The Columbia EMBA Experience
As I’m wrapping up the last few weeks of the Executive MBA Program at Columbia Business School, I’ve been thinking alot about my experience, the great classes, professors, lifelong connections and friends that have been made during the journey. During the past 2 years, my classmates and I have had a crashcourse in time management, prioritization, and the jump back into academics – and naturally one of the first things to go was the focus on my personal blog.
This piece will be the first in a series of retrospective thoughts on the b-school experience, takeaways and lessons learned. I hope it provides some context of what I’ve ben up to for the last two years, but also proves as a resource for prospective students who come across it.
The Leader’s Voice: Communicating To Lead Organizations
One of the classes I have had the pleasure to take during my Columbia experience was with Professors Angela Lee & Brad Aspel entitled The Leader’s Voice - B7538-001. It focuses on the tactics, techniques, and best practices for becoming a better communicator in both spoken and written mediums.
Over the 12 week course we touched on many different topics. We had the chance to do everything from practicing synthesizing long articles into quick soundbites to building a repitoire of stories that we can tell in any situation be it professional or casual. Presentations were to the entire class as well in small coaching groups, receiving and giving solid unadulturated feedback. There are not many circumstances in which you have the chance to practice these kind of skills! I have found that in general, some of the most beneficial material and experiences throughought school have centered around perfecting and practicing a multitute of “soft-skills”. Sure there was a fair share of hardcore financial modeling and valuation material that is also invaluable, but there is something about knowing how to command a room and captivate an audience.
As part of the final project and setup for putting the learnings into action we each gave a presentation and were asked to critique and receive feedback from a coach in attendence. I’ll talk briefly about the experience, but mainly focus on the skills leveraged and how my presentation style changed over time before and after the class.
As a mobile engineer and solution architect, a large portion of my day-to-day centers around talking to customers, developers, and the tech community on a multitue of varied topics. On one day day I do deep dives on platform architecture and systems integration, on another day I might be talking about industry trends, and then shift to talking about a particular project or presenting conceptual product vision. That being said, I have always been told that my style was solid and never really thought I needed to work on too much. After going through some exercises in class and in the small group settings, I found there was so much that could be done to refine my style and improve the clarity and impact of my presentations. There were 3 key areas which I chose to actively monitor and focus on when applying the in class learning to my day-to-day and for my talk:
- Preparation: I have always been one to prep slides and then jump right into a talk, but this sometimes can backfire on having a preconceived flow & approach and sense of timing or familiarity with the talking points without actually rehearsing.
- Adapting to the Audience with Clarity of Intent: Rather than focusing only on content (content IS key) and the goals of the talk, need to instead focus on what the receiving end is getting out of it.
- Visual & Non-Verbal Queues: Alot of my presentations have been webinars or remote, so there are alot of visual cues and mannerisms that are not necessarily apparent.
That talk I gave, happened to be something that was very close and personal to me, my CBS Matters presentation to my fellow EMBA peers. To give some context, CBS Matters is a farily casual, yet organized forum for members of the busines school community to share what they’re passionate about and where they want their careers to go – 15 minutes of fame in front of your peers so to speak. I’ve heard some fantastics stories from many in my class and wanted to have the opportunity to present my own story before leaving. For my presentation I focused less on myself and background but more on two areas that are very important to me, music and family and the intersection of both. My grandfather, Salil Chowdhury (whom I reference quite a bit) was a film composer in Bollywood and I talked through some of the experiences that I had learning from him, and also extending his legacy into the future for subsquent generations to appreciate. At some point I’ll put up the slides but for now; here’s the long form of a video that I showed developed by the Salil Chowdhury Foundation of music.
The key part of my preparation centered around understanding my audience and putting forth areas of my life and background that people maybe did not know too well about me. Since I’ve had 2 years getting to know my classmates I have had many opportunities at happy hours, social events, and internationl trips to share some great stories, but I wanted to switch things up and talk a bit about something that nobody had ever heard before (for the most part). The experience was great to share, and learned quite a bit of tatics from the class that were put to use.
Overall the Leader’s Voice was a extremely valuable class. I for one would love to see if there is a way to create a digital training experience that helps tackle the topics and practice in a different setting (MOOC maybe?).
As a takeaway, I’d like to propose a 3 bucket approach for anyone to benefit from the material covered in the class. Anyone who would like to become a better communicator should focus on the following three areas as a curriculum:
Preparing to Captivate an Audience:
- Non-Verbals Cues
Tactics and Putting Into Practice
- Public Speaking
- Managing Teams
- Managing Time & Projects
- Communicating Through Other Channels
Creating your own Personal Brand
- Innovation & Creativity
- Business Improv
- Building Relationships