I love Booth’s “Essay” 3, the PowerPoint.
There, I’ve said it, placing myself at odds with most MBA applicants and many of my colleagues, including fellow Accepted editors. Even Accepted’s president Linda Abraham has pointed out, right here in this almanac, some of the challenges the PowerPoint poses, from potentially stifling creativity (by stipulating four static slides) to limiting communication by discouraging the use of separate notes/text.
Linda makes good points, as always. Because PowerPoint is the standard presentation tool for organizations of all stripes, many users have become overly reliant on the same old clip art, bulleted text, and boxes and arrows. Others go overboard with animation, builds, and the like, such that key messages are lost. But that’s an issue with how PowerPoint has been used, not the application itself. And as you’ll see in a moment, I fully agree with Booth’s admonition against using text. The slides should speak for themselves. I say that in part because at McKinsey, we PowerPoint junkies (we had a whole separate department that just did PowerPoints!) used the tool’s output to support progress reports and other presentations, but also designed our PowerPoints as standalones, because not everyone could attend every meeting. The slides had to speak for themselves.
And so should yours. The tips below will help you think about how to approach this application component:
Use visuals, not words. You’ve probably heard this, but it can’t be overstated. The PowerPoint is not another opportunity to tell them about yourself exclusively in words. Don’t use bulleted lists of achievements, interests, goals. Instead, use pictures, (fun) charts and graphs, icons, and anything else you can think of to illustrate your themes and points. You’ve probably done visual storytelling—for work, schools, family reunions, weddings, whatever—before, without even realizing it. So put those skills to work: think about the themes/ideas you want to illuminate (see below), then find pictures and other visuals that work. Of course you should use some words as titles, brief explanations (e.g., captions) and the like, but visuals should dominate. If Booth wanted to read more from you, they would have asked for three essays, not two essays and a PowerPoint.
Use structure. If there’s one thing my clients take away from our collaboration (hopefully there are more), it’s the need for structure. Essays should have clear story-based or other structures, and the PowerPoint is no different. Granted, there’s more leeway here. But the slides, however disparate their themes/content may seem, should be linked. If nothing else, they’re linked by one key factor: they represent you. With that in mind, some of my clients present an upfront, “organizing” slide that shows a picture of them surrounded by three key areas of their lives that the remaining three slides will illuminate: community service, sports involvement, and family, for example. A latent benefit of this approach is that it alleviates the need for four distinct slides about different areas of your life; it can be hard to come up with that many. Other clients take a more theme-based approach, crafting the PowerPoint around a theme like “building my community and myself” or “making a difference at work, for myself, and for my community.” In this way, the PowerPoint becomes a visual representation of rival Stanford’s perennial Question 1: What matters most to you and why? Again, consider using visuals to bolster the theme—maybe bricks for building, or a globe for making a difference. Similarly, use structure within each slide. There should be a logical flow to and arrangement of slide elements.
Avoid redundancy. This should be obvious, but the PowerPoint material should go beyond what you’ve presented in your essays or other application materials. You’ve probably covered your career development and goals and maybe an extracurricular (e.g., community service) in those, so avoid significant overlap with what came before. At the same time, even in those areas you might use the PowerPoint to enhance your profile. For example, if your goal includes working for your family business but you haven’t been employed there yet, use a slide to show (not just talk about) more of the business—a picture of family members involved or products it creates or manufacturing facilities; a brief list, with visuals ideally, of how you’d help grow the business. If you detailed community service in Essay 2, dedicate a PowerPoint slide to your involvement in sports or religion or cultural events. If you don’t have much to say about past achievements in those areas, present future goals related to them, with as many specifics/visuals as possible. Think creatively: you could even use a slide to detail a new club you’d establish at Booth or an initiative you’d drive for an existing one. As with the essays, a focused, richly detailed single example or idea works much better than a scattershot, superficial list of items.
I hope these tips give you a little more confidence to approach the much-dreaded Booth PowerPoint. My fellow editors and I would be happy to help you power through it.
By Dr. Sachin Waikar, Accepted.com Editor.