I and two of my staff just returned from a 1 1/4 day conference at the 3rd annual Midwest Actuarial Student Conference (MASC) hosted at the University of Michigan. As far as my staff could determine, the conference was organized by Roger Natarajan and the student leadership team. I was impressed at the quality of the conference. Granted, it was a relatively simple conference attended by about 300 actuarial students from the Midwest. But, the professionalism and attention to detail was remarkable.
Here are items I noticed
- There was only one tier of sponsors. Roger wanted to treat all sponsors as equal partners. We all got the same first class treatment.
- All meetings started and ended on time.
- Spacious rooms and well coordinated tables for sponsors to visit with the students.
- Generous food and beverage options. The room was large enough for a quick access to food without waiting lines.
- A 90 minute lunch break providing sufficient networking opportunity.
- When breakout meetings began, a student leader presented a detailed map on the overhead and clearly indicated where the breakout rooms were located.
- The leadership team was visible and approachable. They frequently visited our table to inquire if expectations were met.
- Decisions to make minor improvements were made “on the fly”. For example, Roger identified that it would be strategic to have some of the sponsors deliver a quick elevator speech at a meeting. He personally made the decision and communicated it directly.
- Roger and his student lead team were dressed pristinely and presented as exceptional professionals.
- As expected, industry experts were chosen to speak on practical topics.
- Roger’s student team (without Roger) met to discuss last minute details such as fine tuning name tag pickup. There was a clear decision making process to the group and the decisions were clearly and precisely communicated.
- An intentional meet and greet time of students and sponsor on Friday night around an appetizer dinner.
As a sponsor, we felt respected and received the benefits of a lot of student interaction.
What did I learn at the conference? Sure, there was information from meetings that was helpful. One item worth noting.
From the effective communication meeting, Bob Morand from DW Simpson shared the “Yes And” strategy. The idea is that if others share ideas that we don’t completely agree with, try to respond with “Yes. And …”. It’s possible to still clearly state our thoughts using this transition. But, the transition is positive and can build team confidence. We are too often tempted to reply “No, but” which sends a strong negative message that can disrupt the team. I’m not saying we should never use the words “no” or “but”. However, I think we should be aggressive in using the “Yes. And” strategy to build positive momentum.
In summary, what I learned was that if a future actuary wanted to choose a school that would develop their business skills, I would not hesitate to suggest attending the University of Michigan.
The next year’s meeting is at DePaul. If they follow Michigan’s lead, I’m sure it will be a success.