How to do well in the Group Discussion
The Group Discussion stage forms an integral part of the admission process to most IIMs. It tests you on several aspects. The Group Discussion is an excellent platform for you to showcase your communication skills, reasoning ability, ability to be a team player and also your leadership qualities. All of these are essential in order to be a good manager.
The weightage that the Group Discussion carries in your final admission decision is also significant, ranging from 15-20%. More importantly, the Group Discussion is your first opportunity to make an impression on the panel that will be interviewing you later. First impressions always count, and you don’t want the panel to have any negative preconceived notions about you.
The Group Discussion can follow any of several formats. Usually, the groups are of 8-11 people. The topic is given at the start. At this point, the panel may ask you to write on the topic for 5-10 minutes and then discuss it, or to gather your thoughts for a couple of minutes and then start. In either case, there is absolutely no excuse for not carrying a pen and paper into the Group Discussion room. If you are required to start after a couple of minutes, quickly jot down some points that seem relevant to you. Concentrate on thinking of as many points as you can at this point instead of trying to frame the points in your best language. If you have more time, you can present the points in a more coherent fashion. However, remember that substance is always more important than style. This does not, of course, mean that you should write abbreviations, sms-language, or use poor grammar, but there is no point in being unnecessarily verbose.
Group Discussion topics are of three types. The topic may be a social or political issue that the panel wants you to discuss e.g. climate change. It may also take the form of a case where you are required to think for a protagonist and decide on an appropriate course of action. Finally, it may be a completely abstract topic such as “Orange”. A common variation in Group Discussions occurs when the panel asks you to select by consensus a topic to be discussed (without giving you any options), or asks you to choose between two topics the one you wish to discuss as a group. Remember that you are being judged even during the process of reaching a decision. Never assume that the Group Discussion has not begun because a topic has not been selected. Every word you speak in the Group Discussion room is on the record, as GDs are meant to simulate corporate meetings which are always painfully formal discussions in the real world.
There are some tactics that I used during my IIM GDs, which helped me a great deal. They are:
- Pretend like it’s real: In a real corporate meeting, you need to treat everyone with respect and also win their respect in order to bring everyone around to your point of view. There are several things that you simply cannot do in a real meeting that I find people do during Group Discussions, such as putting someone else down or using a casual tone of voice. Pretending like it’s a real meeting will automatically make you more alert and less prone to making mistakes during the GD.
- Treat everyone with respect: An important attribute you will be judged on is whether you are a team player or not. Being disdainful will therefore not help you. Be polite when dealing with opposing points of view. Try to explain with logical reasons why a person is incorrect, no matter how outrageous his line of reasoning is. Also, never ever tell someone that he is wrong. Use softer phrases like ‘That’s interesting but another point of view would be…’ or ‘That’s true in some cases but I would also like to point out that…’
- Don’t panic: The point you were just trying to make was just stolen. The person next to you is shouting down everything you’re saying. Relax. The panel judging you looks at how well you can deal with people and situations. Take a deep breath, compose yourself, think of another point and jump back into the discussion like nothing happened.
- Forget what your GD coach taught you: Well, not all of it, but the parts about speaking at least 6-7 times in a 15 minute GD. Every GD is different. You can open your mouth just twice during a GD and end up looking like the best candidate in the room, or make 15 points and still find yourself on the list of rejects. There are no set rules that can be framed about the number of times you should speak. Go with the flow, and do what you feel comfortable doing. Quality and not quantity is what the panel is looking for. Remember though, that to get some points you need to speak at least a couple of times.
- Get plenty of practice: The more GDs you practice, the better you get. You can refine your style of speaking as well as your thought process with the aid of practice GDs. Practicing GDs also makes you adept at handling different types of situations and ensures that you’re on top of your game when it counts. Practice both case as well as non-case GDs as you never know what the IIMs will spring on you.
- Body Language is important, but not that important: Most GD coaches put undue stress on your body language during a GD. While it is important to look alert during a GD, concentrating on how you look rather than on how you talk will only hamper your chances. Ensure that you do the basics of sitting up straight, looking everyone in the eye while speaking and not being too animated (e.g. waving your arms wildly about). Apart from that, make a genuine effort to listen to people. This will wipe that bored expression off your face, and also stop you from twiddling your pen and staring at your shoes.
- Don’t be scared to start: Do not hesitate to be the first one to speak, if you feel that everyone has taken sufficient time to think during the GD. The panel appreciates leadership skills. At the same time, don’t just say any old thing. Be prepared with a coherent opening statement, don’t ramble, and never, ever summarize the topic given to you or start off with sentences like “Dear Friends, we are gathered here at the GD of IIMX to discuss…” This is a formal discussion, and everybody knows why they are there.
- Practice role-play: For case GDs, practice writing down the names of the concerned parties and writing points from their points of view. This will help you gain a clearer understanding of the problem and help you channel your thoughts better.
- Think before you speak: Needless to say, there is no sense in shouting down someone only to blurt out half a sentence. This creates a bad impression. Mentally prepare at least a couple of sentences that you want to say. If someone cuts you off and prevents you from saying everything you wanted to, hey, at least you tried. The panel will appreciate the effort. Also, concentrate on only one point at a time. Don’t try and touch on multiple points during a single foray into the GD, as chances are that not only will the second point not be heard, it will also be stolen by someone else.
- Remember the summary: Many IIMs require you to write a GD summary. Those that don’t usually ask students for an oral summary. This is a great chance to make a good impression on the panel in a safe environment away from the bustle of a GD, as the panel gives their undivided attention to one candidate at a time. Therefore, never lose track of the GD in the rush to speak, and try and always have an overall ‘feel’ of where the discussion is heading.
- Read: Finally, it helps to keep abreast of the news of the world and the country. People quoting facts and figures during a GD create a fantastic impression if the figures are accurate and relevant. Even if the figures are slightly inaccurate, as opposed to blatantly ridiculous, they ensure the speaker a chance to be heard, as people usually respect someone who they perceive to have a deeper knowledge of the topic. A person who is well-read can expect to encounter few topics which are alien to him, which is a huge advantage in a GD.
The most important things in a GD are your maturity and confidence. When you speak, take your time. Try and show restraint in everything you do. Finally, if the unthinkable happens and you are confronted with an abstract topic or topic that you know nothing about, listen to what other people are saying for 3-4 minutes. You will pick up enough hints on things to talk about before jumping into the Group Discussion with your own points.
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