Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 2012

One On One: William Pelster

Susan Sarfati
part of the analysis we did about what constitutes great learning, we went back and researched our internal results. We found that when students experience face-to-face interaction in the classroom, their learning is superior. It is relevant that facilitators speak their language. They are guiding discussions on topics they understand because they are actually living the situations - 95 percent of all our instructors are Deloitte senior managers and partners who experienced a train-the-trainer program.

If you are bringing in Deloitte leaders to teach and to guide conversations among the employees, where is the opportunity for innovative thinking?

It depends on the intended learning outcome. There are some programs where we would not want innovation. For instance, if the core of the simulation is around how to conduct an audit, this is not the place to innovate. It is about developing the core skills. If the learning is on the consulting side - for individuals who are looking at new markets - that...lends itself to creative thinking.

How do you handle the second?

Again, facilitation is designed to listen to - not to prejudge - the outcomes. One of the simulations we do is for our industry programs. If I am working in the field of aerospace and defense, we need people who bring that specific knowledge to the clients. One of the ways we teach this is to invite you to run a company in the aerospace and defense business. We run a series of simulations where you actually are on the executive committee and your team of five is the CEO, director of development, and so on. You run that company through a series of three-year cycles. You make decisions - it is a complex game. 

You can take many different avenues, and that is where creativity comes into play. As a prerequisite to be invited to that program, you create a white paper and a point of view by doing independent research just like a master’s degree thesis. You document and present the research. We stimulate creativity and individual thinking with rigor. 

What have you learned about adult learning that can be transferred to conferences?

One very simple but important idea is less talking and more doing. The easy approach often is to create lecture formats and invite popular speakers to address the audience. However, adults learn best when they are actually doing and applying skills. The quicker you can get them to grasp and take responsibility for the intent of the learning program and apply themselves - that is huge, and the bedrock of what we do at DU. 

I can talk about swimming all day long, but until I throw you into the deep end of the swimming pool, I don’t know if you can swim or not. So at DU, we stop talking about swimming and we actually swim. 

Adults would rather sit and listen, but they get very motivated if you offer the right experiential learning. People are always looking for easy answers - Give me the list, give me the insight. We can give that to you all day long. The key is, how do you apply it and are you really masterful at it? It is one thing to know it intellectually, it is yet another to have the skills to actually perform well.

It is very hard to assess if learning has taken place at conferences, because attendees are participating on a voluntary basis. What would you advise?

You are touching on the “stickiness” of training. We create online forums that allow individuals to continue the learning at various touch points during the year. We share successes and best-practice stories to keep the learning fresh. 

The second thing that associations can do is to actually connect with the learner 90 days after the learning takes place. Remind them what they learned and ask if they are applying it. This will do two things - refresh the learning and remind them that they actually attended a learning session. It also will raise their awareness about applying the techniques. The results should only go back to the individual, without including [his or her] supervisor. 

With all our learning programs, I ask two very specific questions: 1) What is the business problem we are trying to solve?, and 2) How do we know if we are successful? Until we can answer those questions, we don’t fund or build it. 

What advice would you give people who are creating learning in voluntary organizations?

One of the things that I encourage our learning designers to think about is the brand of their particular learning and to think as a brand specialist. In addition to solving the business problem, what is the buzz that is potentially to come out of this program? If you think as a traditional learning designer, you are thinking about the learning outcomes. It is very linear. Think instead in a nonlinear manner. It has to be foundationally great, but what is the sizzle?

More Resources

Deloitte uses Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation model to measure the impact of its training sessions, in terms of participant reaction, learning, behavior, and results. 

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