Advice to First Year MBAs: Get Good at Presenting and Communicating

Not all good communicators are leaders, but all leaders are good communicators. Communication is an essential tool that leaders need to use in order to get anything done. Almost every post-MBA function that MBAs are hired into will heavily depend on communication skills. Whether its presentations to senior leadership, convincing your team to align with your vision during meetings, or interviewing a customer, you want to make sure your audience is crystal clear about your intentions.

The first year of an MBA is the best time to polish your communication skills. I'll share with you my story to illustrate why putting off on building these skills in the first year of the MBA is not a good idea.

A mentor told me during my internship that I didn't need to be a charismatic leader, but that I needed to be a leader. Actually, I do want to be a charismatic leader. I'm just not quite there yet. Here's the developmental feedback I got during the internship to illustrate. The first was that I was a little quiet during meetings. The second was that during my final presentation I didn't appear comfortable and my voice wasn't dynamic enough.

I'm an introvert and the six years I spent in research labs didn't help. But I already spent one year as an MBA student at a pretty good school. There was no excuse for me to not be comfortable at communicating in a business setting. The feedback I got during the internship was exactly the same feedback I got from my C-Lead team and Management Communications professors in the first year, almost word-for-word. 

It was a big mistake to not dedicate the time to improve my communication skills in the first year of the MBA. There are many resources out there for MBA students to do so. Duke Fuqua, for example, has a week-long improv course in the winter break. 

The funny thing is, one suggestion I got from the internship was to take an improv class. I was too busy putting out the fire in front of me (recruiting) in my first year of the MBA that I missed out on an important developmental opportunity that could've increased my performance during the summer internship.  

There are also other really simple opportunities, such as trying out different communication styles during team meetings, actively raising your hand to speak up during classes, etc. I was always quiet during my MBA classes. Part of it stemmed from the fact that I had a science background and always second guessed my own business thoughts. 

That was stupid, as I robbed myself of the perfect opportunity to practice selling my ideas in front of very smart business people. Because guess what you'll be doing all summer in the MBA internship? Selling your ideas in front of very smart business people. It's not about the participation grade or being right. It's about being confident in making your voice heard and equipping yourself with the communication skills that will allow you to contribute in the competitive business setting. 

Therefore, my earnest advice to all first year MBA students is to first be aware of your developmental needs in your communication skills. But awareness is also the first step - I was aware of my problems the whole time. I advise you to also dedicate the time and energy to actually address some of your communication deficiencies. 

You don't have to spend a lot of time. For me it was to simply speak up more during classes and meetings, take an improv class and practice making my voice sound more dynamic. It's really not a lot of extra work, because you can spread it out over 10 months.

To wrap up, I'll again share some insight from my summer internship. Let's do some analysis together. We can assume that everyone who got into a top MBA program is smart enough to complete any summer project. Let's also assume that everyone has strong interpersonal skills and sufficient emotional intelligence to build genuine relationships with their managers and team members. 

So if everyone can complete their project and make friends, then what decides who gets offers and who doesn't? Communication skills and the perception it gives on an individual's ability to lead play an important role.

This blog post is part of a 6-piece series called "Advice to First Year MBAs". You can find a list of all the post in the series here.

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