Rob Paddock’s design narrative – Strategy in the trenches
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Robert James Paddock
9 April 2013
I own an online education company that works very closely with a local University. Earlier this year one of the Course Conveners at the University asked me to come and talk to a group of fourth year business science students about my experience of business strategy.
My lecture was one of many in a “guest lecturer series” presented over six weeks in a fourth year business science programme called “business strategy”. Each lecture is one hour long, and the students attend two lectures per week.
As fourth year students, most are between the ages of 22 and 24, but there were a number of much older students present. The lecture was attended by about 450 students in a massive amphitheatre style lecture hall.
The Course Convener was not looking for a specialist in business strategy to come and talk to his class, rather, he wanted a business owner to come and talk to the students about their everyday experience of business strategy “from the trenches”. My objective was to share as many stories as possible that would illustrate some basic principles of business strategy. I planned to keep the lecture light and engaging with examples that the students could relate to, and hoped to use the level of student interaction as a measure of success.
I prepared for the lecture by creating a presentation in Prezi. I wanted to keep the lecture light, so I decided to created a presentation which provided visually appealing talking points which promped me to tell stories.
I started the lecture by introducing myself to the students, and focussed extensively on the things I knew I would have in common with them. This went very well and I felt it established some common ground between the students and me.
I had just gotten married a few months before this lecture, so I decided to share a story with them of the “strategic thinking” that my wife and I had to do with an outdoor wedding. My wife actually attended the lecture, so I was able to point her out to the students. My wife wanted to kill me afterwards, but it was great to be able to tell a story and have the two main characters in the story present at the lecture.
I then shared my very simple business strategy philosophy, and spent the remainder of the lecture telling stories of how this philosophy has played out in real life for me.
With such a large class, it was almost impossible to get the sort of student engagement I had hoped for. I realised this very quickly, and decided to leave a 15-minute gap at the end of my stories for questions and answers. This was probably the best I could do under the circumstances, but I was very disillusioned by the level of engagement that is possible with a class of this size.
I felt the students enjoyed this practical account of business strategy, and they actively engaged with me in the Q & A section at the end. With such an enormous student group, extensive interaction with the group is very difficult, and I had to ask a number of students to come and chat to me afterwards for fear of spending too long on any one question when there was such a short amount of time available for discussion, and such a big student group.
On reflection I felt that my slides could have been simpler, and I should have included more pictures. With regards to interacting with a group of 450+ students in a lecture theatre, I felt that I should have asked more questions to the student group, and asked them to engage with a few people around them on the discussion topics. It’s not practical or sensible for the only interaction to be between students and lecturer with a group of that size.