I helped to judge a series of business presentations in a business case competition earlier this week, and I offer here several observations.
The case in question involved financial analysis and required a recommended course of action.
In terms of presentation substance, I find these types of finance-based competitions of high caliber, with fine-grained and sophisticated analysis.
And I expect it . . . these are top-notch MBA students with work experience and especially powerful motivation to not only invest in a rigorous MBA program but to put their skills to the test publicly in the fire of business case competition.
The Finance Business Case Competition
My colleagues, who specialize in the wizardry of finance, ensure that no idle comment goes unchallenged, no misplaced decimal escapes detection. That no unusual explanation goes unexplored.
At the higher-level finals competition, this fine-toothed comb catches few errors . . . because few errors exist to be caught. These are top-notch students, imbued with a passion for the artistry of a company’s financial structure and operations. Along this dimension, the teams are relatively well-matched.
But stylistically, much remains to improve.
And if you believe that “style” is somehow unimportant, you err fatally with regard to the success of your presentation.
By style, I mean all of the orchestrated elements of your business presentation that combine to create the desired outcome – emotional involvement with your message, a compelling story, and acceptance of your conclusions – all explained in an especially powerful way that transmits competence and confidence. And in this sense, style becomes substance in a business case competition.
So, while the substantive content level of the top teams in competition is often superb, style differentiates the finest from the rest and can determine the competition winner.
To enter that top rank of presenters, note these common pathologies that afflict most teams of presenters, both MBA students and young executives.
I don’t mean actual clearing of the throat here. Unfortunately, many teams engage in endless introductions, expressions of gratitude to the audience, even chattiness with regard to the task at hand. Get to the point. Immediately. State your business.
Deliver a problem statement . . . and then your recommendation, up-front. With this powerful introductory method, your presentation takes on more clarity in the context of your already-stated conclusion.
2) Lack of confidence
Lack of confidence is revealed in several ways, some of them subconscious. Uptalk, a fad among young people, undermines even the best substance because of its constant plaintive beg for validation. Dancing from foot to foot, little dances around the platform, the interjection of “you know” and “you know what I mean” wear away the power of your message like a whetstone.
3) Unreadable PowerPoint slides
The visuals are unreadable because of small fonts and insufficient contrast between numbers/letters and the background. Ugly spreadsheets dominate the screen to no purpose. This sends the audience scrambling to shuffle through “handouts” instead of focusing attention on the points you want to emphasize. You have created a distraction. You have created a competitor for your attention that takes focus off your presentation.
4) Ineffective interaction with visuals
Rare is the student who interacts boldly with his or her slides. Touching the screen, guiding our eyes to what is important and ensuring that we understand. Instead, we often see the dreaded laser pointer, one of the most useless tools devised for presentation work (unless the screen is so massive that you cannot reach an essential visual that must be pointed out).
The laser pointer divides your audience attention three ways – to the presenter, to the slide material, and to the light itself, which tends to bounce uncontrollably about the screen. I forbid the use of laser pointers in my classes as a useless affectation.
I have said that the business case competition no time for modesty or mediocrity.
The Business Case Competition is your chance to demonstrate a wide range of corporate business skills in a collaborative effort. You receive recognition, valuable experience, sometimes monetary reward, and perhaps an open door to corporate employment.
Work on correcting the most common errors, and you have started the journey to competition excellence.
See The Complete Guide to Business Presenting for an entire chapter on winning case competitions.