The National Black MBA Association Annual Conference offers graduate business students from the nation’s leading business schools the opportunity for professional development and job recruitment events. During the conference, students can compete in the National Black Case Competition, in which they present their analysis of real business cases to judges who range from senior-level executives to representatives from top business schools.
At the 2015 competition in Orlando, Full-time MBA student, Amiri Brotherson ’16, was selected as one of two Best Presenters based on his presence, delivery and competency. Brotherson shared his experience with public speaking and presentation best practices with us.
Have you always enjoyed public speaking? What was different or unique about your presentation at the 2015 competition?
Believe it or not, I used to be terrified of public speaking. In middle school, I was interviewed by a local news station at a volunteer event that my school was hosting. I could barely look the reporter or anyone near me in the eye. My sentences were all over the place. They scrapped the interview and it never aired.
My parents knew I had the ability to be a great speaker. I just needed a more conducive outlet. They encouraged me to audition for the school play. I turned out to be a natural and was assigned a lead role. My acting coach taught me the importance of projecting my voice and speaking confidently so that everyone could hear me. I incorporate many of those lessons into the presentations I give to this day.
The National Black Case Competition was similar to most case competitions I’ve seen. You are put in a conference room with four judges, a projection screen and a few people in the audience. They are not allowed to interrupt you during the presentation and have high expectations. I wrote out every word I wanted to say. Then I practiced my delivery, monitoring my tone and my body language. The judges are doing more than just listening to your words. They are watching your facial expressions and body language. When practicing a presentation, I carefully monitor all of these to make sure the delivery is perfect.
Who’s been a role model for you in terms of developing your presentation skills?
My father has been my greatest role model for everything, including public speaking. He gives a lot of presentations at work and at church. I grew up watching him address the congregation as a church leader on a weekly basis. He is also a teacher, so I’ve watched how he commands the attention of a classroom the second he walks in the door. He taught me the importance of speaking with authenticity. You have to put your heart into whatever you are saying.
My skills were sharpened even further by Jim Arnold, A.B.D., my communications professor at St. Thomas. He taught me how to add appropriate pauses and body movement to my presentations. He also equipped me with some creative ways to start a presentation to keep the audience engaged until the end.
What are your tips for a stand-out presentation, whether in a business or classroom setting?
My first suggestion is to have your presentation memorized and only use your slides as a reference point. A common mistake I see with presenters is that they read directly from their slides. When I present, I want the attention directed towards me. Only when I look at my slides do I want my audience to look in that direction as well.
A second suggestion is to set the tone of your presentation from your first word. “Um, OK, let’s get started” is not the way to start a presentation. From the second your audience is ready, command the stage. Be clear with your tone of voice and your facial expressions. Show them that this will not be a typical, boring presentation. Have a compelling introduction. Get your audience so engaged from the beginning that they are hanging on your every word. Finally, make eye contact with your audience.
What does the future hold for you? What’s your dream job after graduation?
I see a lot of great things in my future. I know there will be plenty of presentations for me as well. I see myself in a team environment where creativity is nurtured and encouraged. I love working with people. I want to improve systems and present information in a way that inspires, encourages and brings out the best in our greatest resources, human beings.
My dream job would be working at a big consumer packaged goods company here in the Twin Cities in the marketing department. I love studying consumer behavior and understanding how consumers interact with brands. I’m thankful to all the people I’ve come into contact with at St. Thomas – their contributions have furthered my development as a business professional.