PowerPoint: From foe to friend

Communication is one of the most essential skills for any career. We lawyers are focused heavily on the written communication and our usual approach to making a PowerPoint presentation would be to write a manuscript in MS Word and then copy-paste the most important sentences into a PPT as bullets. When I arrived at HKUST, I had to learn that this approach might not be good enough for the business world. Fortunately, HKUST was there to help me build up a relationship with PowerPoint.

At HKUST, I first met PowerPoint in Chris Doran’s Management Consulting class. An elective that was supposed to introduce us to the work of management consultants, their thinking, their methodologies and their frameworks, but which was in the end mainly about making slides (apologies for the stereotype). From Chris, I learned three basic things about PowerPoint presentations: how to make a story line, the importance of the lead and the magic of a good executive summary.

My second encounter with PowerPoint was in the Managerial Communication class. The class gave me a more holistic view on that topic and introduced more theories and concepts. We also practiced other aspects of delivering a presentation such as body language, eye contact etc. But still, I got new ideas about what PowerPoint could do for me.

Following the rule, my third date with PowerPoint turned out to be most intense. The name of the class was EPS: Enhancing Professional Skills. Initiated X years ago by Profs. Larry Franklin, Stephen Nason and Joseph Salvacruz, EPS is an intensive block week designed to polish the communication skills of us HKUST MBAs. From 85 students of this year’s class, 79 signed-up. EPS runs from 9am in the morning to 10pm in the evening for seven days in a row. Students work in teams on their individual projects either being a business case or a business plan. In between, there are tutoring blocks about topics such as how to present financials or how to explain the implementation part, training in pitch presentations and in handling Q&A and different assignments to complete. This hell-week is concluded by a big case competition on Sunday. The atmosphere during the case competition was electrifying. Everyone was there and ready to kill, but still the teams were cheering for each other and celebrated the winners and the completion of the course.

So, how did my romance with PowerPoint turn out? As in every good relationship, there is still a lot of work and understanding required from both sides. But when I look at the presentation my team made during EPS, I am pretty impressed. After only six days of work that presentation was so professional that I would not hesitate to present it in a real-life business environment. In fact, I found our slide deck so convincing that I wanted to start our venture “Rent-a-Tronics” right away – almost forgetting that we made-up practically all the numbers in the business plan.

If you need more evidence for the effectiveness of UST’s communication training, just look at the school’s success in MBA case competitions. In just a few months, my classmates won the IESE/Roland Berger Case Competition, the Northwestern/Kellogg Energy Case Competition and the CEIBS InnovateChina 2019 Transcending Entrepreneurship Business Proposal Competition, got the Entrepreneurs Choice Award in the Investment for Impact competition in Chapel Hill, won the elevator pitch challenge at the International Business Ethics and Sustainability Case Competition at the Loyola Marymount University, came 3rd as a team and won the award for best individual Q&A at the MBA Strategy Case Competition of the Gies College of Business. And even at our own Global MBA Challenge, our team won the negotiation competition. To put this in perspective, around every third of my classmates was on some winning team. Pretty impressive considering that maybe half of the batch did not even take part in any competition (including myself).