Experts say that you should develop your knowledge base and at the same time, focus on improving your communication. Here are some lessons on managing yourself during the group discussion (GD).
Tips for the usual GD
Up your KQ: The first step in your quest to do well in a GD is to improve your knowledge quotient (KQ). Read newspapers and magazines on current issues, specially the year-end issues that capture the highlights of the year gone by. Watch and listen to news and current affair programmes on TV.
For economic topics, read up on fundamental concepts like foreign direct investment (FDI), stock markets, liberalisation, the employment scenario, capital convertibility, rupee versus dollar, inflation, export and import, and socialism versus capitalism etc.
For sector-based topics, start by making a one-two page note on important sectors like information technology, IT-enabled services, banking, insurance, retail, telecom, healthcare, agriculture etc. Know the relevant developments which took place last year and the prospects of each sector.
Express yourself: Knowledge itself is not enough. The next step is to improve your ability to express yourself. Practise speaking in a GD scenario by forming a discussion group which meets daily and takes up a topic for discussion.
Be natural: The best mantra is ‘to be your natural self’. Do not manufacture artificial responses.
Must speak: A key principle of participating in a GD is that you must speak. For any GD, take a piece of paper and a pen and use them unless specifically asked by the evaluators not to. Before you speak, think through the major issues in the topic in the first two minutes. Start speaking only when you have understood and analysed the topic.
Have a free-flowing discussion: Avoid speaking in turn as it leads to an unnatural discussion. A GD involves a free-flowing exchange of ideas among participants. Even though there will definitely be chaos in most competitive GDs, as all participants will be keen to be heard, any suggestion of order, such as in speaking in turn, is unacceptable.
Opening and closing a discussion: Opening a discussion is a risk-high return strategy. In most GDs, the opening speaker is the person who is likely to get the maximum uninterrupted time.
Therefore, the evaluators get the best chance to observe the opening speakers. Now this is a double-edged sword. If the opening speaker talks sense, he will get credit because he opened the discussion and took the group in the right direction.
If, on the other hand, the first speaker’s start lacks substance, he will attract the undivided attention of the evaluators to his shortcomings. Therefore, speak first only if you have enough sensible things to say. Otherwise, keep yourself silent and let someone else begin.
Try and summarise the discussion at the end. In the summary, do not merely restate your point of view. Accommodate dissenting viewpoints as well. If the group did not reach a consensus, say so in your summary, but remember, do not force a consensus. Forcing a consensus can work against you.
Entering a discussion
Identify the way to enter the discussion. In a noisy GD with three or four aggressive participants and where a number of people speak at the same time, it becomes difficult for others to get a chance to say something. There is no foolproof solution to this problem. And such a situation is pretty much likely to prevail during the actual GD you participate in.However, it is crucial that you speak. How can you do this?
GDs are a way by which the b-school panel measures the following qualities in the applicants:
Content: How much knowledge you possess on the given topic. The more deep your knowledge, better the chances of speaking confidently.
Rational thought process: How good are your analytical skills and thought process?
Communication: Both spoken English and non-verbal communication. You should be loud, clear and fluent in your speech.
Group behaviour: How good are your group dynamics, the way you are pleasantly interacting with the group and your body language.
Leadership skills: A leader will emerge in the GD because of his/her contribution. Leadership skills come out when the speaker makes certain points in the GD which either moves the GD forward in a new direction or moves it towards a consensus. The leader brings in a fresh approach to a thought process which the group follows.
Amitabh Shankar, 99.97 percentiler in CAT 2008, IIM Kozhikode (2009-11) batch
How did you prepare for group discussion and personal interview rounds?
I prepared mainly through mock GDs and PIs. This gave me a feel of the actual process and helped me gain some insight into my strengths and weaknesses. In addition to that, I became an avid reader of newspapers and magazines, particularly of business news.
What success mantra on GD and PI do you suggest to MBA aspirants?
Success in GD and PI can be achieved by focusing on two key areas: knowledge and confidence. For the former, there is no other option but to read as much as you can. Confi- dence can be acquired by sitting for a lot of mock GDs and PIs to familiarise yourself with the process.