As I said in a previous entry, the economics department at my old university was having a special event to recognize a milestone anniversary by bringing in as many alumni as possible to be guest speakers in as many classes as possible to talk about their careers and how an economics education has helped them. Given my background as an actuary, I was invited to speak in the econometrics class taught by Professor H. Econometrics, by the way, is the study of statistical models used in the field of economics. I took this same course from Professor H all the way back in the Spring 1998 semester. So after 10 years, I was pretty excited to see this professor again.
In a nutshell, this is what I talked about in my presentation. So, what does an actuary do? I talked seperately about the two main functions of actuarial work, pricing (i.e. estimating fair, adequate rates for different classes of risks) and reserving (i.e. estimating the amount of money needed to fund unsettled and unreported claim liabilities based on the coverage provided). I was talking to an audience that as far as I could tell knew nothing about insurance so I really tried to avoid using jargon and the keep my explanations as clear and simple as possible. Since I was speaking to an economics class, I identified how some simple economic theories they were familiar with were applicable in the work I encountered (e.g. the concepts of adverse selection as it relates to risk classification and the market inefficiencies caused by insurance regulation). Since I was talking to an econometrics class in particular, I talked about the statistical models used to price insurance. I ended with some discussion of how to get started in the actuarial profession if it was something they wanted to persue.
How did it go? My talk last about 45 minutes, including the time I took to answer questions. Overall, I think it was not bad. I don’t give many talks before groups of this size, so I’m not the most polished speaker but I think I was colloquial and organized… maybe just not as fluid as I would have liked to have been. I saw a couple of people in the audience tuning out, but most of the students seemed to be paying attention… at least politely if not enthusiastically. I actually got some pretty intelligent questions from the students, and one of the students in particular seemed like he might be interested in becoming an actuary. There was one student who was a bit of a goofball, but actually he helped to liven things up a bit If I were to do this again, there are definitely things I would change like shuffle the flow of topics a little and go in more depth in one area and a lot less depth in another area.
One of my concerns was regarding what the professor would think of my presentation. I was relieved when after the class was over Professor H said he thought the presentation was good and also said that I could come speak to his econometrics classes in future semesters apart from this special event if I’d like. He said what he appreciated most was that I showed the students that econometrics can actually be used on the job and one can make good money doing it. Another thing the professor told me that I’m quite proud of is that in his years of teaching the econometrics class I have been the only student so far to have gotten 100% on both the midterm and the final. That almost made me as happy as the feeling of being done with this presentation!
I got an e-mail last week from the chair of the Economics department at my old university, who by the way was my favorite professor when I was a student there. As part of an anniversary celebration, the university is making a big push to bring in as many guests as possible from among the alumni and from executives and managers in the community with the goal being to have one guest speaker for every class over a two-day period in September. So, the professor asked me if I would like to be one of the speakers, and I said yes that I would be willing to participate.
I wasn’t told much about the specific format of the event other than that I will talk for 20-40 minutes in one or more economics classes about how the economic way of thinking is relevant to my career or whatever I think would be relevant to the students. So, I have about six or seven weeks to prepare (the big day is September 16), and I think I have a lot to say as I do use my economic training a lot in my job. I just need to organize my thoughts well.
I’ve never spoken to a classroom before except when I was a student presenting something for an assignment. Now, I’m coming in as some sort of expert, and I need to make sure I carry myself that way.
I had a meeting last week with my boss and a new manager from a different department where we discussed the status of the work we were doing in support of this other department. This was not a meeting that I ran but one that I did have a role in. Mostly what I did was observe and try to learn some tips about how meetings are successful in terms of getting as much information out of them as possible and in satisfying the parties involved.
There were two interesting things that I noted; hopefully I can articulate them well. The first thing was that a meeting held for one particular purpose can also be a springboard for changing the tone and agenda of other items not directly related to the project if done tactfully and authoritatively. The second thing is that in an initial meeting you can get a strong impression of the strength of a person’s organizational and leadership skills as well as their insightfulness. So, first impressions really do matter!
Yesterday morning, Monday, I travelled to a different office to hold a two-hour meeting with 5 people, all but one of which had more experience or was at a higher level than me, including a vice president. This was the first time I had actually called my own formal meeting with that many people which I would be conducting by myself without any help from my boss or other colleagues, so needless to say I was pretty nervous. The purpose of the meeting was the clarify the scope and details of a project I am about to start work on for this particular business unit. I could have had a teleconference, but I thought that meeting in person would be more effective.
My strategy was to have a clear, relevant agenda of topics to discuss and for me to stay in control so that we actually stayed on topic. I did observe that it is very easy to go off on tangents, but as I had clearly stated the goals of the meeting at the start, one of the most vocal (and helpful) of the participants helped me to keep the meeting focused. I also noted when I was getting what I needed and probed deeper or tried to steer the conversation in a more productive direction. It didn’t go perfectly smoothly but fairly smooth none the less. The people in the meeting, many with whom I had previously interacted but in a different capacity, seemed appreciative that I showed up in person and seemed supportive of me in my higher level role.
Leaving the meeting and reflecting upon it on the drive back to my own office I realized that there were some points I should have brought up and others that I should have sought more clarification on as they were being discussed. If I were a little more clear-headed (i.e. not nervous) or if my points for discussion were a bit more specific or if I were a little deeper into the project, maybe I would have caught those things I missed. Really, I think I just need more practice at this more than anything, and I am overall satisfied with how I did in my first meeting.
Today I presented a new report I produced over the phone to a manager in a different office with whom I had never before spoken. Just to clarify, I e-mailed him the file, and we both had it open on our computers at the same time, and I walked him through it. My call had two purposes. One was to introduce the report and convince him of its usefulness, and the other was to gain his insights into the business. I think I did adequately on my first goal. There were a couple of points that I didn’t have a good answer for and had to promise to get back to him on. One of these points would not have been a topic of debate had I initially presented the topic more clearly. Overall, however, I think I did what I had set out to do. I had more mixed results on fulfilling the second purpose of my call. I got some useful information, but I didn’t get the level of depth or insight that my boss would have gotten had she made the call. Back to the drawing board there.
I’ve really learned that you need to use different approaches with different audiences. I’m still getting a feel for this. One area I need to work on is being prepared for the right mix of technical and business discussion. There’s also a political element. With some people, despite their job description, no matter what you ask they don’t have the level of sophistication to give you the answer you need. Some people are suspicious of you and don’t want to give you anything. Fortunately for me, my audience was very bright, and I’m in a position where I’m producing something that they want.
Previously, I always had a more passive role in meetings. It’s very different to now be in the position where I’m in control of a meeting, like whether it happens or not depends on me and how productive it is depends on me. I need to work on being more engaged and more “on top of my game” so that I can discern the right opportunities to get the information I need and know the right questions to ask…
My role at work changed a couple of months ago, and I am now in a position where I must prepare more presentations. At the moment, I’m ignoring the speaking part of presentation but am focusing on how to organize ideas logically and clearly. This really is pretty hard, at least for me. Having expertise in a particular area, I often take certain fundamental ideas for granted and don’t realize that others not expert in my area may not be aware of or understand those concepts or that the udnerlying assumptions can be challenged. I’m trying to be more attentive to these things…
The presentations I seem to do the best at are small scale discussions on how to do something or how to interpret results. I’m thinking of why I seem to do best at these and how I can translate the qualities that make me successful there to other types of speaking situations. I didn’t do so well in the informational session I put on a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t come to any conclusions on this yet, but it’s something I’m pondering…
There were a few things that didn’t go quite as planned this past Wednesday when I gave my hour-long presentation… To start, the audience was twice as big as I had expected, which was a little unnerving, and there were some technical difficulties in getting set up. I got nervous when I started so I spoke a bit fast and monotone with occasional uncomfortable pauses and without much eye contact with the audience. I was asked some questions that I had no clue how to answer, and I felt a bit like an idiot. I finally hit my stride about midway through and I think I ended pretty well. I’m spending some time thinking about how I can do better next time. Some feedback I got suggested that I should have involved more audience participation, and someone else said I should have been less nervous…
I’m preparing for a presentation I’m giving later this week, and I think the most helpful thing is having confidence with the subject matter. I gave the same presentation last year to a similar audience, so I know the response I got to it and what worked and what didn’t. Also, I feel more of an expert than last year so I don’t feel like I have to put too much effort in preparation, so I hope I come across as more natural.