)?
• What do you want them to feel?
• What do you want them to believe (PERSUADE)?
• What do you want them to do (MOTIVATE)?
• What are the likely objections, and how may you overcome these?

3. Introductions and Conclusions


The opening of a presentation is that critical point where you need to get an
audience wanting to listen to what you have to say. An opening, first and foremost,
should gain an audience’s attention.

Generally you will know your audience to some degree (if you don’t know your
audience, try to find out about them!) and it is always a good idea to think of what it
is about your presentation that will get them excited. This is often referred to as the
WIIFM (What’s In It for me) approach. Some of the standard WIIFM’s are

• Solve my problem
• Support my project
• Align with my interests
• Provide me with resources
• Help me to understand

Once you have the attention of the audience it is important to establish your
purpose and credibility. In a number of cases people will know who you are in which
case there will be no real need to tell everyone about your expertise. When people
don’t know who you are outline your expertise in the context of the presentation.

It is important to prepare your opening carefully. Getting an audience interested at

the start is 10 times easier than trying getting them listening again if they have
switched off! So, some key concepts:

• Keep it sharp – no more than 10% of your presentation

• Do use stories or analogies that are relevant to the subject and will engage the
• Start with background that the audience can agree with, so that you can build
rapport. Never create controversy early, unless you are doing it for dramatic
• Provide the following elements: situation –> complication -> question -> solution
• Somewhere in your opening you must tell the audience why they should
continue. They need some selfish reason to read the document.


People remember the first and last thing you write or say, so it is important to
prepare your conclusion carefully. This is your final opportunity to get your message
across. It should neatly summarise your key points in a fresh and memorable finish.

Be careful that once you have flagged the ending make sure you wind up quickly. A
long conclusion with multiple finales will drive an audience to distraction!

• Keep it sharp – no more than 10% of your presentation

Don’t fill your conclusion with pointless jokes or quotations – avoid padding

Be prepared to answer questions at the end of a verbal presentation.

4. Selecting and grouping content

The way that the mind creates associations and recalls information means that they
way information is grouped in a presentation can have a very big impact on
audience understanding and recall. Rules of thumb when grouping material are:

• Look for common themes or associations between material

• Get rid of material that is not relevant to your summary statement.

• Always try to select material that is appropriate for your audience. Look for
analogies to make complex information more understandable and find relevant
examples to support your ideas.

• Remember to establish the credibility of your material before presenting it to an


• Try to assess the amount of critical material which your audience can retain. Be
careful not to overload them. Remember that the conscious mind can’t hold
more than seven (plus or minus two) pieces of information at any one time, so
have seven or less groupings.

5. Structures - Ordering the material

The following are common ways of ordering material for a presentation:

1. Comparatively – begin with the most important point and then group and
present information in the order of importance.

Conclusion / recommendation:


Re-state conclusion & next steps

1. Chronological

- Past practice

- Present situation

- Future needs (proposal)

3. Structural – how you might remember or recall this information

Components could be geographical locations, products, distribution channels,

systems, software packages, subsidiaries, competitors, regulations, target markets

For example,

- Who
- What
- Where
- How
- Why
- When
- What if?

4. Deductive:


Major Premise
Minor premise

This is just to whet the appetite! There are many more structures, with variations on
these, and combinations of these. Whatever structure you use, bare your audience
in mind.

Signposting and linking

Imagine yourself driving along a 7 lane freeway that you’ve never been on before.
You are in a foreign country. As you drive along, there are barely any signs at all,
and when you come across a sign, it is in a foreign language, with unintelligible
symbols. How do you feel? Relaxed and comfortable in the knowledge that you
have no idea where you are heading, how far you have to go or how you are even
going to know when you’ve reached your destination? Or does it feel discomforting,
disconcerting, wanting to know where you are going before going any further?

Signposts in a presentation are like signposts on that 7 lane freeway. Signposts give
the audience a sense of where the presentation is heading, they will know when
they have reached their destination, whether a detour is part of the journey or just a
wrong turn and what the relevance of each detour is. To get the audience to
concentrate on the road you are driving down, to help them to integrate and
remember the learnings from your presentation, you need to clearly signpost the
journey for them.

How does signposting achieve this?

• Sets a clear direction

• Links the presentation together
• Highlights the relevance of each section to topic

Types of signposts include:

• Setting out a map at the front of presentation; to let the audience know where
they will be travelling to, and what the key milestones along the journey will be.
• Links - summary of section1 lead in to opening of section 2, signposts
farewelling you from this section or welcoming you to the next section of the
• Signs that remind you of the destination, that remind you of what freeway you
are on. That refer you to the topic.
• Signs or symbols that travel with you throughout the journey. The symbol that
comes in and out of the presentation, that sets an atmosphere for the

Can signposts be over used? Signposts can drag a presentation down if too much
focus is placed on them, particularly if the audience is very familiar with a topic and
know exactly where it is going to. In this instance, the signposts may need to be
more subtle or be used to engage or challenge the audience and add interest to a

6. Summary Statements

When the content is grouped appropriately, each group will have a distinct
characteristic. How this group can be described is the summary statement.

When information is grouped deductively, the summary statement is simply a

statement of the conclusion of the deductive reasoning. However, when information
is grouped inductively the summary statement must state what the relationship of
the information grouped implies. The summary statement consequently either (1)
describes a particular situation, or (2) provides a cohesive narrative that describes
how the different pieces fit together.

Recommended Reading List

Gelb Michael J, “Thinking for a Change”, Aurum Press Ltd, 1996

Minto Barbara, “The Pyramid Principle – third edition”, Prentice Hall, 2002
Owen Nick, “The Magic of Metaphor” , Crown Publishing. 2001
Owen Nick, “More Magic of Metaphor”, Crown Publishing. 2005
Rostrum Victoria, “Five Steps to Confident Speaking,” 2006, Rostrum Victoria
Tierney Elisabeth, “101 Ways to Better Presentations,” Kogan Page Inc, 1999