The Curious Case Of Class Participation

Once upon a time attending an early morning class at 10’o clock, half asleep I relentlessly scrounged through my case study looking for that paragraph. The one that is expected to be discussed next. Skimming through myriads of lines, I finally bumped on to something. As soon as the teacher moved to the next expected topic; my hands went up high. High enough to stand tall to talk about that one paragraph I read in class. That’s the story of almost every class about “How I participated in Class Participation.” 

“The curious case of Class Participation” is meant to provide direction for being Class Participation ready. Class Participation is an important aspect of most of Strategy and Marketing courses and mostly holds a heavy weightage of about 10-30% which a student should not let go off.

The excerpts are stories from my one year of MBA that honed my ability to speak up in class. The article broadly covers the aspects of class participation concerning ” When to speak, What to speak and How to speak” It also covers the aspects of required preparation for various types of class participation as well as the augmented benefits of good class participation which extend beyond your marks.

Disclaimer: The below excerpts are for classes where the teacher is not a fan of cold calling and asking questions from your pre-reads. Prep for those classes is something that is mostly not recommended to be avoided.

Before we start discussing class participation and it’s quintessential to understand the nuances between Class participation ( CP) and Desperate Class Participation (DCP).The most important factors that separate CP and DCP are the frequency of CP in one class, the length of your CP and finally the content of your CP.

The Thumb Rules of a good CP 

Speak twice per class. Speak about relevant topics that you can reinforce with real-time examples. Speak in short sentences of 3-4 sentences at max. Do not regress and beat around the bush in a loop. Once you master the thumb rules, you’ll find that you’re automatically favoured by the prof to state your points first. Most importantly never make that point just two minutes before the class is about to end. One caveat to the frequency rule would be, you can maximise the frequency at the last five classes as the whole class would be more keen to speak or in a class where the entire class may be a little ill-equipped with the case. Moreover, you can leverage the recency bias effect where the impact made in the last few classes can create a huge difference if the prof doesn’t have an assistant marking your points for every session.

Hacks to class participate with ZERO prep 

The below excerpts mostly deal with class participation when you have not read your pre-reads. A certain amount of business acumen is needed to be honed before reaching this level. It’s important to understand the nuisances of the foundational elements and be very thorough of the frameworks that can help you think concerning the industry as well as the firm. (deep diving into SWOT, Porter’s 5 forces, VRIN and Value Chain enhances your thinking a lot).

However, the willingness to participate in class remains an important factor that adds to the learning curve to participate with zero prep in class. This reinstates the importance to speak up in class as you get better only with practice. Remember business schools teach about cases that are relatable either directly or indirectly.

  • Anticipate the structure of discussion 

At a lot of my classes, I wasn’t aware of the case contents that was supposed to be discussed, but I made it my responsibility to get an idea of the questions that are expected to be discussed and are mentioned at the end of the case. After coming to class a little early, I’ll mostly open Prezi/Slideshare as it serves as the repository to most of the HBR case studies and ideates the structure about which the case is about to be discussed. It also directs me towards what to look for as I skim through and where to look for in the data-intensive exhibits.

It’s good to analyse the construct of the few initial cases that you read for example most cases start with the objective in the first paragraph, followed by the company history which leads up to the current business model along with the competitor analysis. Before I started writing a business case for a project this was a prevalent structure that I found prominent in most case studies.

Hence even if I haven’t read the entire case, the first two pages of in-depth study make it good enough for me to get an idea and wrap up my class participation as the context is set for the class.

  • Know the pain-points:

Problem-solution fit is all that most cases revolve around. Once you see the discussion pointing towards a problem, you’ll be most likely to focus reading the next paragraph of which the problem is being discussed and the paragraph is most likely holds the next pain-point that would be discussed subsequently.

  • Sit where you’re visible and audible

In a lot of my marketing classes, I made sure to sit near the professor in case my seating is not fixed. Just “loud” discussions about few case prospects with an adjacent buddy were enough for the prof to pick up and start discussing it.

  • The art of asking questions:

Raise doubts even if you have understood the topic. The mastery of this comes when you have a small doubt which you can later question and be clear about it. But even small excerpts like:

” Sir, I wasn’t able to understand that”, “Sir I’m not convinced of that” can mark your class participation points. The key to this would listen to talk back and not just listen to understand. As when you listen to dissent, you already cover some aspects of understanding as well. This is the trickiest part as under preparation can be easily gauged. However, once mastered can be easily pulled off.

  • Collude with your friends for all the presentations.

Know which is the group that will be presenting and get insights on what can be possibly asked. It would promote peer relationships than being known as the know-it-all exhibitionist who screws people by finding faults in their presentations.

  • It’s okay to do substandard CP once in a while.

Believe me; your friends don’t even remember what the prof speaks for 20 sessions. They would barely remember what you spoke in one particular session. Moreover, I have done a lot of the wrong CP in my classes which were rectified by my profs. This added to fine-tuning my thought process and got a better understanding of what not to speak about.

Pros and Cons of Class Participation.

Class participation benefits are not just restricted to your class. You hone your ability to dissent in the corporate meeting, and it also adds to your ability to speak up when required. You learn to let go of your inherent inhibitions and also be able to articulate freely and flawlessly. Moreover, if you can speak the right things at the right time; Bazinga! Recognition from the prof as well as the class is at the tip of your fingers. This further enhances relationships to seek help from profs regarding business problems outside the course as well as forming groups in your second year as you’re rather known as the kid who knows a thing or two and talks sense. But again you’re treading on a fine line breaking the thumb rules and indulging in DCP can be precarious for your reputation. You may be known as that guy who wastes the class’s as well as the prof’s valuable time. Never be that guy.

In the end be that guy/girl who projects an amazing personality by speaking in class rather than being that guy who just talks of loads of crap and seems desperate for that one or two marks.

You may also end up in a sweet spot as mentioned in the concluding meme:

Source: Bong Sense Meme Making App

Aninda Halder

Aninda Halder is a student at IIM Bangalore PGP 17-19. He is a fitness enthusiast conflicted by his love for food and enjoys good music and movies.