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MBA: How to ace a group discussion

Vishal Bondwal | February 22, 2006

You have crossed the first step by answering the Common Admission Test; this is a prerequisite for admission to the top B-Schools in the country.

Now, out of the 1.75 lakh applicants who sat for CAT, you are among the handful to get a Group Discussion and Personal Interview call.

Arguably, the written part, ie CAT, is that component of the admission process which is most in your control. In Group Discussions, both the kind of group you are in and the topic you are given play a significant role in how you would approach the discussion and how you will be perceived by the selection panel.

Let's find out how to interact with your fellow B-School aspirants and tackle the GD topic to the best of your ability.

General insights

~ Remain calm and confident

Don't let anyone dominate you. This does not mean you try to hog all the airtime; that will work against you. Assurance, not arrogance, is the mantra.

~ Body language

Seem interested in the discussion, without intruding into others' space. Never point fingers at anyone, or stare at the moderators. Sit with your back erect and face alert. There are limits, however, to how much you can do it without seeming artificial. When in doubt, be yourself.

~ Starting the GD

This usually conveys a positive impression, but make sure you do it only if you have understood the topic properly. If you start the GD despite having only a fuzzy idea of the topic, you risk taking the whole discussion along an incoherent or irrelevant path. This will be seen negatively by the selection panel.

It's usually safe to be the second or third speaker. The key benefit of starting is low competition, since usually upto two or three people attempt to start the GD.

In later stages, when everyone wants to put forth their points, you have to fight to be listened to. It generally works well to define the topic first, before starting to interpret it.

Analyse the topic

Analyse it from various angles. Some mnemonics that help in getting creative ideas:

~ SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

This applies especially for case studies.

~ STEP: Social, Technical, Economic, Political

~ W5H: What, Why, When, Where, Who, How

Who is the protagonist?

Why did she or he do whatever has occurred?

Could it have happened at some other time?

Why exactly this moment?

Such questions will get you thinking and generate a lot of ideas.

Time and space

Usually people tend to place the events only in the current socio-economic milieu. Break out of that mould.

Think five years back, 50 years, medieval times or even antiquity. Don't stick to a particular country (such as India). Think in terms of what would be the case had we been in the US, or Africa, or the Middle East, or South East Asia. Good historical examples, if coherently related to the topic, guarantee visibility and airtime.

I know a person who recited a Gita Shloka in a GD and got selected in an elite B-School. In the interview, the panel would be more interested in a person who made a memorable point in the GD, as compared to somebody who stayed silent.

For example, if the topic is 'The role of media in our daily lives,' don't just talk of the Page 3 culture or the trivialisation of news channels.

Think in terms of other countries: The Truman Show, the current controversy over Prophet Mohammed's cartoons published in a Danish newspaper or the impact the Tiananmen Square massacre photographs had in galvanising world opinion against China.

Talk about how the first Gulf War's coverage on CNN made the American public treat it almost like a video game, and the effect powerful images such as those of the Vietnam War, or the Iraq prisoner-of-war abuse can have on the home citizens' psyche.

Think of the very definition of 'media' itself.

It's the plural of medium, the means of exchanging information. Media is not just newspapers, magazines or television. Think of emerging media, like blogs, online radios and PodCasts.

Even a T-Shirt with a catchy slogan is media, since it gets you noticed, evokes certain emotions in the mind of the reader and affects the way she or he relates to you, behaves with you.

Classic advertisements and their jingles that were part of our childhood are media, since they too evoke specific emotions in a large section of society.

Countries like Malaysia have built positive auras around themselves through the effective use of the advertising media.

In offline media, even a neighbourhood chaiwala is a medium, since through him you get to learn about local happenings and rumours.

Wikipedia (a free encyclopedia) is a powerful and democratic emerging medium of information.

Marry imagination with knowledge

As evident in the media example above, the main thing is to let your imagination flow freely in the one or two minutes you get for thinking about the topic. Jot down ideas as they crowd your brain.

In the last few seconds of the above time, form a coherent opening line in your mind, which would get attention and start directing the discussion. This opener is usually a definition, or a quote ('Perception is reality,' for example). However, you can't just leave a quote hanging in the air, so talk about how media is the most critical source of information, through which our perceptions form.

If you know a bit of history, you can talk about Hearst, who is considered the father of yellow journalism (sensationalising news reporting) and the first person to trivialise newspapers.

Having a good knowledge of history and current affairs undoubtedly helps in GDs, interviews and, for that matter, in any social interaction.

Vishal Bondwal had final admission offers from IIM-Kozhikode, IIM-Indore, FMS and MDI. He is currently a first-year PGDM student at IIM-Kozhikode.

Have you participated in a B-School Groupd Discussion/Personal Interview before? Write in and share your tips.

Don't forget to add your name, age, the name of your management institute, the year in which you passed out and where you currently work.


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Read what others have to say:

Number of User Comments: 3

Sub: thanks

pretty nice information.damn helpful for me .thanks for the contributor

Posted by soumya

Sub: Why the heading is different from the content inside?

Why the heading is different from the content inside?

Posted by D SEN

Sub: GD

Simply Superb Articles. Good birds eye view of the contents of GD and its approaches.

Posted by Venkateswarlu


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