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.

Move Around During Your Presentation

Business Presentation Shouldn’t you move around during your presentation?

Consider this.

A student approached me after class and shared this experience:

“I stand in one spot for the most part during my presentations,” he said.

“But another professor told me to move around when I talk.”


Move around when you talk.

“Did he tell you how?” I asked.

“Tell me what?”

“Did he tell you how to ‘move around?’  Did he tell where to go . . . what to do . . . when to do it . . . tell you what it would accomplish?”

“No, he just said to ‘move around’ when you talk.”

“Just ‘move around?’”


Ponder that piece of advice a moment.  Ponder that advice and then reject it utterly, completely.  Forget you ever read it.

What Rotten Advice

Never just move around during your Business Presentation.

Don’t wander aimlessly.

Never just “move around” the stage.

Everything you do should contribute to your message.  Movement on-stage is an important component to your message.  It’s a powerful weapon in your arsenal of communication.  Movement can and should contribute force and emphasis to your show.

But some people move too much. Like the professor urged, they just “move around” because they don’t know better.

And why should they know better, when some professor urged them to start prowling the stage for the sake of it.

Just as some folks are rooted to one spot and cannot move while they speak, some folks just can’t stop moving.  They stalk about the stage like a jungle cat.

They move constantly, as if dodging imaginary bullets. They fear to cease pacing lest their feet put down roots. Business Presentation

This kind of agitated movement is awful.

Aimless pacing around the stage is worse than no movement at all.

Aimless movement indicates indecision, the sign of a disorganized mind.

It’s usually accompanied by aimless thoughts and thoughtless words.

“Move around when you talk.”

It’s not the worst piece of advice a professor has ever given a student, but it’s incredibly naive.

At first, the advice seems innocent enough.  Even sage.  Aren’t you supposed to move around during your presentation?  Don’t we see powerful presenters “move around” when they talk?  Didn’t Steve Jobs “move around” when he presented at those big Apple Fests?

Yes, we see them “move around” quite well.

But do you know why they “move” and to what end?  Do you understand how they orchestrate their words and gestures to achieve maximum effect?

Do you recognize their skilled use of the stage as they appeal to first one segment of the audience, and then another?  Do you think that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama just “move around” when they talk?

If I tell you to “move around during your presentation,” what will you actually do?

Think about it for a moment, how you might actually follow-through with that sort of vague advice.

Will you flap your arms?  Do Michael Jackson isolations with your shoulders?  Shake your fist at the crowd?

Move Around During Your Presentation, You Say?

How?  Where?  When?  Why?  How much?

Awful advice. We will never know how much damage such well-meaning naiveté has done to our presentation discourse.  Like much of what is said, it carries a kernel of truth, but it is really worse than no advice at all.

Centuries of practice and delivery advise us on this question.  Edwin Shurter said in 1903 . . .

Every movement that a speaker makes means – or should mean – something.  Hence avoid indulging in movements which are purely habit and which mean nothing.  Do not constantly be moving; it makes the audience also restless.  Do not walk back and forth along the edge of the platform like a caged lion.  Do not shrug your shoulders, or twist your mouth, or make faces.

You are well on your to mastering your voice and to speaking like a powerful motivator.

Now it’s time to incorporate essential movement.  What must you actually do during your talk?  Where to do it?  How to do it?  Why should you do it . . . and when?

In my next post, I answer those questions and show you how to incorporate meaningful movement into your presentation – exactly the types of movement that add power, not confusion.

Interested in more especially powerful techniques for your business presentation?   Click here and discover the world of business presentations.

MBA Case Competition

MBA Case Competition Basics

A major business student rite of passage is the MBA case competition.

It’s tough . . . it’s pressure-packed . . . it’s demanding and stressful.

It can also be lucrative, as prize money for winning teams can be substantial . . . from $1,000 all the way up to $25,000.

Sure, you’ve presented in class in front of your professor and folks that you know, but you’ve not felt pressure until you’ve competed against the finest MBAs from other schools.

How do you and your school stack up against the best of the rest?

Business School Rankings are one thing, but MBA Case Competitions offer one of the few head-to-head matchups between schools.

And all the PR in the world can’t substitute for victory over your rivals.

Who Competes in MBA Case Competition . . . and How?

Let’s take, as an example, a Finance MBA Case Competition.

These are top-notch MBA students with work experience and especially powerful motivation to not only invest in a rigorous MBA program but to test their skills publicly in the fire of MBA case competition.

Substantively, this is a talented lot.

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.

MBA Case Competition
MBA Case Competition Tests Your Mettle

At the higher-level finals competition, this fine-toothed comb catches few errors . . . because few errors exist to be caught.  These are superb 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.  And all explained in an especially powerful way that transmits competence and confidence.

In this sense, style becomes substance in an MBA 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.  This is 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.

No time for Modesty or Mediocrity

The MBA 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.  You can also sign up for the LinkedIn MBA Case Competition group.  This is where folks from around the world congregate to share the latest information about competiting in the top contests.