Keynote Comedian Keeps It Light, Sweet and (Just a Little) Crude
By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor
Chicago comic Greg Schwem, the luncheon keynote at the 17th annual National Workers' Comp and Disability Conference & Expo, clearly did his homework, and it sure made a difference.
He'd heard the clichés about how dull the insurance industry can be, and how the workers' comp industry is guilty of talking in tongues thanks to the lingo's dozens of nonsequiturs and thousands of acronyms used to abbreviate programs.
So he made the most of it by doing a little research on Google, and the crowd laughed outloud. This witty cat's likely to be invited back.
"The more research I did, the more I realized you had a language of your own," he said.
To wit, his interpretation:
Specified disease insurance coverage: Is it worth calling your insurance agent and asking if you can get a discount on Bubonic plague?
Kidnap insurance coverage: I'd like to think my employer would spend time looking for me instead of hedging against my disappearance.
Dishonesty, disappearance and destruction insurance coverage: That's like using the terms "light, sweet crude." They're more descriptive of women plying the world's oldest profession in Sin City than they are about the raw material that runs our lives.
Ordinary life policy: If life's so ordinary, what's so special about it that needs to be covered in the first place?
Now, if only the verbal gatekeepers of insurance terms could think about their terminology before committing it to print (though clever comedians like Schwem wouldn't be having half as much fun).
Schwem, who's more likely to be giving talks to high-profile executives at Cisco and Microsoft than to claims and disability managers, admitted that workers' comp was not the easiest topic to grasp. For a primer on the topic, he went to workers' comp Web sites designed to fill in people like himself on the ABCs of the industry.
He found the tips enlightening, and a juicy target for ridicule.
The State Comp Fund of Arizona site included the following advice: Never use a stepladder in the folded position.
Cincinnati Insurance posted the following gem: Always know where you personal watercraft is at all times.
Another carrier included this doozey: Never tow a skier near docks
In a deserved salute to the audience, Schwem said, "You people try to help when people do stupid stuff." And his listeners agreed.
But Schwem, a former television reporter, wasn't finished, not by a long shot. Teen acronym chat phrases--like LOL (laugh out loud), P911 (my parents are coming), EMFBI (excuse me for butting in), WDALYIC (who died and left you in charge?), and K (OK)--have their equivalents in the world of workers' comp.
Workers' comp managers are known for tossing around their own acronyms. They could easily give today's text-messaging teens (and adults) a run for their alphabet soup money. FECA, MSA, MMI, RTW, TPA, IME, FMLA and ADA are perennials among those conversant with the workers' comp lingo, and perhaps the world will one day even catch up.
"Now we don't even tell people what the acronyms mean," said Schwem. "We assume everyone knows."
Won't be long before we catch on to the following: OSTT (our stock's tanking today), CTNISYT (can't talk now I'm suing YouTube), THEIH (the new employee is hot), NSTAHR (never say that around human resources), JPMRONMST (just posted my resume on monster.com).
Did comp managers heed Schwem's call to grant him 40 minutes of their undivided attention? Yes, indeed, judging by the sounds of the laughter of about 1,500 attendees jammed in the Las Vegas Hilton's Barron ballroom.
It still goes to show that workers' comp managers are for the most part still sane and well-adjusted. They'll choose a good laugh over burying their noses in harried text messages any day.
(Read our write-up and commentary
on other Wednesday sessions at the NWCDC.)
November 19, 2008
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