POINTERS FROM A RECENT PLRB CONFERENCE PRESENTER: DOUG WOOD (1)
By: Laurie A. Pegler, PLRB, Esq., CPCU
Doug Wood, Esq.
When Scott Powell, PLRB's AVP of Educational and Technical Services, returned to the office after our 2008 Conference in Boston, he poured over thousands of comments from both on-site and electronic session evaluations completed by conference attendees. Many of the courses drew high praise from attendees, but among them one group of evaluations really stood out: those coming from the class on Progressive Losses. This first party property insurance course, brand new in 2008, was designed to teach adjusters how to:
analyze and resolve complex coverage issues presented by continuing or progressive losses (on-going water damage; neglected mold damage; earth movement; un-repaired structural damage; etc.),
identify the suit condition "trigger" for continuing or progressive losses,
assess the application of the neglect exclusion and
understand the legal concepts of waiver and estoppel.
The feedback from this session reflected a concerted audience appreciation for how the class was conducted. First, let's look at the nature of the feedback PLRB received from students attending in this class. What was it that attendees really liked about this class? Second, we'll share a word (or two) with the presenter, Doug Wood.
Specific comments from attendees at this session included:
"This was one of the best sessions I have ever attended. Doug Wood did an excellent job. This is the first session I have ever attended being done by this particular presenter. Doug had a great rapport with the audience and got a lot of interaction going. Also, his handling of this very dry topic made it interesting and I picked up a lot of things from it. PLRB/LIRB would behoove themselves to videotape his presentation and show it to others on how to present a session. Even the PowerPoint was how a PowerPoint should be."
"This was the first class that from beginning to end kept my attention and stayed on track. Excellent job by the presenter! "
"Fantastic - Good issues about 1st party coverage and true dates of loss."
"Excellent presentation. I thought I understood the law before but this really helped me see all the different elements all together so that I can better apply them to various kinds of factual situations."
So, the question arises: why did attendees at this new course have such a positive learning experience? What did this presenter do to excite these participants? What can we learn from the overwhelmingly positive experience created at this session? In an effort to find out, Scott suggested that we interview Doug Wood, the "Progressive Loss" session presenter. Here, we share with you some of Doug's responses to our inquiries.
Doug, can you share with us how you accomplished engaging your audience in discussion while staying on course with your agenda?
Active learners are much more likely to retain what they learn. The trick is to motivate your audience early on, so that the attendees feel both comfortable and valued during the course. I really enjoy getting to the classroom early so that I can learn from the attendees what they hope to get out of the class. Which of the published learning objectives appealed to them? Do they have specific progressive loss questions they hope to resolve? Engaging the attendees in conversation before the class starts also is helpful in creating a participatory environment, so that each of them feels comfortable not only answering my hypothetical inquiries during class, but also posing challenging questions to me (and the rest of the class) as the session progresses. Finally, I really make an effort to value feedback early on; it sets a tone that encourages the sharing of helpful ideas from professionals across the country. Show appreciation for that first brave soul, and others will follow!
While staying on course with my agenda is important, eliciting interaction with the students is equally important. My goal is to strike a balance between conveying each of the Learning Objectives and eliciting feedback focused on the LearningObjectives that helps advance the entire group's learning experience. For example, in the event a student attempts to monopolize the discussion with a specific claim he has pending, I might invite that person to see me after the session for a more thorough discussion of that issue. Doing so allows me to maintain control of the session while still encouraging participation by the attendees. On the other hand, encouraging and fielding focused questions that serve as a springboard to the pending Learning Objective lends itself to further exploration of our topic, and enhances everyone’s learning. As I alluded to earlier, as part of my preparation, I really try to anticipate which Learning Objectives will generate the most discussion in the class and build in some time to allow that interaction to take place.
Ah, yes . . . preparation! Tell us how you prepared for your session and comment on how to incorporate the learning objectives in the process.
My initial research on this issue stemmed from an appeal I handled. Due to the complexities in the case, many of the policy exclusions, limitations and conditions of coverage in the Homeowners policy were familiar to me. From that experience, as well as other progressive losses I've handled for insurers, I narrowed the focus of my presentation down to the issues I see adjusters repeatedly struggle with when handling losses that were in progress long before the claim was filed. This first step will certainly differ drastically from topic to topic. However, keep in mind, adapting your material to a national audience requires expanding your research to case law and statutes from across the country.
The next step is to figure out your Learning Objectives -- really focus on what it is you want the claims professional to take away from your session. What can they demonstrate back in the office/field after attending your class? My experience is this: if your Learning Objectives are challenging and realistic, students will not only attend your session, but will expect to leave smarter and more capable than when they arrived. Here are some of the Learning Objectives that I used in my class:
Analyze and resolve coverage issues presented by continuing or progressive losses;
Identify the suit condition "trigger" for continuing or progressive losses;
Review the impact of the "neglect" exclusion on continuing or progressive losses;
Analyze your company's rights when confronted with claims of waiver or estoppel.
With these Learning Objectives, I then created about 35 PowerPoint slides to help not only "tell the story" but also to motivate discussion within the class. I cannot emphasize enough: the collective knowledge within the classroom is amazing! In fact, while I am accustomed to asking most of the questions, there are many instances when an attendee will respond to my question with a question or comment that really sets off a great discussion within the audience. Assuming the attendee's question or comment is one likely to be of interest to the rest of the attendees, I often seek out feedback from other attendees before sharing my own thoughts on the point or resuming my presentation.
While preparing the PowerPoint slides, I suggest you also prepare several "talking points" per slide. These talking points are really one of my favorite prep tools -- as you can imagine, they are extremely "session specific" and do not fit into neat and tidy categories! Here are some ideas, but I cannot stress enough how there really is no single "right" way to do this! Is there a court decision on point? If so, that would serve as a terrific source for the concrete examples we previously discussed. Are there multiple policy exclusions, limitations, or conditions that warrant review? Is there a hypothetical loss scenario you wanted to relate to the audience at this point? Is there an unfair claims practices act caveat you wanted to share before progressing to the next issue?
Try to wrap it up with a dynamic, attention-getting diagram. In my case, I used a timeline to illustrate the progressive loss concepts of suit condition trigger and equitable tolling. Ideally, use this as one last opportunity to drive home each of the learning objectives.
My approach, as a teacher, is to accomplish two objectives: teach abstract concepts (i.e., manifestation of appreciable damage) and demonstrate how to apply them by using concrete examples. From the attendees' perspective, this means first learning the legal/coverage concept, then applying the concept to real life losses.
It is so rare to see a favorable comment on a presenter's use of PowerPoint! Can you share your tips on how to use this tool effectively?
Think headlines -- not text -- when you create your PowerPoint!
There is a huge difference in sharing knowledge in a written format, such as a court brief or an article for a legal journal or as a classroom handout versus via the oft infamous PowerPoint! Don't let the simplicity of the format or the brevity of the message on the screen fool you; I spend a significant amount of time reviewing and organizing my research and outline before generating my PowerPoint. As far as quantity, for a 90 minute session, I figure on about 30 to 35 slides and anticipate spending an average (remember, average!) of 3 minutes per slide. Change up the visuals -- text to graphics to a movie clip to pictures, photographs, diagrams, etc. -- keep the audience's visual sense keen! Be sure your visuals are large enough to be seen by your audience. Where appropriate, a little humor comes in handy.
While a lot of research and creativity go into creating this PowerPoint, that alone will not prepare you for an interactive presentation. During the creation of the slides, I begin a second document. This document contains the "talking points" I mentioned earlier; these talking points are critical to the development of the substance of the presentation! As we all know, 'death by PowerPoint' occurs when the presenter reads the text on the screen to the audience. Avoid this trap by generating your talking points document. For each slide, you may have anywhere from 2 to 6 or 8 talking points -- this varies depending upon the content at hand. As I mentioned before, court cases are frequently a source of examples I structure to illustrate the learning objectives.
Another important aspect of the "talking points" is to develop questions designed to reinforce the learning objectives!
· Finally, remember that concrete examples of a point established by a Learning Objective are really critical to the students' understanding of the issue. Here's one example I used in my Progressive Loss session:
Text on Slide:
Delayed Discovery Rule
Suit Condition Trigger
Manifestation of Appreciable Damage
Example of Talking Points:
Consider this loss scenario:
Wind damage to the roof
Minor water staining
More extensive interior water damage
Later discovered Mold
I posed this question to my audience: "How many people think the wind damage was a 'manifestation of appreciable damage'?" An attendee answered my question with a request for more information -- "How much wind damage was there?" Perfect! That response lent itself to further discussion of what do we really mean by 'appreciable damage' and how they would apply that standard to 'real life' losses. I then polled the audience on how many felt the minor water staining constituted the 'manifestation of appreciable damage'. The same approach was taken with the two remaining manifestations of damage (more severe water damage and mold). This method generated participation by many of the students and really helped prove the point that because the "manifestation of appreciable damage" is a factually driven question, it’s important for the claim professional to gather and carefully document the proof pertinent to resolving this critical question.
I also think it’s helpful to use a remote to advance your slides. That way, you will not be tempted to stand behind the podium or right next to your laptop. My style is to move around the room. While this does not work for everyone, I find it conducive to generating participation amongst the attendees I've met right before the session started.
Another good idea is to generate a handout of your slides so that your attendees can take notes during the session. Again, active learners are more likely to retain what they learn.
Your topic - Progressive Losses - stymies adjusters at every level of experience. Is there a presentation pointer you can share regarding how to maintain the interest of an audience with varying levels of adjusting experience?
Review the list of attendees to learn about the experience level of the audience. [PLRB provides electronic access to this list prior to your session. The list shows the name and title of the attendees.]
During the meet & greet, engage the audience in conversation to refine your understanding of the attendees' familiarity with the topic. That pre-session meet & greet will arm you with the knowledge to capitalize on the collective knowledge in the room as you look to engage appropriate participants during the session.
Where you have mostly senior level attendees, establish the foundation upon which the discussion will be based and spend the majority of the session conducting a higher level learning opportunity.
Public speaking . . . any final pointers on how to prepare for the "show"?
First, the presenter needs to develop competence and confidence as a subject matter expert. Next, he or she needs adult-level teaching skills. In other words, presenters need not only to know their stuff, but be able effectively (and interestingly) convey "it" (the targets defined by the Learning Objectives) to their audience. Hopefully, the participants come away not with just useful new substantive knowledge, but practical guidance (tips) about how they can put that newfound knowledge to immediate use in their daily work.
Active learners are better learners (and ultimately happier learners!). Does a method that involves engaging the students entail greater risk? Of course. But, it also bears much greater rewards!
What if the attendee stumps you just as the curtain goes up? (Or, perhaps even worse, once you are in full swing, in full view of the entire class (of potential clients!)...?)
Well, it could happen, but that's where good preparation pays off (just like in trial). My first "tactic" in response would be to "challenge" the audience (other students) with the question, and ask them what they think - then attempt to use the (hopefully brilliant and useable) ideas generated by that discussion to further explore / resolve the question (while buying myself time to think). Ultimately, however, we all need to be prepared to say: "Hum, that's a good question. I hadn't thought about that before. Let me think about that (or look into that, or some other alternative) and get back to you."
Do you think most presenters shy away from this engagement process for fear of this risk, or simply because they are unaware of the value it adds to the seminar? Or, because he/she is of the opinion that he/she is the expert. Period."
Probably "yes" to all of the above, depending on the presenter....
As a presenter, you do have to worry about audience participation unduly consuming your budgeted time; since interaction enhances the learning experience, however, and therefore is one of the goals, you must plan/budget for student participation. Plan for the possibility for getting sidetracked! Gracefully remain in control, and guide the learning experience in the direction of your Learning Objectives in a constructive & positive sort of way. Enjoy the opportunity to share your knowledge!
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Thank you Doug!
We look forward to working with you in Seattle!