By Graeme Russell
In early February I attended the University of Illinois Geis MBA Strategy Case competition with three other Kellstadt Graduate School of Business students. The experience was exciting, intense and exhausting. Our case challenge was to strategize ways to address the growing user privacy and content curation concerns that Facebook is experiencing. Our team had 24 hours to prepare and deliver recommendations to four judges, who role played as Facebook representatives. We competed against nine other university teams and had 20 minutes to present our recommendations.
Though my team didn’t walk away with the grand prize, we did leave the case competition with some valuable takeaways. Here are some things I learned:
The importance of storytelling
Ironically, if there is one thing the Game of Thrones finale got right, it’s the importance of a good story. That’s just as true for case competitions as it is for kings and queens. Despite judges informing us that we had the most innovative and feasible recommendation, we did not advance to the next round because we couldn’t get them to view the problem the same way we did.
You could have the greatest idea, but if your story isn’t clear, your message won’t reach your audience.
Use your time wisely
Time pressure is a big factor in case competitions, so time management is crucial. If you are given 20 minutes to present, assume you have only 15. Be prepared to field questions in the middle of your presentation.
One thing we learned in the graduate management course “Managing for Effective and Ethical Organizational Behavior” is the value of setting an agenda and establishing goals and processes. We got so caught up in the ideation phase (which gave us a great recommendation… it just didn’t pay off) that by the time we were putting our idea into a professional recommendation we had started to burn out. Don’t get bogged down in the research phase of the case competition. Instead, focus on the deliverable.
Pay attention to details
We put more effort into the delivery than the look of our power point slides. The finalists, however, took the time to align their slide’s aesthetic with Facebook design elements. These small details went a long way and helped to convey preparedness and professionalism.
We brainstormed ways to improve for next time and came up with the idea to have a skeleton deck before receiving the case, as there are fundamentals to any good slide deck no matter the topic.
Think about the action steps of your recommendation
It is one thing to have a good idea and another to make it a reality. Executives want actionable recommendations and a process for how to implement them, and judges want to see your ability to consider the full life cycle of a project. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself as you formulate your recommendation:
- How will you roll out the recommendation?
- How long will it take?
- What risks are there and how will you mitigate them?
- What is the bottom-line impact?
Overall, this first case competition experience gave me insight into the expectations I must exceed to excel at any professional services firm. I can now recognize and perform a quality presentation, setting me on the path to confidently persuade and capture the attention of an audience. I look forward to the next one!
Graeme Russell is an MBA student at DePaul’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. He graduated from the University of Nottingham with a Master’s of Science in Physics. Awarded three international research scholarships, Graeme has had a lasting impact on medical and climate research around the world. He is passionate about using his quantitative background to support strategic decision-making.