Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Book review: How to reform a Business School – the Ivy League way

Ashish Jaiswal: Author

Ashish Jaiswal looks at MBA curriculum reform using a case study approach, given my own blogging and publishing interests on two topics close to my heart it is not then surprising to hear that the publishers contacted me offering a review copy of the text. Up front ethical disclosure covered. 

The text uses a recognisably academic research paper structure that is peppered with in text referencing which might not be to everyone’s liking, but a number of chapters stand alone on their own (case study method, curriculum history and MBA reform) and might be interesting to dip into thus. A useful read for business school professionals in management roles, there is a solid warts-and-all consideration of the MBA proposition, highlighting its rather controversial position in academia, with its predilection for drawing on un-evidenced popular normative industry publications. 

There is a detailed explanation of the experiential-versus-evidential approach to publishing research and industry management thinking. Whilst the critical academic put down ‘airport book’ is unpacked, more could have been made of ivory tower research methodological shortcomings and communications effectiveness, I feel. 

Using a detailed longitudinal case study of the Yale MBA the reader can gain helpful insights into the evolution of the infamous business masters degree. The north American MBA is quite different from the European model I know, spread over two (more costly) years, it offers a general introductory first year, summer sandwich internship filling and elective specialisms in the second year. European MBAs tend to require significant prior work experience and study is full time over a single year. Additionally it is hard to find other specialist business masters programmes stateside, thus underscoring the point that there is not a single homogeneous MBA format. It also helps explain the frequent US conflation of the notions of business school and MBA that are quite distinct in my mind.

Those from outside the sector might enjoy appreciating some of the challenging so-called democratic and consensual decision making strategies required in a community of head strong individuals who value their right to free speech. 

I wish I benefitted from this 2015 publication earlier, having just endured a years long and fairly arduous silo busting MBA curriculum redesign as lead, but I did feel comforted that many of the stages put forwards in the concluding theoretical contribution were elements I had indeed put in place in my own change programme. 

 Ideal reading for the rookie MBA Director and reflective business school Dean.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Stop Killing The Audience ! 10 presentational Do's and Don'ts

I started my professional career as a back room boy painstakingly printing out colour acetate sheets (for now defunct OHP, Over Head Projector if you are a Generation Y)  using Harvard Graphics software (stuff you would call an 'ap' these days I guess) on a funny and very expensive printer that seemed to draw beautiful lines in blue, red  and green using little paint pots controlled by a tripod mechanical arm.  Perhaps capable of spewing out three or may be four slides an hour, effectively two by the time you had spotted errors and thrown away the badly printed ones, this was a painstaking endeavour.  These days of course nearly everyone has access to PowerPoint, with its amazing array of templates and drop ins that appear to idiot proof information visualisation.  

I've just come out of the pool after a modest work out that affords me considerable thinking time and the idea of a post on presentation skills on the topic of avoiding 'Death by PowerPoint' came into my head.   I guess brought on by the (taken very much in my stride) presentation hiccup I did last week to Sian and her colleagues on the new MBA design. It was all set up and planned for PowerPoint - but didn't happen because the room we ended up in didn't have a computer.  So I had to revert to the old fashioned method of standing up and talking, an approach that I have been engaging with actively over the last year.   Those in the know call it 'flipped classroom' - essentially  you skip the lecture by inviting students to read the theory before hand & spend contact time discussing the content and looking to use the ideas, powered by the ever-so-old fashioned engine of conversation.  

During the end of term and end of year period I observe many different student groups present.  One recently saw not only some jolly positive feedback, that was well earned, but also some more to the quick feedback that reminded me of the 'gold standard' and perhaps the value in reminding presenters of good practice using a pithy bullet point check list. 

Now, without further ado, I will offer up my 'Avoid Death by PowerPoint: 10 Do's and Dont's' 

In good positive thinking mode, Do's first;

Do practise your presentation.  I used to turn up my talk radio station very loud and see if I could concentrate whilst over talking the radio.  It helped build volume, focus, and identify any tricky ideas that I couldn't explain.   It would also highlight words I struggled to say confidently and reminded me about breathing.  Around one in five presentations has a major technical hitch, a missing memory stick, a crashed laptop or failure to connect to the screen projector.  An absolute must is to take the stage, do a volume/reverberation check and get the feeling for the space (even if it is eerily empty).  

Do use pictures.  They paint a thousand words.  They can intrigue and stimulate the audience.  They can remind you of a key point or story that you need to tell, but do not have to be literal. 

Do plan your message.  A consultant in Sweden, Jon Haag, shared a neat model I like.  He recommended three simple elements in a pitch (1) Title.  (2) Problem. (3) Solution.  I have seen quite a few clever people lose impact by failing to adhere to this approach.  

Do keep to time.  Always agree what the time available is and what the agenda for the meeting is going to cover.  Experience suggests that short, focussed communications are more effective.  Having an audience eager to invite you back for more detail or further discussions is the aim.  Thus target shorter and sweeter presentations, allow Q&A time to cover points of specific interest (as defined by the audience, not you !).  We have seen someone lose a job offer by failing to heed messages to stop over running.  

Do ask for feedback. You don't always ace it, and you will not hear the behind your back utterances and muttering when you have performed poorly.  Whilst online surveys are now beyond annoyed.com frequency asking for soundings from participants on what they felt of the presentation, what were the key points, where there things that didn't come across or work so well is a great strategy.  Right after the session, in person - you can read a lot into body language & what is not said.  One of my colleagues even follows social media (Twitter) after his lectures to get a feel for what students felt.  Brave.

And a few Dont's;

Don't use black text on a dark background, ever.  It works on a bright flatscreen, but when projected in a larger room you can't see the black.  Remember, black is the lack of light & is very reliant on an appropriate contrast being achieved.  Light on dark is best and try it for visibility from the back of the room you are  using.

Don't read (or write) slides word-for-word.  The audience scans the text quickly, pulls out the interesting content & tunes out to  your voice as  you drone on about stuff they are no longer interested in.  In the new world everyone is comfortable working from Google glass heads up displays, multiple monitors in their work stations and one or two (iPhone and iPad) hand held screens.

Don't use too many words.   Received thinking suggests 16 words (yes, SIXTEEN) per slide is optimal and no more than three font variations (where bold, size and italic are each variations).   Remember, visual aids are just that, assistance for the speaker to put across an effective, powerful message or help tell a joined up story.

Don't forget to look at all your audience.  Concentrate on key stakeholders, look for cues in their body language - are they bored ?  short of time ? struggling to hear ?  If you can't meet the audience eye-to-eye - go for the forehead or mouth, since you won't be kissing them and are a few metres away, they won't notice the difference.  Gaze aversion is very natural (it shows you are thinking) but try to work your attention around the room (S-L-O-W-L-Y) to connect with each individual.  

Don't use too may flashy bits.  Whilst it is tempting to introduce sound effects and use amusing animations, these are now universally understood and available.  Legendary French singer Edith Piaf (roll your R's around the refrain "Rien de Rien") used to adopt a single gesture for each of her songs and this seems a good maxim, less is better.  A slick embedded video that auto plays can be very effective.  A self timed slide run enables the speaker to concentrate on putting across the message and be the centre of the performance, good.  But too much fizz and bang can be distracting.  Software like Prezi can bring exciting multi-media feelings to slide transitions, but inhibits back tracking and requires more complex linking that may get in the way of a content heavy message.

Friday, 6 March 2015

UBC semi-finals 2015

Royal Holloway has two groups in the semi-final stages of the prestigious Universities Business Competition (UBC), from the management and economics schools.  

Dr Boyka Simeonova specialist in Knowledge Management at the Royal Holloway's School of Management reports (nearly live) from sunny Bristol:

Early doors..

"And we start with two pictures of the university of Bristol in sunny Bristol and the countdown of the first task. The surrounding is beautiful, the atmosphere is great and the teams have their creative hats on."

Students work in groups, iterative decision 'rounds' mimic the business cycle

Mid-morning update

Two teams participate at the UBC semi-finals this year. There is a great team spirit and teamwork. Here are some pictures: the teams are ready for their next task.

  Royal Holloway Students Suited and Booted 
- are those really ties ?

Team spirits running high -  Free Hugs !

The current scores are team 38: 121, team 42: 129. This places them in a good position in the competition but they need to work very hard in order to secure a place in the final as the top score is 144. 

After lunch - scores on the doors

The teams are ready for new challenges following a hearty lunch. The next task is the elevator pitch. Time to put the creative green hats on!

Management student Nigar Rustamova shares "This is a great learning experience especially in terms of getting a greater understanding of different aspects of running a business. The challenge also stimulates teamwork and taking decisions under time pressure."

Boyka is clearly loving it !

Time is going fast at the elevator pitch, pictures attached.

The results were announced after the pitch and sadly the two RoHo teams did not win a place in the grand final 10, unlike last year.

Here is what the team members shared after the challenge.

Philipp Fuhr comments after the challenge: "It was a valuable experience from which we learned a lot. And we are definitely going to come back next year." 

Despite the result, Nigar Rustamova shares that: "I really enjoyed it."

This is the end of the live coverage.

Blog authors at Royal Holloway:  Justin O'Brien and Boyka Simeonova