Friday, November 25, 2011

How to ace Group Discussions || B-School Admissions

The second and perhaps most important step of getting into a dream B-School starts after getting those coveted calls, all of us know people who have aced written exams only to be unable to clear the final hurdle consisting of essay, GD, Case-Study, Interview etc. In this series of posts, I will try to impart some gyan that I've collected from various sources as well as my own experience, starting with one of the most important aspects: Group Discussion.

Various B-Schools have different types of Group Discussions, but usually it's a 15-30 minutes discussion(often more similar to a fish-market than an actual discussion) by a group of 8-12 aspirants. The topic may range from a highly specific topic like 'future course of action for Kingfisher Airlines' to a very abstract topic like 'black' or a seeming nonsense topic like 'pink pajaamas flying on the red fort'. Even though the specifics of handling a GD does depend a lot on the particular topic, the B-School that's holding it and the group itself, there are a few pointers that may help you in acing any GD.

* Realize your strengths and play on them: Okay, I know that this is a cliche and I use it very often, but it's as true in a GD as anywhere else. If you are someone who is good with facts and figures, try to substantiate your point (or that of others) with appropriate facts, just do remember that trick is not to throw numbers but to use them to illustrate or back-up your points. If you have good communication skills but don't have much knowledge about the topic, listen to others, take a point which has been raised but not discussed in detail and build upon it. If you have good knowledge of economics, give the discussion a new direction from an economic's perspective.

* First impression is what matters most: It's good if you are in the first two or three speakers but it's almost crucial that you make your first entry with-in starting 5-6 minutes and that your first point is your best point. Your first point determines how much attention your group members will give to your subsequent points.

* Provide a structure Try to provide a structure(like a broad outline) to the discussion in the early part of the discussion, if someone has already done that try to adhere to it unless you have an exceptionally good point to discuss.

* Build upon other's ideas Remember that it's supposed to be a 'Group' Discussion. Giving a new point is good but it's even better if you can relate your point with what someone before you have just said, that ways you have not only gained an ally in the discussion but even the moderator will appreciate that you aren't an individualist but someone who values other's thoughts and opinions.

* Listen attentively Three reasons: (1) If you listen to people they will listen to you. (2) You get points on which you can build upon when you speak (3) To show that you are acting as a group-member and not as an individual.

* Provide perspectives Use frame-works like SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunity, Threats) or aspects like 'Economics, Culture, Timeline, Business, Religion, Politics, Social' to figure out new perspectives from which a topic can be discussed. Always remember, the three most important aspects of any group discussion are 1.) Being (or at-least showing) a team player e.g. taking someone else's point and building upon it 2.)Leadership e.g. Coming up with a point which is further discussed by the team and 3.) Coming up with a new perspective.

* Use examples Nothing is better in a GD than to make a point and then substantiate it using a real-life example e.g. if you are talking about the importance of location in selecting a college, talk about how the location of your school helped/hindered your progress.

* Be careful with jargon While using relevant business jargon like hedging, GDP shows that you are well-read, make sure that you are not just throwing words and that the people in your group understand clearly. Remember that it's supposed to be a group discussion and no-one is going to TRY to understand you, you have to make yourself clear.

* Be concise Those of us who are good speakers often have a habit of beating around the bush, using more words than necessary. Please avoid flowery language, long-complex sentences or anything else that undermines brevity. Its a timed discussion, so if you are going for long you are either going to get cut in between or worse it's going to be a fish-market.

* Stay calm and smile You have always initiated the discussion but today you couldn't, you don't know a bit about the topic, it's a complete chaos(often called fish-market) in there, worry not.

If you haven't started the GD, no worries, make an entry as soon as you can and make that entry count.
If you don't know about the topic, listen to others, build upon others' points or better give the discussion a new perspective, perhaps from an angle you are familiar with.
If it's a fish-market, calm down, every GD has it's storm moments and its lull moments, try to barge in when the group is comparatively peaceful, try to bring the group back to discussion instead of an argument, try to avoid being a part of a Fish-market.

Some other tips:

* Reach early, talk to the other group members beforehand, it always helps if the group members know each other and are comfortable around each other.
* Make proper eye contact, that means looking at everyone (except the moderator) while you speak and looking at the speaker when you are listening.
* If you are starting the discussion, start with one of the following
by defining the key terms, perhaps by breaking the topic into parts
providing a probable outline for the discussion
mentioning the various aspects of the topic that may be discussed
Always remember that it's beginning of the discussion so don't try to end it by jumping to conclusions or shutting door on some idea, make open statements which can be discussed by the group.

So, that's it for now, feel free to ask any questions/doubts in the comments section below and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.