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Crack the Competition Code: 7 Helpful Tips for Surviving your First Case Competition

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“Team C you’re up” were the last words I remember hearing before Shraddha, Lycus, Rebecca and I walked into the room to present our case recommendation.
Four judges, all industry professionals, waited patiently to hear our strategy. 24 hours of ideation and slide generation, all culminated at this very moment. Pitted against three other teams, the best team from each room would make it to finals and ultimately one step closer to victory.
Our arrival the night before as we stepped onto the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus for the Strategy Case Competition started with enthusiastic greetings from staff and students. After a night of networking, the competition started the next morning with the case distributed to all teams at 9:15 a.m. Each team was assigned its own private workroom and had 24 hours to finalize its slide deck for submission. The case involved coming up with a transformative profitability and growth strategy for a well-known insurance company.
There were two rounds in the competition that saw each team present to a panel of four to five judges. Four teams advanced to the final round, where each had 20 minutes to present to a panel of judges that consisted of senior management, industry professionals, and partners, in addition to all the teams that did not advance. Teams were evaluated on four different categories:
  • Overall content
  • Growth and product strategy recommendations
  • Strategic thinking and analysis
  • Presentation style

With the best team overall winning the money, the bragging rights and the Oprah-sized check – “and you get a check and you get a check!”

So…How did we do?

This is where I would like to tell you we made it finals, wowed the judges with financial projections and rode off into the sunset with a huge check to big for one person to carry. But the truth is, Team C, my team didn’t make it out of the first room. So, what separated those other teams from us and more importantly what lessons did we learn that can help us all in the future? If those same questions have kept you up at night, then you’re in luck, because here are seven helpful tips for lessons we learned that you can implement for your next or first case competition.

 

Cracking the Competition Code
“With our powers combined…”
Tip #1: Build a balanced team. By having team members with different backgrounds, that includes a good opener/closer, someone in finance, marketing, modeling, slide development, etc. Additionally, everyone should have strong presentation skills across the team. This is something we had coming into the case, and by having a balanced team, it ensures that most of your needs are covered.
 “I love that story; can you tell it again?!”
Tip #2: Tell a good story. Build a coherent and well-thought-out story around your solution that carries through the whole presentation. An engaging story line helps the audience understand why the problem occurs, how the solution plans to fix it and how the result ties back to stakeholders’ interests. This is important because when you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered, starting with a personal story can sometimes capture people’s hearts – by first attracting their brains.
“You lead, and I will follow.”
Tip #3: Anticipate the judge’s questions. You must go into the competition with the mindset that every single assumption you make will be scrutinized by the judges. If you are unable to justify any of your assumptions, then the rest of your presentation can look lackluster. The trick to this to think of what questions will be asked during or after your presentation and develop a question path for the judges to ask that your team has already anticipated, correspondingly put the answers for in the appendix. It’s a subtle trick, but one that can leave your team looking pretty smart.
“You know the difference between you and me? I make this look good.”
Tip #4: That early 2000’s Men in Black quote applies to case competitions as well. A well-designed PowerPoint presentation goes a long way.
“Research!? I got your research.”
Tip #5: Do your research. Understanding the changing face of the industry not only helps you to craft a better pitch, but also helps you identify key areas of risk that the company should avoid, opportunities for growth and areas that you’ve considered that they shouldn’t pursue.
“This is a good idea, but why should we do it?”
Tip #6: Know your value proposition. You must be able to clearly articulate why your idea is good for the company. This means demonstrating how it will strengthen the company and add value if implemented effectively. The trick is to make the value proposition easy to understand by outlining which aspects of the company can be easily leveraged with limited cost to make this idea a reality.
“That’s the best plan I’ve ever heard”
Tip #7 Get some sleep. Trust me it matters (zombies should never present in a case competition). Business cases are long and stressful, be gentle with your body and your mind (allow yourself to breathe, take breaks, eat, sleep, party). Also, have a designated snack bringer (Team member, Lycus, with the gummy bears for the win).
So…how do I feel now?
Ultimately, great consultants combine their innate insights and experience with a deep understanding of their client. The same principles apply to the teams who compete successfully: teams and individuals who combine innate insight and creativity with a deep understanding of the case. These teams have the ability to lead judges, partners, and stakeholders on a journey while daring to trust their instincts.

To be honest, I had always heard that business school changes you, but this experience truly made me realize what that means.


Orvil Savery is a first year Crosby MBA student pursuing an emphasis in Management. He has dedicated the last five years of his professional career to recruiting and cultivating an inclusive and diverse company workforce in which every employee can deliver results in their own unique ways. He serves as the Graduate Assistant for the Vasey Academy and as the 1st year policy representative for the MBA student association (CMBAA) where he works on developing and implementing policy objectives. When not working, you can find him dancing awkwardly at an EDM festival or trying to figure out which documentary he should add to his Netflix queue (and never watch).