Tag Archives: group work

Case Competitions Test Your Mettle

Business Case Competition
How do you compare to the best? Or are you the best?

The business case competition puts you in front of Corporate America in naked competition against the best students from other schools.

No hiding behind a resume.

No fast-talking a good game.

No “national rankings.”

Just pure performance that puts you in the arena under lots of pressure.

Business Case Competition as Crucible

In case competitions,  your business team delivers a business presentation in competition against other teams in front of a panel of judges.

Teams display how quickly, thoroughly, and skillfully they can ingest a case, analyze it, and then prepare their conclusions.

They then present their recommendations to a panel of judges.

Business case competitions vary greatly in the details, but they do have a standard format and purpose.  The idea behind such competitions is to provide a standard case to competing teams with a given time limit and then to rate how well the teams respond.

There is, of course, no direct competition between teams.  Rather, each team is judged independently how well it handles the assigned case and presents its analysis and recommendations.  There is a time limit and specific rules.

All teams operate under the same conditions.

Business Case Competitions Far and Wide

Competitions can be internal to the Business School or involve teams from several different schools.

Sometimes there are several rounds of competition, with the final round typically judged by outside company executives.  The teams prepare a solution to the case and deliver a written report.

Teams then prepare a presentation of their analysis and recommendations and deliver the timed presentation before a panel of judges.

The judging panel sometime consists of executives from the actual company in the case.

Business case competitions, a source of competitive advantage
Business case competitions, a source of competitive advantage

The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business is good about this in its renowned Global Business Case Competition.  Twelve to fourteen schools from around the globe compete in this week-long event.  Its 2013 competition featured a case on Frog’s Leap Winery, which is known for its commitment to sustainability.

Frog’s Leap Winery produces high quality wines using organically-grown grapes and was a leader in adopting an environmental management system for production.

The competition teams, which act as outside consultants, were asked to make recommendations in three areas:   (1) the next sustainability initiative that Frog’s Leap should undertake, (2) identification of two potential markets outside the US, and (3) marketing plans for those new markets.

With 48 hours to craft a case solution and presentation, Concordia University won that 2013 competition against a range of international competing universities.

Testing Your Mettle

One excellent aspect of case competitions that are judged by outsiders is that they provide a truer indication of the competitors’ mettle.

For the most part, they are far removed from the internal politics of particular institutions, where favored students may receive benefits or rewards related more to currying favor than to the quality of their work.

In some competitions, additional twists make the competition interesting and more complicated.

For instance, Ohio State University CIBER hosts an annual Case Challenge and creates teams from the pool of participants (i.e., members will be from different schools) instead of allowing the group of students from each school to compete as a team.

In this case, once students are assigned to teams, there is a day of team-building exercises.

The key to doing well in case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand.  This is much easier than you might imagine.  Start with the Three Ps of Business Presentations.  They provide a steady guide to ready you for your competition.

Principles . . . Preparation . . . Practice.

In subsequent posts, we deconstruct the business case competition to help you and your team prepare to your potential and deliver an especially powerful presentation.

You can also learn the entire process of preparing to win business case competitions from 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.

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.

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.

“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.

How to Win a Case Competition

 How to win a case competitionIn earlier posts, we examined the lead-in steps for your case competition preparation.

Your team is now on the cusp of delivering a business presentation to win a case competition.

Recognize and accept that your presentation is a wholly different communication mode than your final memorandum or report.

Treat it this way, and your chances of winning your case competition increase dramatically.

How to win a Case Competition

If your analysis is robust and your conclusions are sound, as should be with all the entries, then a powerful and stunning presentation delivered by a team of confident and skilled presenters will win the day most every time.

The competency of most case competition teams is relatively even.  If a team lifts itself above the competition with a stunning presentation, it will win.

If you have reviewed the step-by-step preparation to this point and internalized its message, you understand that you and your teammates are not something exclusive of the presentation.  You are the presentation.

By now, you should be well on the way to transforming yourself from an average presenter into a powerful presentation meister.  You know the techniques and skills of the masters.  You have become an especially powerful and steadily improving speaker who constantly refines himself or herself along the seven dimensions we’ve discussed:  Stance, Voice, Gesture, Expression, Movement, Appearance, and Passion.

Employ the Seven Secrets to Win a Case Competition

When I coach a team how to win a case competition, the team members prepare all of their analysis, conclusions, and recommendations on their own.  Here are some tips how to do this.  Their combined skills, imagination, and acumen produce a product worthy of victory.  The team then creates their first draft presentation.

It is at this point that the competition is most often won or lost.

Powerful winning presentations do not spring forth unbidden or from the written material you prepare.  The numbers “do not speak for themselves.”

The “power of your analysis” does not win a case competition on its own.  You cannot point to your handout repeatedly as a substitute for a superb presentation.

Your case solution is not judged on its merit alone, as if the brilliance of your solution is manifest to everyone who reads it.  It is judged on how well you communicate the idea.  Powerfully and persuasively.

Each member of your team must enter the presentation process as a tangible, active, compelling part of the presentation.  And you must orchestrate your presentation so that you work seamlessly together with each other, with the visuals you present, and with the new knowledge you create.

For more deep secrets on how to win a case competition, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

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

Case Competition Guide for Presentation Victory

Your Case competition Guide, the source of competitive advantage
This case competition guide can prepare you to win your next business case competition long before you even know the case . . .

The key to doing well in case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand by following you 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, and you begin by consulting your case competition guide.

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, and 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 ought to 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:  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, 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 Case Problem has length and breadth and depth.

But now, prior to the competition, take stock of what you already know you must do . . . and 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 will 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 will be 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 can spend the majority of your case analysis time filling in the content.

Follow the 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 that is 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 analytical portions of your case.  The following is offered as an example of how the task might be approached:

Your Case competition Guide
Your Case competition Guide suggests that you distribute your tasks long before the competition . . . your business presentation will be the better for it

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.  Familiarity with online databases like Business Source Premier, Mergent Online, and S&P NetAdvantage is necessary since 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 case competition is neither time nor place for you to polish your delivery skills.  You should have honed them to razor’s edge by now.  As well, your orchestration as a team should be perfected 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 have applied in business school – finance, accounting, marketing, operations, strategy, analysis – and you apply them in a tightly orchestrated and professional presentation that pops.

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

Business Case Competitions

Business Case Competition
Business Case Competitions test your business mettle in ways you can’t imagine

The business case competition puts you in front of Corporate America in naked competition against the best students from other schools.

No hiding behind a resume.

No fast-talking a good game.

No “national rankings.”

Just pure performance that puts you in the arena under lots of pressure.

Business Case Competition as Crucible

In case competitions,  your business team delivers a business presentation in competition against other teams in front of a panel of judges.

Teams display how quickly, thoroughly, and skillfully they can ingest a case, analyze it, and then prepare their conclusions.

They then present their recommendations to a panel of judges.

Business case competitions vary greatly in the details, but they do have a standard format and purpose.  The operative idea behind such competitions is to provide a standard case to competing teams with a given time limit and then to rate how well the teams respond.

There is, of course, no direct competition between teams.  Rather, each team is judged independently how well it handles the assigned case and presents its analysis and recommendations.  There is a time limit and specific rules.

All teams operate under the same conditions.

Business Case Competitions Far and Wide

Competitions can be internal to the Business School or involve teams from several different schools.

Sometimes there are several rounds of competition, with the final round typically judged by outside company executives.  The teams prepare a solution to the case and deliver a written report.

Teams then prepare a presentation of their analysis and recommendations and deliver the timed presentation before a panel of judges.

The judging panel sometime consists of executives from the actual company in the case.

The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business is good about this in its renowned Global Business Case Competition.  Twelve to fourteen schools from around the globe compete in this week-long event.  Its 2010 competition featured a case written especially for the competition on the Boeing Corporation.

Business case competitions, a source of competitive advantage
Business case competitions can enhance your personal competitive advantage

Executives from Boeing acted as judges.

One excellent aspect of case competitions that are judged by outsiders is that they provide a truer indication of the competitors’ mettle.

For the most part, they are far removed from the internal politics of particular institutions, where favored students may receive benefits or rewards related more to currying favor than to the quality of their work.

In some competitions, additional twists make the competition interesting and more complicated.

For instance, Ohio State University CIBER hosts an annual Case Challenge and creates teams from the pool of participants (i.e., members will be from different schools) instead of allowing the group of students from each school to compete as a team.

In this case, once students are assigned to teams, there is a day of team-building exercises.

The key to doing well in case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand.  This is much easier than you might imagine.  Start with the Three Ps of Business Presentations.  They provide a steady guide to ready you for your competition.

Principles . . . Preparation . . . Practice.

In subsequent posts, we deconstruct the business case competition to help you and your team prepare to your potential and deliver an especially powerful presentation.

You can also learn the entire process of preparing to win business case competitions from The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

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.

How to Build a Business Presentation

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

Build a Business Presentation with this simple structure:  Beginning . . . Middle . . . End.

Every presentation – every 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 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 Stand 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 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 a business presentation that has power and impact, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.