Holiday get-togethers with friends and family are full of opportunities to discuss what you do for a living. Unfortunately for those of us in the insurance industry, these opportunities aren’t always easy ones. It seems to happen every year — Uncle Milton is just trying to make small talk, asking you how work is going, and you inevitably give him a long-winded discourse because it’s tough to describe all that you do in just a few words.
Because many people do not have a complete understanding of how the industry works, it’s inevitably a challenge to break it down over wine and hors d’oeuvres. This holiday season, in the interest of keeping your relatives’ eyes from glazing over, here are a few tips on how to keep small talk small, without oversimplifying or trivializing the important work you do:
1. Start simply.
Speak in everyday, practical, jargon-free language about what you do and explain your role like you would to someone hearing about it for the first time. Don’t immediately assume that someone knows what a claims adjuster or underwriter does on a daily basis, or even that he or she grasps the principles behind the industry. So, as an adjuster, don’t say, “I investigate an insurer’s liability for loss when a claim is made.” Instead, say, “I talk to people who have property damage and decide how much the insurance company will pay them.” It’s basic, but it allows people to immediately picture what you’re talking about.
2. Give them something to talk about.
If someone asks what you do and your response is, “I’m an insurance broker,” it puts the burden on them to come up with another question that keeps the conversation going. Try pitching them a softball question, like “I’m an insurance broker, so I try to find the best policies on behalf of clients. Have you ever used a broker before?”
3. Tell them a story.
It’s unlikely that people will understand all the minutiae of your position (or anyone else’s for that matter), but everyone loves a good anecdote. Before you head to the party, think of one or two of the best stories from the past year, whether it’s an example of a time when you truly helped someone, or just something humorous that happened one day. Got nothing? Steal another story by asking friends and family if they’ve ever seen an insurance-related movie, like Along Came Polly or Cedar Rapids, and explain how that is, and mainly isn’t, similar to what you do.
4. It’s all right to brag.
If you worked hard over the past year to earn a new designation, there’s no shame in talking about it, especially around friends and family. Most will have likely never heard of insurance designations, so remember to compare them to something they have heard of before, like a CPA or an MBA.
5. It’s also OK to quit.
If it’s clear a person is just baffled, it’s fine to change the topic. Even though you may feel it’s your duty to explain the whole industry to them, the truth is that sometimes people just aren’t that interested. Often, the best solution is to simply wrap up your explanation and move on to something else rather than trap someone in a conversation he or she is not interested in. There’s always next year to try again.
Of course, these handy tips are just a few general pointers, and there are many more methods for simplifying these conversations. Do you struggle to explain your career in insurance to family and friends? How do you explain what you do to family and friends? Share your insights in the comments below.
Vandevere is the senior vice president of strategic marketing at The Institutes. The Institutes offers the CPCU designation program, associate designation programs in areas such as claims, risk management, underwriting, and reinsurance, and more. The Institutes are affiliated with the CPCU Society and The Griffith Insurance Education Foundation.
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