SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Incoming MBA students at the Smith School have a big day on Aug. 25, 2017. Working in teams, they will stand in front of a panel of judges from PepsiCo and present ideas for boosting beverage sales at wholesale clubs like Costco and BJ’s. The third annual MBA Orientation Live Case Competition, designed to slingshot students into the full-time MBA program, will require data analysis, teamwork and strategic thinking. But students will also need public speaking and presentation skills.
Tricia Homer, executive communication coach with the Smith School’s Office of the Dean, knows all about poise under pressure. She is a former Miss U.S. Virgin Islands with a background in business, film and theatre. During workshops on Wednesday, she shared secrets for wowing the PepsiCo delegation and other tough audiences. The following five pointers will work in any business setting to boost executive presence.
1. Loosen up. Delivering a memorable presentation requires calculated risk-taking, which can be scary. Homer has her students get into the right frame of mind by breathing deep, stretching, wiggling and doing voice exercises. “It’s critical that you warm up before you present,” she told her students. “You must have fun and lean into discomfort.”
2. Connect with your team. Effective group presentations require cohesiveness and contributions from each individual. Homer said winning teams often stand in a circle, hold hands and recite slogans or tongue twisters in unison before performing. “You see the difference when a group connects before they present,” she said.
3. Own the space. Once on stage, public speakers often cling to the podium or hover near the whiteboard — standing as far from the audience as possible. Homer modeled a different approach. She moved forward, moved around the room and made eye contact with her audience. “It conveys a message of authority,” she said.
4. Watch your feet. Homer also warned about fidgety feet. Public speakers who shift nervously, lean to one side or stand with one foot on top of the other signal lack of confidence. Instead they should stand with their weight evenly distributed and their feet shoulder width apart. “The feet never lie,” she said.
5. Hook your audience. Effective presentations start with a bang, not a whimper. Homer divided the students into teams and had them practice six hooks to introduce a common fairytale. The list included asking rhetorical questions, shocking the audience, stating the importance of the topic, using a quotation, building intrigue and relating the topic to the audience — so they understand why it matters to them. Storytelling also works as a hook.
Homer will continue to work with the MBA students through the Smith Executive Communication Program, which she launched in spring 2017 to help students practice their verbal, nonverbal and visual presentation skills. The one-year curriculum includes workshops, one-on-one coaching and creation of personalized development plans.
As part of the live case format, incoming MBA students will have access to PepsiCo representatives throughout the three-day experience. "First and foremost, this event is to stretch you," Smith School clinical professor of management Neta Moye told students during the case introduction on Wednesday. "If you're too comfortable, you're not learning."
Moye worked with PepsiCo executives to identify and develop the issues discussed in the case. Previous MBA Orientation Live Case Competitions addressed real-world challenges from PepsiCo in 2016 and Northrop Grumman in 2015.
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