Tips for Effective Class Participation in Business School

 We're here today to talk to you all about class participation for MBA students. Class participation is one of the most important ways that you can engage with the GSB and enhance your own learning. 

Class participation will be, for many of you, the first time your classmates will hear your voice. So try to build a reputation for yourself from the start through class participation. So we know class participation is important, but it's also really hard. 

Tips for Effective Class Participation in Business School

Participating in class discussion can cause a lot of anxiety for a host of different reasons. There are cultural elements at play, diverse backgrounds or limited experience. And the social factor of talking in a large group. 

Cultural differences can be really challenging at the GSB. If you're coming into a new country, you're maybe speaking a language that isn't your first language. In some cultures, you should really differ from the position, the person of authority, or it's really not common place to descent publicly and openly. 

But we want to remind you that the majority of the GSB students come from all over the world. 40% of the students are international and we have representation from 53 different countries. So you're not alone. How you feel, there's somebody else in the room who feels the same way. 

Another concern often comes with your background. I'm just an undergrad. I've only worked a year or two. I don't really know anything or I never worked in finance. How can I participate in a Finance class? Well, actually, asking questions is one of the best ways to participate. 

And what you bring, your background and your experiences is really valuable in the classroom. And, just as a reminder, there's all of us at the GSB come from lots of different industries. And even traditional backgrounds of consulting, finance, investing is only forty percent of the class. The rest of the class has experience in manufacturing, clean tech, government, education. All of these things are super valuable to the collaborative learning environment. 

Finally, the social impact. This is tricky because it's hard to speak in a room full of people. I mean, we've talked about how people are more afraid of dying or people are more afraid of public speaking than they are dying, but the teacher is here to help you address this kind of issue and learn to participate effectively in the classroom.


You all know that class participation really is important in an MBA Program. You also know that it brings a lot of risks and excitement related to it. What we want to share with you today is a simple framework that will help you succeed in the classroom also in your future career. They're based on preparation, presence, and power. 

Let's begin the preparation. Preparation is the best way to reduce all the excitement you may have before first meeting class. The first tip is quite obvious. Just read the case, know your facts and positions before you come to class. It's also great when we all have such a diverse experience, so it would be great if ever you can experience great social, in fact, experience in Africa, Commercial Banking. 

Bring that to the case discussion; bring your own experience for the benefit of the whole class. And finally, if you still are unsure about sharing this in a group like this, have a small group of classmates, the smallest of the group and share your ideas with them before speaking in the whole class. 

Now we are prepared, it's time to go to the classroom which is just like this. And it is true, you all are being evaluated a 100% of the time not only by the professors, but also by all of ourselves. The first thing that you should be concerned with is your own presence. How are you being perceived by your classmates? How is your posture? Are you keeping eye contact with everyone or not? And  lastly, it's also important to be an active listener. 

You have a great presence in class. Now it's your turn. You are the one to have the power to move the conversation forward, to really move the needle. Bring your ideas in a succinct way and share your own side with the whole group. 

It's okay not to agree, it's okay to make questions. They actually help a lot so other students can see the same subject in a totally different way and better understand the being discussed. 

Participation is hard. We come from different backgrounds, we come from different work experiences, and when we get thrown into a room like this, the social pressure is high. It's hard but it is not impossible. 

We're now going to pass out a handout that shares some content delivery tips for your class participation. As you embark today on your GSB journey and go to your first classes and participate in the case method, we want you to keep a few more things in mind. 

First, keep a broad perspective. It's one comment, in one class, in one class session, in one quarter. You don't need to be perfect. If you say something that you're not happy with, trust me, you'll have many more opportunities. 

Also, the skill set is not just applicable in the case method environment here at the GSB. Learning how to participate in large group settings will be applicable to you as you leave the GSB and embark on your career. Also, learn to laugh. Trust me, there will be a time when you forget the case protagonist's name. Or, there will be a time when the class will start laughing, like in my experience, when you say and open your comment for the third time with, when I was working at the sausage factory.

So keep a smile on your face and realize it's not the end of the world. And finally, be patient. You don't enter the GSB and you're not going to be perfect on your first day in your classes on class participation. 

Don't hold yourself to that standard because we're not holding you to that standard. Derek Bolton did not admit you to the GSB because you are a perfect class participant from day one. He admitted you because you are unique and you have a unique perspective. 

You come from unique backgrounds with diverse experiences and because you have something to say. Please bring that to the classroom. We ask you today to bring your whole self to the classroom. To participate and commit to raising your hand in class. 

So if you go through the preparation and think about how you come across in class with presence and know that you do have the power to move the needle, it can help you be in a place that you're willing to raise your hand. We just want to help give you tips to help alleviate any stress or anxiety to encourage you to raise your hand and participate in class. 

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