Category Archives: Group Presentations

Presentation Preparation – The Second P

Presentation Preparation - the Right Way
The Right Kind of Presentation Preparation is Key

The right kind of presentation preparation lays the groundwork for spectacular performance.

Squeeze the most from your prep time, and try doing it this way . . .

Let’s say you are assigned the ToughBolt business case to analyze and to provide your recommendations in a business presentation.

Your first task is to prepare the business presentation . . .  the right way.

After all, you’re performing before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation . . . and you get one shot to get it right.  Shouldn’t it be your best shot?

Presentation Preparation for your Best Shot

Your group has produced a written analysis.  It’s finished.

What now?

How do you “prepare?”

“Prepare” has such a sterile sound.  Almost vacuous.

And yet too many students stumble over this most mundane of activities.  They rush.

They fumble.  They grope blindly.  Perhaps you grope blindly . . . and decide at the end to “wing it.”

But here is where you tuck away one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.  Here you apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.

Presentation Preparation
Presentation Preparation invests you with confidence

Your task is clear.  It’s time to present your conclusions to an audience in the most direct and cogent manner possible.

And in this task is embodied a verity for you to internalize.

Your business presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.

Your business presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

It’s a different mode of communication.

Do you wonder how this is possible, since you prepare the business presentation from a written report?  How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?

They are different in the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.

How Different?

It’s different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.

You operate in a different medium.

You have time constraints.

A group is receiving your message.

A group is delivering the message.

You have almost no opportunity for repeat.

You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.

In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable.  You’re far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controlled.

Look at the chart below.

Prepare the Business Presentation aside from your written report

These differences between the written report and the business presentation are, to many people, insignificant.

Many folks believe that there is no difference.

And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.”  It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.

As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency.  People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.

Numbers Trump All?

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .

The more numbers, the better.

The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide . . . the better.

Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.

It’s wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.

Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it. Rid your presentation of chart junk. Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Perhaps you’ve said that?  I’ve certainly heard it.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Think Hard before your Prepare the Business Presentation
Presentation Preparation?

Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting is irrelevant to your task.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.

Business cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you.

Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.

No one cares if they “interest” you.

That’s not the point.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics.  But what’s an “interesting” topic?

I have found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics.  They don’t recognize them as interesting.

And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic as they prepare the business presentation.

And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.

Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.

Face it.  If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic.  You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.

Let’s shed that attitude.

Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.

Crank up Interest

How do you generate interest?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:

[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.

The typical start to a presentation project is . . .

. . . procrastination.

You put it off as a daunting task.  Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.”  Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”

Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes.  What is your actual task here as you prepare the business presentation?

Think about it.

How do you usually approach the task?  How do you characterize it?

Here is my guess at how you approach it.

You define your task as:

“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”

In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.”  And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.

Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.”  They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.

And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum.

If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task.

You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.

The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail.  And this result is predictable.

Your slides are crammed with information.

You talk fast to force all the points in.  You run over-time.

You fail.

You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation.  This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology.  The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth this way:

He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it.  If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.

Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard.  In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”

“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture.

A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.

But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.

Your Procrustean Solution

Take a Procrustean approach and forge an especially powerful presentation.  Consider this:

We have no choice in the length of our presentation.  It’s four minutes.  Or five minutes.

That’s our Procrustean Bed.  So let’s manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience in our presentation preparation.

We’re not stretching someone or something.  And we’re not hacking off legs.

We are using our minds and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.

And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation.  Pick only three major points that you want to make.

Procrustes Would Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way

Here is your task now:

Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes.  If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.

Why do we do this?  Here’s why:

If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.

They turn off and tune you out.  You will lose them, and you will fail.

Presenting too many points is worse than delivering only one point.

Especially Powerful Paucity

If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it.  None of it.  And you irritate your audience mercilessly.

Your presentation should present the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.

The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.

You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it.  You want the audience to remember your conclusions.

You take information and transforming it into intelligence.  You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.

You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.

You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus to find the nuggets.  When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you?

Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand?

Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytic gold to your client.

As you prepare the business presentation, you sift through mountains of information, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.

Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

Discover more on Especially Powerful Presentation Preparation in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Build Your Business Presentation

How to Build a Business Presentation
Build a Business Presentation that Exudes Power

Build an especially powerful Business Presentation with this simple structure:  Beginning . . . Middle . . . End.

Every presentation – every superb story – has this framework.

Let me rephrase.

Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.

You should build a business presentation, whether individual or group, according to this structure.

Beginning . . . Middle . . . End

If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well.  Your segment has this structure.

In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.

In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes, during that four-minute span, you tell your story that has a beginning, middle, and an end.

In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation.  The first speaker delivers the beginning.  The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle.  The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”

Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.

How to Build a Business Presentation
Build a Business Presentation that Convinces

This framework is not the only way you can build your business presentation.

You can be innovative.  You can be daring, fresh, and new.

You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a false sense of “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.

Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.

Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.

Build a Business Presentation to Withstand the Fire

Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.

It’s an especially powerful structure, and I suggest you use it to build your presentation in the initial stages.

You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to build a business presentation structure to better suit your material.

Please do so.  But do so with careful thought and good reason.

And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.

One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends.  You should Bookend your show.

This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.

Hence, the term “Bookends.”  And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.

Build a business presentation within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.

To learn more on how to build an especially powerful business presentation that has power and impact, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Case Competition Preparation . . . Step II

Business Case Competition Preparation is key to victory
Business Case Competition Preparation is key to victory

Phase 2 of your business case competition preparation begins when you’re issued the case.

Recognize that the nature of this case may differ from what you are accustomed to.

It could be more incomplete and open-ended than the structured cases you’ve dealt with before.

In fact, it could be a contemporary real-world case with no “solution.”  It could be a case crafted especially for the competition by the competition sponsor.

Business Case Competition Preparation

Your first step – your team members read the case once-through for general information and understanding.

You inventory issues.

You define the magnitude of the task at hand.

Here, you draw a philosophical and psychological box around the case.  You encompass its main elements.

You make it manageable.

Business Case Competition Preparation is your Edge
Business Case Competition Preparation Readies you for any Challenge

You avoid time-burn in discussions of unnecessarily open-ended questions.  Your discussion proceeds on defining the problem statement.

At this point, your expertise and skills gained in years of business schooling should guide you to develop your analysis and recommendations.

The difference in acumen and skill sets among teams in a competition is usually small, so I assume that every business team will produce analytical results and recommendations that are capable of winning the competition.  This includes your team, of course.

Victory or Defeat?

The quality of teams is high, and the output of analysis similar.  This means that victory is rarely determined by the quality of the material itself.

Instead, victory and defeat ride on the clarity, logic, power, and persuasiveness of the public presentation of that material.  I have seen great analyses destroyed or masked by bad presentations.

The Presentation is the final battlefield where the competition is won or lost.

And so we devote minimum time here on the preparation of your arguments.  Many fine books can help you sharpen analysis.  This post concerns how you translate your written results into a powerful presentation that is verbally and visually compelling.

We are concerned here with the key to your competition victory.

Here is your competitive edge:  While 95 percent of teams will view their presentations as a simple modified version of the written paper that they submit, your team attacks the competition armed with the tools and techniques of Power Presenting.

You understand that the presentation is a distinct and different communication tool than the written analysis.

Your own business case competition preparation distinguishes you in dramatic and substantive ways.  This translates into a nuanced, direct, and richly textured presentation.

One that captivates as well as persuades.

Cut ’n’ Paste Combatants

Many teams cut-and-paste their written paper/summary into the presentation, unchanged.  This usually makes for a heinous presentation that projects spreadsheets and bullet points and blocks of text on a screen.

These monstrosities obscure more than they communicate.  It is a self-handicap and a horrendous mistake.

Sure, at times you will see winning presentations that do this – I see them myself on occasion.  This usually happens for one of several reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of the visual presentation . . .

1) Substance trumps:  The business analysis and recommendation is substantially better than all other entries and overcomes deficiencies in presentation.

2) Mimicry:  All entries utilize Business Case Competition Preparation front-loads your competitive edgethe same defective method of cutting-and-pasting the final report onto PowerPoint slides.  This levels the playing field to a lowest common denominator of visual and verbal poverty.

Don’t present all the fruits of your analysis.

Too much information and too many details can cripple your initial presentation.  Remember – hold back details for use and explication during the Q&A period.

A parsimonious presentation should deliver your main points.

Deciding what to leave out of your initial presentation can be as important as deciding what to include and emphasize.

For in-depth training on the Case Competition, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Next . . . Phase 3

Business Case Competition Season is Here

Your Business Case competition Guide, the source of competitive advantage

Business Case Competitions usually launch in the spring, so now is the time to prepare.

The key to doing well in business case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand by following your case competition guide.

Before you ever travel to the site of the competition.

Before they ever give you the sealed envelope with your business case enclosed.

This is much easier than you might imagine.  You begin by consulting your case competition guide.  And the guide starts with the Three Ps of Presenting.

The Three Ps of Business Presentations provide a roadmap to ready you for your competition.

Principles . . . Preparation . . . Practice

Principles.

You don’t start tuning your instrument for the first time when it’s time to perform a concert.  Likewise, you don’t begin honing your presentation skills when it’s time to present.

By the time of your competition, all of your team members should be thoroughly grounded in the principles of especially powerful presentations.

The principles offered here in this case competition guide.

This part of your competition prep should already be accomplished, with only a few review sessions to ensure everyone is sharp on the Seven Secrets.  These secrets are Stance . . . Voice . . . Gesture . . . Expression . . . Movement . . . Appearance . . . Passion.

Second, Preparation

Our case competition guide divides the preparation for the competition into three phases.

Phase 1:  Lead-in to the Competition

You are made aware of the competition’s rules.  You acknowledge and embrace the rules and what they imply.  Your entire team should become intimately familiar with the parameters of the competition – think metaphorically and spacially.

Recognize that the problem has length and breadth and depth.  Understand the finite limits of the context presented to you.  Know what you can and cannot do.  Think of it as an empty decanter that you fill with your analysis and conclusions on the day of the competition.

Later, upon receiving the actual Case, you will conduct the same process.  Recognize that the Business Case has length and breadth and depth.

But now, prior to the competition, take stock of what you already know you must do.  Then do most of it beforehand as the rules permit.

This includes embracing the problem situation long before you arrive on-site for a competition and before you receive the case in question.  Learn the parameters of the context in which you operate.  The case competition guide breaks the competition environment into discrete elements:

Competition rules

Length of presentation

Total time available (set-up, presenting, Q&A, Close-out)

Number of presenters allowed or required

Visuals permitted or required

Sources you may use, both beforehand and during the problem-solving phase

Prohibitions

You know that you are required to provide analysis of a case and your results and recommendations.  Why not prepare all that you can before you arrive at the competition?

Some competitions may frown on this or forbid it . . . fine, then do it when you can, at the first point that it is permissible.  This way, you spend the majority of your case analysis time filling in the content.

Follow the Business Case Competition Guide

Prepare your slide template beforehand according to the principles expounded here.

Business presentations have a small universe of scenarios and limited number of elements that comprise those scenarios.  A well-prepared team composed of team members from different functional areas will have generic familiarity with virtually any case assigned in a competition.

The team should have no problems dealing with any case it is presented.

Determine beforehand who will handle – generally – the presentation tasks on your team as well as the analytic portions of your case.  The following is offered as an example of how the task might be approached:

Your Business Case competition Guide

As part of this initial process, prepare your slide template with suitable logos, background, killer graphics, and charts and graphs requiring only that the numbers be filled in.

Leading into the competition, it’s essential that your team be familiar with sources of data that you may be permitted to utilize in conducting your case analysis.  Market research, industry surveys, and such like.

Be familiar with online databases like Business Source PremierMergent Online, and S&P NetAdvantage, because not all schools may have access to the data sources you use most often.

No Place for the Unprepared

With respect to the delivery or your presentation itself, a business case competition is not the occasion for you to polish your delivery skills.  You should have honed them to razor’s edge by now.

As well, perfect your orchestration as a team before arriving at the site of the competition.

At the competition, you lift your performance to the next level in terms of application of all the principles, precepts, and hard skills you learned in business school.  Finance, accounting, marketing, operations, strategy, analysis.

You apply them in a tightly orchestrated and professional presentation that pops.

If you have engaged the business case competition guide successfully during the lead-up to the competition, your taut case-cracking team will be ready when you finally receive the case.

A team ready to address the issues involved in the case problem.

COMING UP . . . PHASE 2

Access all of the secrets of masterful business presenting by consulting your business case competition guide:  The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Surviving Group Presentation Problems . . . Part II

groupOne thing you know for a fact is that when you engage in “group work,” you encounter group presentation problems.

Lots of them.

But recognize that your group has been assembled with a professional purpose in mind, not to make your life miserable.

Tackle those Group Presentation Problems

You will disagree with each other on aspects of the presentation.

How you disagree and how you resolve those disagreements for the good of the team and of your presentation is as important as the presentation itself.

It’s essential that you maintain civil relations, if not cordial relations, with others in the group – don’t burn bridges.  You don’t want to engender dislike for people, perhaps for the rest of your life.

The people in the various group projects will form an important part of your network in years to come.  Remember that the relationship is paramount, the presentation itself is secondary.

The Arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

Your job is to craft a group experience, assign responsibilities, develop a reasonable schedule.  Some members of your group will make time commitment choices that do not appear aligned with the objectives of the group.

You will hear phrases such as “I’m not able to be at the meeting.”  You may hear the outright arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

This, of course, is simply a choice to be somewhere else to spend time in other pursuits, because everyone has the same amount of time, no more and no less. Different people make different choices about the use of their time.  Recognize that this will happen and that it is neither good nor bad – it is simply the hand that you are dealt.

How you react to it will in large part determine the success of your group.  One part of your job to properly motivate others to contribute to the group goal.

I always communicate to my students what to expect in a 5-person group.  The 2-2-1 rule usually holds.  Two people work hard, two cooperate and are damned happy to be there, and one rarely shows up, because he or she has a “busy schedule.”

Another popular take on it is to apply the Pareto 80-20 rule:  Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people.  The corollary, of course, is that 80 percent of group presentation problems are caused by 20 percent of the people.  A different 20 percent.

“But that’s not fair!”

That’s reality.  Is it “fair?”  Maybe or maybe not, but that’s a question for philosophers of distributive justice and irrelevant to the imperatives of group work.

Regardless of how you couch it, do not take your group woes to the professor for solution.  Your professor knows well what you face.  He wants you to sort it out.

You must sort it out, because your prof is not your parent.  Your professor won’t appreciate it any more than your CEO or VP superior at your company appreciates solving your personnel issues . . . repeatedly.  It reflects badly on you and gives an impression of weakness.

Moreover, if you begin to focus heavily on who’s not carrying their “fair share,” then that becomes the dominant theme of your group dynamic rather than that of accomplishing your group goal.

And such misplaced focus and animosity reflects badly in the final product.

Keep these guiding principles in mind as you chart your course through the labyrinth of group presentation problems.  Every group is different, temporary, and frustrating in it’s own way.

Don’t allow the briars of this ephemeral activity catch your clothing and slow you down from your ultimate goal.

More on effective and satisfying group work in coming posts . . . and right here, in the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Survive the Group Presentation . . . Part I

The Group Presentation can challenge us

Why We Have Problems with the group presentation . . .

You find all sorts of problems in group work.  Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows this.

Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you? Others cause problems, because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?

Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.

Unpredictability of the Group Presentation

The first major challenge is the unpredictability of your situation.

One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability.  The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect.

It’s bad enough to face the unknown variables of case analysis and its attendant presentation, but then several other variables join the mix in the form of other people.

We all prefer to control our own destiny.  Most all of us want to be judged on our own work. We like to work alone.  This is very much the craftsman’s view.

Our labors are important to us.

We take pride in our work.

But with group work, the waters muddy.  It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what.  Consequently, we worry about who gets the credit.

We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.

The Group Presentation can Befuddle UsWe begin to worry that our contribution will be overlooked.

We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs.

We see ourselves becoming submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened.

How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do?

How will they know our contribution?  With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply.  Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?

The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and schedule coordination.

Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often work part-time, must somehow work together.  Moreover, you may be involved in several classes that require group projects. And you invariably are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.”

So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.

Why the Group Presentation?  It’s a Complex World

The group presentation isn’t easy.  It can be downright painful.

Infuriating. It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.

So why do your professors require them?  Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?

You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons.  One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load.  The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers.  This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students.  There are three big problems with this.

First, by definition, individual work is not group work.  If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.

Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses.  The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace.

Frankly, this is the way it should be.

Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared andThe Challenging Group Presentation half-heartedly delivered.

While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes must watch 20 presentations or more in course of a semester and then evaluate them.

I assure you that this can be an unpleasant experience.

The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this:  You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world.  In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider.

So why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?

The days of the business generalist are all but dead in corporate America.  Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant.  This means, from a practical standpoint, that we cannot produce major products by ourselves.

There is little doubt that you will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation.  You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm.  This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.

These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm.  Major tasks are divided and divided again.  Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.

So we must work with others.  The globalized and complex business context demands it.

In Part II, I show you how to not only survive the Group Presentation, but how to thrive and turn it into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.

The Business Case Competition – Winning

Business Case Competition for Personal Competitive Advantage

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.

1)  Throat-clearing

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.

Powerful Business Presentation Structure

Beginning . . . Middle . . . End.  Business presentation structureEvery presentation structure should reflect this framework.

Let me rephrase.

Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.

Every presentation, whether individual or group, should be organized according to this structure.

Beginning . . . Middle . . . End

If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well.

Your segment has this structure.

In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.

In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes; during that four-minute span, you tell your story that has a beginning, middle, and an end.

Consider Your Business Presentation Structure

In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation.  The first speaker delivers the beginning.  The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle.  The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”

Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.

Business Presentation Structure

This framework is not the only way you can build your presentation.  You can be innovative.  You can be daring, fresh, and new.

You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a sense of ersatz “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.

Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.

Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.

Tested in the Fire

Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.

I suggest you use it to build your presentation structure in the initial stages.

You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to alter the structure to better suit your material.  Please do so.  But do so with careful thought and good reason.

And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.

One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends.  You should Bookend your show.

This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.

Hence, the term “Bookends.”  And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.

Build your story within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.

For more on especially powerful business presentation structure, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Presentation Openings

The Presentation Opening
The Presentation Opening sets the tone for your Business Presentation

Of course you know how to begin a business presentation with a powerful presentation opening.

The Presentation Opening is surely easy.

Right?

But do you really know how to launch a powerful presentation?

Consider for a moment . . .

Don’t Tiptoe

Do you begin confidently and strongly?  Or do you tiptoe into your presentation opening, as do so many people in school and in the corporate world?

Do you sidle into it?  Do you edge sideways into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing.

Do you back into it?

Do you actually start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points?  Is your story even relevant?  Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?

Do you shift and dance?

Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown?  Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker?

Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices.

A Bad Presentation Opening

I viewed a practice presentation that purported to analyze a Walmart case.  The lead presenter was Janie.  She began speaking, and she related facts about the history of the company and its accomplishments over the past 40 years.

She spoke in monotone.  She flashed a timeline on the screen.

Little pictures and graphics highlighted her points.

I wondered at what all of this might mean.

I waited for a linking thread.

Craft a superb presentation opening
Grab Your Audience with The Presentation Opening

I waited for her main point.  As the four-minute mark approached, my brow furrowed.  The linking thread had not come.

The linking thread would never come . . . it dawned on me that she had no point.  At the end of her segment, I asked a gentle question.

“Janie, what was that beginning all about?  How did your segment relate to Wal-Mart’s strategic challenges in the case at hand?”

“Those were just random facts,” she said.

“Random facts?”

“Yes!” she said brightly.

And she was quite ingenuous about it.

The Wrong Presentation Opening

She was reciting “random facts,” and she thought that it was acceptable to begin a business case presentation this way.  I do not say this to disparage her.

Not at all.

In fact, she later became one of my most coachable students, improving her presentation skills tremendously.

She has since progressed to graduate school.  And now she delivers powerful presentation openings.

But what could convince a student that an assembly of “random facts” is acceptable at the beginning of a presentation?  Is it the notion that anything you say for a presentation opening is okay?

Let’s go over the beginning, shall we?

Together, let’s craft a template beginning that you can always use, no matter what your show is about.  When you become comfortable with it, you can then modify it to suit the occasion.

You begin with your presentation opening.  Here, you present the Situation Statement.

The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear.  It’s the reason you and your audience are there.  What do you tell them?

The audience has gathered to hear about a problem and its proposed solution.  Or to hear of success and how it will continue.  Or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.

Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here.  Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk.  Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.

Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement

A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow!  It focuses everyone on the topic.

Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk.  Don’t tip-toe into it.  Don’t be vague.  Don’t clutter your presentation opening with endless apologetics or thank yous.

What do I mean by this?  Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign. Do not start this way:

“Good morning, how is everyone doing?  Good.  Good!  It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity.  I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia.  Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation.  Again, thank you for your attention and time.  We’re hoping that—”

No . . . no . . . and no.

Direct and to-the-point is best. Pow!

Try starting this way:

Craft a powerful presentation opening for energy
Especially Powerful hooks and grabbers for your presentation opening

“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2013 and increase our market share by another 10 percent.  A campaign to lead us into the next four quarters to result in a much stronger and competitive market position 12  months from now.”

You see?  This is not the best intro, but it’s solid.  No “random facts.”  No wasted words.

No metaphorical throat-clearing.

No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.  Just an especially powerful and direct statement of the reason you are there.

Put the Pow in Power!

Now, let’s add some Pow to it.  A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:

“Even as we sit here today, changes in the business environment attack our firm’s competitive position three ways.  How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival or collapse.  Our recommended response?  Aggressive growth.

“We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and what our marketing team will do about it to retain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”

Remember in any story, there must be change.

The very reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.  We must explain this change.  We must craft a response to this change.  And we must front-load our intro to include our recommendation.

That is why you have assembled your team.  To explain the threat or the opportunity.  To provide your analysis.  To provide your recommendations.

Remember, put Pow into your beginning.  Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive.

Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.

For more on crafting an especially powerful presentation opening, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

How to Pass the Baton in Your Business Presentation

Pass the Baton
Musical Chairs during a Business Presentation is a formula for failure . . . practice how you pass the baton!

One of the least-practiced aspects of the group presentation is how you pass the baton – the transition between speakers.

Yet these baton-passing linkages within your presentation are incredibly important.

They connect the conclusion of one segment and the introduction of the next.

Shouldn’t this connecting link be as strong as possible, so that your audience receives the intended message?  So the message isn’t lost in a flurry of scurrying presenters moving about the stage in unpracticed, chaotic fashion?

Don’t Lose Your Message!

It sounds absurd, but group members often develop their individual presentation segments on their own, and then the group tries to knit them together on the day of the group show.

This is a formula for disaster.

The result is a bumbling game of musical chairs and hot-baton-passing.  Imagine a sports team that prepared for its games this way, with each player practicing his role individually and the players coming together as a team only on the day of the game and expecting the team to work together seamlessly.

Sports teams don’t practice this way.  Serious people don’t practice this way.

Don’t you practice this way.

Don’t yield to the tendency on the part of a team of three or four people to treat the presentation as a game of musical chairs.

Pass the Baton Without Musical Chairs

This happens when each member presents a small chunk of material, and the presenters take turns presenting.  Lots of turns.   This “pass the baton” can disconcert your audience and can upend your show.

Minimize the passing of the baton and transitions, particularly when each person has only three or four minutes to present.

Pass the Baton!
To pass the baton in a presentation is no easy task . . . it takes preparation and the right kind of practice

I have also noticed a tendency to rush the transition between speakers.

Often, a presenter will do fine until the transition to the next topic.  At that point, before finishing, the speaker turns while continuing to talk, and the last sentence or two of the presentation segment is lost.

The speaker walks away while still talking.  While still citing a point.  Perhaps an incredibly important point.

Don’t rush from the stage.  Stay planted in one spot until you finish.

Savor your conclusion, the last sentence of your portion, which should reiterate your Most Important Point.

Introduce your next segment.  Then transition.  Then pass the baton with authority.

Harmonize your Messages

Your message itself must mesh well with the other segments of your show.

Each presenter must harmonize  the message with the others of a business presentation.  These individual parts should make sense as a whole, just as parts of a story all contribute to the overall message.

“On the same page” . . .  “Speaking with one voice” . . .    These are the metaphors that urge us to message harmony.  This means that one member does not contradict the other when answering questions.

It means telling the same story and contributing crucial parts of that story so that it makes sense.

This is not the forum to demonstrate that team members are independent thinkers or that diversity of opinion is a good thing.

Moreover, everyone should be prepared to deliver a serviceable version of the entire presentation, not just their own part.  This is against the chance that one or more of the team can’t present at the appointed time.  Cross-train in at least one other portion of the presentation.

Remember:  Harmonize your messages . . . Speak with one voice . . . Pass the baton smoothly.

You can find more discussion on how to pass the baton in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your key to personal competitive advantage in business school and beyond.

Finance: Worshiping at the Altar of Numbers

Finance students can gain competitive advantage with superior presentations
Look beyond the cliches and standard presentations to deliver especially powerful finance presentations

Whether the presentation class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . . or Singapore . . . I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students everywhere—

“Finance is different.”

“We don’t do all of that soft-skill kumbaya presentations stuff.”

“For us, the numbers tell the story.”

Worshiping at the Altar of Finance

Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language, less subject to manipulation.

In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort, an income statement serves as anchor.

For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric.  This illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.

Finance presentations are somehow harder, more firmly rooted in . . . well, rooted in the very stuff of business.

The Finance Myth Exploded

But this is an illusion.  The result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.

Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.

Finance presentations need presentation techniques more than any other business field
Adopt the techniques of the presentation masters to deliver masterful presentations

We all are subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast, demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.

As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.

The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica.

It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.

Finance Presentation Hell

In fact, many finance presentations crumble into little more than meeting “discussions” about a printed analysis distributed beforehand, picked apart by jackals with nothing on their minds except proving themselves worthier than those who might be unlucky enough to be the presenter du jour.

Finance presentations seem to offer nothing save the opportunity for public posturing and one-upmanship.

A presenter or group of presenters stands and shifts uncomfortably while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of gotcha questions, usually couched to demonstrate the mastery of the questioner rather than to elicit any worthy piece of information.

Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life, and we spell out several of them in tomorrow’s post . . .

Meanwhile, you can find my in-depth treatment of how to wrestle and subdue the finance presentation beast in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Surviving the Group Presentation

Personal Competitive Advantage in group presentations
Group Presentations can test our collaboration skills

“How come I never get a good group?”

Who hasn’t uttered this pitiful refrain during business school when laboring over a group presentation?

Leaving aside the conceit of faux martyrdom for a moment, let’s recognize that group work is a necessity in the 21st century business world.  Your group has been assembled with a professional purpose in mind, not to make your life miserable.

The Group Presentation Ethos

Hold in your heart, the group presentation ethos, which is to drive forward to your common goal regardless of personal differences.

You will disagree with each other on aspects of the presentation.  How you disagree and how you resolve those disagreements for the good of the team and of your presentation is as important as the presentation itself.

It’s essential that you maintain civil relations, if not cordial relations, with others in the group – don’t burn bridges.

You don’t want to engender dislike for people, perhaps for the rest of your life.  The people in the various group projects will form an important part of your network in years to come.

Remember that the relationship is paramount.  The group presentation itself is secondary.

The Arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

Your job is to craft a group experience, assign responsibilities, develop a reasonable schedule.  Some group members will make time commitment choices that do not appear aligned with your group objectives.  You hear phrases such as “I can’t make the meeting.”  You may hear the outright arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

This, of course, is simply a person’s choice to be somewhere else to spend time in other pursuits.  Everyone has the same amount of time, no more and no less.

Different people make different choices about the use of their time.

Recognize that this will happen and that it is neither good nor bad – it is simply the hand that you are dealt.

How you react to it will in large part determine the success of your group.  One part of your job to properly motivate others to contribute to the group goal.

I always communicate to my students what to expect in a 5-person group.  The 2-2-1 rule will usually hold.

Two people work hard, two cooperate and are damned happy to be there, and one rarely shows up, because he or she has a “busy schedule.”  Another popular take on it is to apply the Pareto 80-20 rule: Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people.

The corollary, of course, is that 80 percent of problems are caused by 20 percent of the people.  A different 20 percent.

Group Presentations Aren’t Fair?

That’s reality.  Is it “fair?”  Maybe or maybe not, but that’s a question for philosophers of distributive justice and irrelevant to the imperatives of group work.

Regardless of how you couch it, do not take your group woes to the professor for solution.  Your professor knows well what you face.  He wants you to sort it out.

You must sort it out, because your professor is not your parent.

Your professor won’t appreciate it any more than your CEO or VP superior at your company appreciates solving your personnel issues . . . repeatedly.  It reflects badly on you and gives an impression of weakness.

Moreover, if you begin to focus heavily on who’s not carrying their “fair share,” then that becomes the dominant theme of your group dynamic rather than that of accomplishing your group goal.

Such misplaced focus and animosity reflects badly in the final product.

Keep these guiding principles in mind as you chart your course through the labyrinth of group work.  Every group is different, temporary, and frustrating in its own way.

Don’t allow the briars of this ephemeral activity catch your clothing and slow you down from your ultimate goal – an especially powerful group presentation.

And consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for more on Group Presentations.

Group Presentation Tips for Power and Impact

Group Presentation Tips Help You Survive
Group Presentation Tip #1: Business School Presentations help you hone your collaboration skills

You find all sorts of problems in group work, so I offer here group presentation tips to help you survive this business school rite of passage.

Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows that group presentations can challenge you in all sorts of ways.

Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you?  Others cause problems, right?  Because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?

Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.

Why We Have Problems with Group Presentations . . .

The first major reason is the unpredictability of your situation.  One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability.  The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect.

And you have the messiness of all those other people to worry about.

We all prefer to control our own destinies.  Most all of us want to be judged on our own work.  We like to work alone.  Our labors are important to us. We take pride in our work.

This is very much the craftsman’s view.

But with group work, the waters muddy.  It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what, and consequently, we worry about who will get the credit.

We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.

Group Presentation Tips Can Help You Survive and Thrive
Group Presentations need not be the torturous ordeals they are made out to be

We worry that our contribution will be overlooked.  We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs.

We see ourselves submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened.

How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do?  How will they know our contribution?

With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply.  Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?

The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and scheduling.  Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often are working part-time, must somehow work together.

Moreover, you may be several classes that require group projects.  And you are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.”

So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.

Why the Group Presentation?  It’s a Complex World

The group presentation is not an easy task.  It can be downright painful.  Infuriating.

It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.

So why do your professors require them?  Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?

You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons.  One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load.

The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers.

This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students.  There are three big problems with this, and consider them supplementary group presentation tips.

Group Presentation Tips to Survive and Thrive

First, by definition, individual work is not group work.  If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.

Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses.  The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace.

Frankly, this is the way it should be.

Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared and half-heartedly delivered.

While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes watches 25 presentations or more during a semester and then evaluates them.

This can be an unpleasant experience.

Embrace Group Work in a Complex World

The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this:  You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world.  In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider.

So as your #1 group presentation tip, why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?

From a practical standpoint, we cannot produce major products by ourselves, because the days of the business generalist are all dead in corporate America.  Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant.

You will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation.

You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm.  This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.

These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm.  Major tasks are divided and divided again.  Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.

So we must work with others.  The globalized and complex business context demands it.

In later posts, I share group presentation tips on how to thrive and turn the group business presentation into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.

For more extensive group presentation tips, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Surviving the Group Presentation . . . PART 2

“How come I never get a good group?”

Recognize that your group has been assembled with a professional purpose in mind, not to make your life miserable.

You will disagree with each other on aspects of the presentationHow you disagree and how you resolve those disagreements for the good of the team and of your presentation is as important as the presentation itself.

It’s essential that you maintain civil relations, if not cordial relations, with others in the group – don’t burn bridges.  You don’t want to engender dislike for people, perhaps for the rest of your life.

The people in the various group projects will form an important part of your network in years to come.  Remember that the relationship is paramount, the presentation itself is secondary.

The Arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

Your job is to craft a group experience, assign responsibilities, develop a reasonable schedule.  Some members of your group will make time commitment choices that do not appear aligned with the objectives of the group.  You hear phrases such as “I can’t make the meeting.”  You may hear the outright arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

This, of course, is simply a choice to be somewhere else to spend time in other pursuits, because everyone has the same amount of time, no more and no less.

Different people make different choices about the use of their time.  Recognize that this will happen and that it is neither good nor bad – it is simply the hand that you are dealt.

How you react to it will in large part determine the success of your group.  One part of your job to properly motivate others to contribute to the group goal.

I always communicate to my students what to expect in a 5-person group. The 2-2-1 rule will usually hold.  Two people work hard, two cooperate and are damned happy to be there, and one rarely shows up, because he or she has a “busy schedule.”  Another popular take on it is to apply the Pareto 80-20 rule: Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people.

The corollary, of course, is that 80 percent of problems are caused by 20 percent of the people.  A different 20 percent.

“But that’s not fair!”

That’s reality.  Is it “fair?”  Maybe or maybe not, but that’s a question for philosophers of distributive justice and irrelevant to the imperatives of group work.

Regardless of how you couch it, do not take your group woes to the professor for solution.  Your professor knows well what you face.  He wants you to sort it out.  You must sort it out, because your prof is not your parent.

Your professor won’t appreciate it any more than your CEO or VP superior at your company appreciates solving your personnel issues . . . repeatedly.  It reflects badly on you and gives an impression of weakness.

Moreover, if you begin to focus heavily on who’s not carrying their “fair share,” then that becomes the dominant theme of your group dynamic rather than that of accomplishing your group goal.

And such misplaced focus and animosity reflects badly in the final product.

Keep these guiding principles in mind as you chart your course through the labyrinth of group work.  Every group is different, temporary, and frustrating in it’s own way.  Don’t allow the briars of this ephemeral activity catch your clothing and slow you down from your ultimate goal – an especially powerful presentation.

Surviving the Group Presentation . . . PART 1

Why We Have Problems with Group Presentations . . .

You find all sorts of problems in group work.  Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows this.

Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you?  Others cause problems, because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?

Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.

The first major reason is the unpredictability of your situation.  One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability.  The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect.

It’s bad enough to face the unknown variables of case analysis and its attendant presentation, but then several other variables are added to the mix in the form of . . .  those pesky other people.

We all prefer to control our own destinies.  Most all of us want to be judged on our own work.  We like to work alone.  This is very much the craftsman’s view.  Our labors are important to us.  We take pride in our work.

But with group work, the waters muddy.  It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what, and consequently, we worry about who will get the credit.

We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.

Collaboration is a fact of life in business presentations . . . if you can master it, you add to your personal competitive advantage

We begin to worry that our contribution will be overlooked.  We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs.

We see ourselves becoming submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened.  How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do?  How will they know our contribution?

With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply.  Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?

The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and schedule coordination.  Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often are working part-time, must somehow work together.  Moreover, you may be involved in several classes that require group projects.  And you invariably are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.”

So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.

Why the Group Presentation? It’s a Complex World

The group presentation is not an easy task.  It can be downright painful.  Infuriating.  It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.

So why do your professors require them?  Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?

You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons.  One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load.  The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers.  This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students.  There are three big problems with this.

First, by definition, individual work is not group work.  If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.

Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses.  The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace.  Frankly, this is the way it should be.

Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared and half-heartedly delivered.  While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes must watch 25 presentations or more during a semester and then evaluate them.

I assure you that this can be an unpleasant experience.

Embrace Group Work

The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this: You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world.  In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider.  So why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?

The days of the business generalist are all but dead in corporate America. Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant. This means, from a practical standpoint, that we cannot produce major products by ourselves.  There is little doubt that you will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation.

You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm. This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.

These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm. Major tasks are divided and divided again. Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.

So we must work with others. The globalized and complex business context demands it.

In Part II, I show you how to not only survive the Group Presentation, but how to thrive and turn it into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.

“I never get an interesting topic”

“I never get an interesting topic.”

I hear this lament more often that I care to.  There likely has never been more vintage whine or a greater self-inflicted wound than this one, uttered in ignorance of its true meaning.

Here are two scenarios.  Both are possible.

You’re assigned your case, and you skim over it.

Ugh.  It’s not “interesting.”

And you find that you must write a memo on the case, analyzing it and teasing out its implications for the strategic direction of the firm, and then you must work with a group of folks you probably don’t hang out, probably don’t know . . . or even like.  You groan as you don’t recognize the company or the people in the case.

Such an “Old” Case

The case isn’t dated last week, so you think it’s “old.”

You complain that you don’t understand why you’re assigned this “boring” case instead of a “modern” case on something hip . . . say, an Apple innovation or a product you heard mentioned in a commercial during the latest Kardashian reality TV offering.  No, you don’t understand why it doesn’t seem to speak to you and your needs.  Roll of the eyes.  “Whatever.”

Never pausing.

Never pausing to examine the central factor that your lack of understanding is the problem.  Your framework is so cramped, your context so self-circumscribed, your interests so few that it’s impossible for you to situate the case in its proper place with the tools at your disposal.  You complain that it’s not “relevant” and so you make no attempt to understand its “relevance.”

It’s not “interesting” to you.  You never get an interesting topic.

That’s one scenario of how it goes.

Another scenario is the Embrace.  Opening the heart and mind to the new.

Embrace the Case

You’re assigned your case, and you skim over it.

And you must write a memo on the case, analyzing it and teasing out its implications for the strategic direction of the firm, and then you must work with a group of folks you don’t know and probably don’t hang out with . . . or even like.

You scratch your chin, metaphorically, and you roll up your sleeves (again, metaphorically) and you ask yourself  questions like these . . .

“What can I learn from this process?  How can I turn this whole process into an experience I can craft stories about to tell in my upcoming job interviews?   How can I take this case, digest it, and make it part of my growing context of business knowledge?”

And as for the inevitable public group presentation, ask yourself:

“How can I work best with these folks in my group to produce a spectacular presentation that will then become part of my resume?  How can I help mask the internal disagreements and personality conflicts so that our audience does not suspect that several of us detest each other?   How can I make this presentation interesting for my audience?

Remember that there are no inherently interesting topics.  Every topic has potential for generating great interest, if you do your job right.

Because please understand . . . no one cares if the topic interests you.  As a professor, I certainly don’t.

I want to know what you plan to do with the topic and the case.

Your job is to infuse the topic with power and generate interest about it for your audience.

Crown Cork and Seal is an example of such a case that many students don’t find “interesting.”  It’s a classic case that almost every MBA student must read and analyze.

The Crown Cork and Seal case is about making and selling tin cans.  And how a firm with resources identical to the other major can manufacturers managed to outperform the industry by a stretch.

That’s a mystery, and a great one to solve.

If only you embrace the case.

Case Competitions . . . Phase 2

Business Case Competition

Phase 2 of your case competition preparation begins when you’re issued the case.

Recognize that the nature of this case may differ from what you are accustomed to.  It could be more incomplete and open-ended than the structured cases you’ve dealt with before.

In fact, it could be a contemporary real-world case with no “solution.”  It could be a case crafted especially for the competition by the company sponsoring the competition.

Case Competition First Step

Your first step – your team members read the case once-through for general information and understanding, to inventory issues, and to define the magnitude of the task at hand.  You are drawing a philosophical and psychological box around the case to encompass its main elements.  Here, you make it manageable prevent time-burn in discussions of unnecessarily open-ended questions.

Discussion proceeds on defining the problem statement.

At this point, your expertise and skills gained in years of business schooling should guide you in developing your analysis and recommendations.

The difference in acumen and skill sets among teams in a competition is usually very small, so I assume that every business team will produce analytical results and recommendations that are capable of winning the competition.  This includes your team, of course.

Victory or Defeat?

The quality of teams is high, and the output of analysis similar.  This means that victory is rarely determined by the quality of the material itself.  Instead, victory and defeat ride on the clarity, logic, power, and persuasiveness of the public presentation of that material.  I have seen great analyses destroyed or masked by bad presentations.

The Presentation is the final battlefield where the competition is won or lost.

And so we devote minimum time on the preparation of your arguments.  Many fine books can help you sharpen analysis.  This post concerns how you translate your written results into a powerful presentation that is verbally and visually compelling.

We are concerned here with the key to your competition victory.

Here is your competitive edge:  While 95 percent of teams will view their presentations as a simple modified version of the written paper that they submit, your team attacks the competition armed with the tools and techniques of Power Presenting.  You understand that the presentation is a distinct and different communication tool than the written analysis.

Cut ’n’ Paste Combatants

Many teams cut-and-paste their written paper/summary into the presentation, unchanged.  This usually makes for a heinous presentation that projects spreadsheets and bullet points and blocks of text on a screen.  These monstrosities obscure more than they communicate.  It is a self-handicap and a horrendous mistake.

Sure, at times you will see winning presentations that do this – I see them myself on occasion.  This usually happens for one of several reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of the visual presentation . . .

1) Substance trumps:  The business analysis and recommendation is substantially better than all other entries and overcomes deficiencies in presentation.

2) Mimicry:  All entries utilize Business Case Competition hones your presentation skillsthe same defective method of cutting-and-pasting the final report onto PowerPoint slides, thus leveling the playing field to a lowest common denominator of visual and verbal poverty.

Don’t present all the fruits of your analysis.  Too much information and too many details can cripple your initial presentation.  Remember that you should hold back details for use and explication during the Q&A period.

A parsimonious presentation should deliver your main points.

Deciding what to leave out of your initial presentation can be as important as deciding what to include and emphasize.

For in-depth training on the Case Competition, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Next . . . Phase 3

Surviving the Group Presentation – Part II

“How come I never get a good group?”

Recognize that your group has been assembled with a professional purpose in mind, not to make your life miserable.

You will disagree with each other on aspects of the presentation.  How you disagree and how you resolve those disagreements for the good of the team and of your presentation is as important as the presentation itself.

It’s essential that you maintain civil relations, if not cordial relations, with others in the group – don’t burn bridges.  You don’t want to engender dislike for people, perhaps for the rest of your life.  The people in the various group projects will form an important part of your network in years to come.  Remember that the relationship is paramount, the presentation itself is secondary.

The Arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

Your job is to craft a group experience, assign responsibilities, develop a reasonable schedule. Some members of your group will make time commitment choices that do not appear aligned with the objectives of the group. You will hear phrases such as “I’m not able to be at the meeting.” You may hear the outright arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

This, of course, is simply a choice to be somewhere else to spend time in other pursuits, because everyone has the same amount of time, no more and no less. Different people make different choices about the use of their time. Recognize that this will happen and that it is neither good nor bad – it is simply the hand that you are dealt. How you react to it will in large part determine the success of your group. One part of your job to properly motivate others to contribute to the group goal.

I always communicate to my students what to expect in a 5-person group.  The 2-2-1 rule will usually hold.  Two people work hard, two cooperate and are damned happy to be there, and one rarely shows up, because he or she has a “busy schedule.”  Another popular take on it is to apply the Pareto 80-20 rule:  Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people.  The corollary, of course, is that 80 percent of problems are caused by 20 percent of the people.  A different 20 percent.

“But that’s not fair!”

That’s reality.  Is it “fair?”  Maybe or maybe not, but that’s a question for philosophers of distributive justice and irrelevant to the imperatives of group work. 

Regardless of how you couch it, do not take your group woes to the professor for solution. Your professor knows well what you face.  He wants you to sort it out.  You must sort it out, because your prof is not your parent.  Your professor won’t appreciate it any more than your CEO or VP superior at your company appreciates solving your personnel issues . . . repeatedly.  It reflects badly on you and gives an impression of weakness.  Moreover, if you begin to focus heavily on who’s not carrying their “fair share,” then that becomes the dominant theme of your group dynamic rather than that of accomplishing your group goal. And such misplaced focus and animosity reflects badly in the final product.

Keep these guiding principles in mind as you chart your course through the labyrinth of group work.  Every group is different, temporary, and frustrating in it’s own way. Don’t allow the briars of this ephemeral activity catch your clothing and slow you down from your ultimate goal.

More on effective and satisfying group work in coming posts.

Surviving the Group Presentation – Part I

Why We Have Problems with Group Presentations . . .

You find all sorts of problems in group work. Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows this.

Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you? Others cause problems, because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group? Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.

The first major reason is the unpredictability of your situation. One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability. The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect. It’s bad enough to face the unknown variables of case analysis and its attendant presentation, but then several other variables are added to the mix in the form of other people.

We all prefer to control our own destiny. Most all of us want to be judged on our own work. We like to work alone. This is very much the craftsman’s view. Our labors are important to us. We take pride in our work.

But with group work, the waters muddy. It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what, and consequently, we worry about who will get the credit. We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.

We begin to worry that our contribution will be overlooked. We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs. We see ourselves becoming submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened. How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do? How will they know our contribution? With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply. Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?

The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and schedule coordination. Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often are working part-time, must somehow work together. Moreover, you may be involved in several classes that require group projects. And you invariably are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.” So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.

Why the Group Presentation?  It’s a Complex World

The group presentation is not an easy task. It can be downright painful. Infuriating. It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.

So why do your professors require them? Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?

You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons. One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load. The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers. This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students. There are three big problems with this.

First, by definition, individual work is not group work. If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.

Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses. The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace. Frankly, this is the way it should be.

Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared and half-heartedly delivered. While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes must watch 20 presentations or more in course of a semester and then evaluate them. I assure you that this can be an unpleasant experience.

The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this:  You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world. In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider. So why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?

The days of the business generalist are all but dead in corporate America. Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant. This means, from a practical standpoint, that we cannot produce major products by ourselves. There is little doubt that you will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation. You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm. This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.

These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm. Major tasks are divided and divided again. Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.

So we must work with others. The globalized and complex business context demands it.

In Part II, I show you how to not only survive the Group Presentation, but how to thrive and turn it into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.

Especially Powerful Group Presentations

Group Presentation
Do not Scorn the Group Presentation

Four of the most dreaded words in Business School are:  “Break yourselves into groups.”

The group presentation in business school is so ubiquitous now that almost every upper level course has some form of “group work” requirement.

There’s good reason for it – industry expects new hires to have experience working in groups.

More than that, corporate America craves young people who can work well with others.  Who can collaborate.

The upshot is that you must give the “group presentation.”

 

ots of them.

Don’t Scorn the Group Presentation

You find all sorts of problems in group work.  Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you?  Others cause problems.  Surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?

The uncomfortable fact is that we might be the cause of friction and not even know it.  Working in a group requires patience.  It requires the ability to see the benefits of collaboration, to listen, to understand that there are many ways to attack and resolve challenges.

Sure, you want to work by yourself.  Who wouldn’t?

But today’s complex economy disallows much of the solitary work that used to occupy executives just a generation ago.  Complex problems require collaboration.

So we face challenges.

Let’s try to understand and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.  In this interview, I address some of the dynamics of dealing in groups, particularly as a leader.

While the group presentation might not be your idea of the ideal weekend getaway, mastering its difficulties can transform you into a superb young executive, sought-after by recruiters.  Pledge yourself to understand group dynamics.  Learn the pinch points.  Listen to others.  Cultivate patience.

For more on how to deliver a powerful group presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.