Guide for Guest Speakers

This page is for business professionals who are interested in Guest Speaking in a) classes that are taught by Prof. Hackett, and b) academic society meetings where Prof. Hackett is a member.

Life is precious and too short… we need to make the most of opportunities. So, in the time available to work with any invited Guest Speaker, I want the Guest Speaker to be able to maximize the opportunity:

• to develop their managerial skills of Storytelling and Problem Articulation as part of the process of preparing their presentation;
• to leverage a method for designing quality and structure into their presentation (providing a structure allows the Guest Speaker to focus more on the story)
• to leverage a method for making their thinking visible [so they can engage in metacognition and so the audience can understand how the speaker is thinking]
• to leverage a method for making the Problem (or “managerial dilemma”) at the center of their Presentation “discussable” so the audience can engage with the Guest Speaker during the Q&A.

To say it another way, from my perspective, inviting someone to be a Guest Speaker can be a simple transactional relationship: “You speak and your reputational capital goes up, and if we have a budget we give you a small honorarium.”

But, if I take the time to properly structure the opportunity to be a Guest Speaker, then the opportunity to be a Guest Speaker can become an opportunity for personal and professional development for the Guest Speaker as well as an opportunity to “win the audience,” increase their reputational capital, and “earn an honorarium.”

Accordingly, this Guide is intended to help Guest Speakers to maximize their guest speaking opportunities. It is one small but intentional effort to act in accordance with my values as a professional who cares about making the world a better place through transformational learning.

How to Succeed at Guest Speaking

Developing your Storytelling and Problem Articulation Skills.

Whether you are Guest Speaking in one of my CLASSes or at an ACADEMIC SOCIETY where I am a member, this page offers a rationale (and a template) for crafting your presentation slide deck as a mini-Case Study with a formal Problem Statement as the core of your mini-Case Study.

CLASS. If you are invited to be a Guest Speaker in a class that I teach, I will work with you to align your topic with the topic that is specified in the course syllabus. And, as detailed below, I will encourage you to make a Problem Statement the core of a mini-Case Study. This approach will help you develop the key managerial skills of Storytelling and Problem Articulation while also helping to ensure that your audience is able to understand your presentation.

ACADEMIC SOCIETY. In theory, if you are invited by me to be a Guest Speaker at an Academic Society where I am a member, you are free to choose the topic of your presentation (in consultation with me and my colleagues in the relevant committee of the academic society) and you will be asked to give a presentation in English within the time limit that we set. As a practical matter, however, your audience will be mostly academics who are interested in issues relating to the intersection of international business and inter-cultural management and who are accustomed to the following types of presentations:

  • Academic Research Papers [These appear in academic journals and tend to have an introduction, literature review, model + hypotheses, methods & results, and conclusions. The goal of most academic papers in the domain of management research is usually to make a contribution to theory. Claims about the Truth are cautious and must be connected to data. Statistical significance is highly valued].
  • Case Studies [These are used in MBA classrooms and also appear in some academic journals when they meet certain criteria. Fundamentally, a Case Study represents an inductive approach to knowledge creation; that is, we hope to derive some general principles from lessons learned through a specific case].
  • Work in-Progress Academic Research Papers / Poster Presentations [These are early drafts of Academic Research Papers. They are presented in order to get developmental feedback, enabling the author to improve the paper before submitting for review].
  • Round Table/Panel Discussion [A topical discussion that blends practitioner experience with academic insights].
  • Non-Academic or Practitioner Contributions [Presentations about some lived experience and lessons learned from the business world; sometimes these presentations are excellent AND they conform to academic norms and expectations, but often they do not. Sometimes, the underlying theme of the presentation is “This is the way we do it in [my part of] the real world of business and we are succeeding so everybody should do it this way.” Although this underlying theme is meaningful to the Guest Speaker, this type of contribution is not always received well by academics as it has the potential to stray too far from the norms of academia. Also, the rate of change in business is so rapid now that what was the “Truth” about how to succeed yesterday, may not be the “Truth” today].
    • This is an example of an excellent, brief practitioner contribution from a Disney executive turned two-time business school dean. Why is it excellent? It builds from the author’s business experience to generalizable insights and timeless truths. Additionally, key terms are defined so we can understand what the author means. Why might it be problematic for academics to discuss this excellent practitioner contribution if given as a presentation at an academic society? It is not connected to the academic literature. There is no overarching theory that sets boundary conditions and binds the insights together in a useful, predictive lattice…. Consider the fact that the insights draw credibility from the business achievements of the author. Now consider the same insights offered by someone without a similarly stellar business history. Would you treat the same insights with the same level of respect? Most academics would reject the assertions as “opinions and common sense, unsupported by any data…”.

Coming from a non-academic background, it is likely that you will choose to present a mini-Case Study or a Non-Academic or Practitioner Contribution. Whichever format you choose, a key point to keep in mind is that academics know how to discuss a Case Study presentation with a guest speaker much better than they know how to discuss non-academic or practitioner contributions. (Candidly, as a frequent “Discussant” of Guest Speaker presentations, I sometimes struggle to offer meaningful comments when the Guest Speaker opts for a Non-Academic or Practitioner Contribution).

Becoming a Guest Speaker

What Value Does Guest Speaking Create for Learners?

VALUE FOR LEARNERS. As a university educator and as a member of an academic society, my purpose in inviting Guest Speakers from Industry is to enhance Learners’ (i.e. students’ and academic society members’) understanding of the issues faced by practicing managers. Invited Guest Speakers expose my Learners to real-world problems/challenges/opportunities. This enables Learners to better connect academic theory with real world knowledge and professional practice.

What Value Does Guest Speaking Create for Guest Speakers?

“There are few management skills more powerful than the discipline of clearly articulating the problem you seek to solve before jumping into action.”

Repenning, N. P., Kieffer, D., & Astor, T. (2017). The most underrated skill in management. Sloan Management Review. 58(3), 39-48.

VALUE FOR GUEST SPEAKERS. The practice of stepping back from your work, reflecting, and making meaning from the important work that you do and the issues that you face is something that all leaders need to do regularly. It is also a practice that sometimes takes a back seat to more [seemingly] urgent issues. So, preparing a presentation is an opportunity to work on your Managerial Practice of Reflection, Sensemaking, and Decision Making; it also helps you to focus and clarify your own understanding of what you are Learning by Doing at work. Additionally, if you choose to present a mini-Case Study with a Problem Statement at the core of the mini-Case Study using the format provided below, then you will also be developing two essential leadership skills: Storytelling and Problem Articulation. In turn, by carefully articulating the problem at the core of your mini-Case Study you are more likely to be able to leverage the Q&A session to get multiple perspectives on the Problem you have presented.

Who Would Be a Great Guest Speaker?

  • You are a practicing manager working in an organization that has international business and inter-cultural management dimensions, and
  • You are comfortable (more or less… feeling nervous is normal) presenting in English, and
  • You are willing to engage in a meaningful discussion (Q&A) about the problem or issue you present.

What Constitutes a Good Topic

Fundamentally, as noted above, my Learners are interested in developing a better understanding of the problems encountered in international business, particularly when inter-cultural management issues are involved. Accordingly, I seek Guest Speakers who can craft and deliver presentations that are essentially a mini-Case Study with a Problem Statement at the core of the mini-Case Study. The sections below provide more information about Problem Statements, including a template that you can use to help you prepare your slide deck.

Background Information on Problem Statements

A Problem Statement is a concise statement that summarizes the current state (in which the problem is occurring), the ideal state (the goal, but not the solution to the problem), and the gap between the Current State and the Ideal State.

When you present a mini-Case Study with a formal Problem Statement at the core of the case study, you do three things: 1) you develop two of the most important skills in management: Storytelling and Problem Articulation, 2) you make your thinking about the Problem visible, and 3) you make the Problem “discussable” for your audience.

According to McKinsey & Co., “a ‘Problem Definition’ is a way to frame a problem so that we are clear up front on what we are trying to solve, and what success will look like.”

To arrive at a good, succinct, formal Problem Definition, it helps to go through the process of crafting a Problem Statement.

Part of the process of crafting a Problem Statement is Problem Framing which helps you to avoid “jumping to a solution” prematurely by enabling you to explore the Problem Space divergently, before converging on a Problem Definition. To reiterate: Problem Framing occurs before you arrive at a formal Problem Definition.

Please consider the figure below for more insight on this point.

Figure 1. The British Design Council’s Double Diamond design process model helps reinforce the importance of exploring the “Problem Space” before you decide on your Problem Definition. Crafting a Problem Statement can be helpful for exploring the Problem Space.

How to Present a Problem Statement for Discussion

The figure above and template below offer insights on how to prepare a presentation of a Problem for Discussion as a Guest Speaker.

AUDIENCE ANALYSIS. The audience tends to be students and/or academics and they are unlikely to be familiar with the context in which your problem is occurring. Additionally, many members of the audience are proficient in English but they are not natively fluent in English. So, thinking about how to simplify and clarify your explanation of the Problem such that the audience is able to understand the Problem and then ask you questions that help you to see the Problem from new perspectives is very important.

A good Problem Statement has the sections indicated in the template below.

Problem Statement Template

  • Goal: What are you and/or your organization trying to achieve?
  • Background & Context of the Problem
    • The TRIGGER (i.e. a critical incident or complication that alerted you to the existence of the Problem).
    • WHAT are the a) salient characteristics and b) consequences of the Problem?
    • WHO is experiencing this Problem?
    • WHEN is the Problem occurring?
    • WHERE is the Problem occurring?
    • WHY is this an important Problem to solve?

Note: The Problem Statement Template continues after the quotes on problem framing below. These quotes are provided because problem framing is a challenging topic to explain.

“Problem-framing emphasizes focusing on the problem definition. Since how one defines a problem determines one’s understanding of and approach to that problem, being able to redefine or reframe a problem and to explore the “problem space” can help broaden the range of alternatives and solutions examined.”

– L.V. Bardwell

“When facing a complex challenge, it is necessary to decide what the real problem is so that one can focus critical thinking on it. If this is done carelessly, or thoughtlessly, an overly narrow viewpoint will be adopted. One will then work the wrong or an irrelevant problem. It is all too common for a company or government agency to approach a problem in a certain way simply because it knows how to do certain things, rather than first asking what the problem really is. The likely success of efforts aimed at solving a problem, then, will almost always depend on how well the problem is framed.”

— Prof. Paul Bracken, Ph.D.

“How you ‘frame’ a situation—your explanation—has great power…. Frames are big collections of assumptions that you adopt lock, stock, and barrel. They become the map you use to explore a situation.”

– Stever Robbins

“Whenever one encounters a new situation [or experience] (or makes a substantial change in one’s viewpoint), he or she selects from memory a structure called a frame, a remembered framework to be adapted to fit reality by changing details as necessary.”

– Marvin Minsky

Problem Statement Template (cont.)

  • Divergent Thinking – How many different ways can we frame this problem? (“How Might We frame this problem?”)
    • “A frame is a mental window through which we view a problem, situation, [experience,] or opportunity.“
  • Convergent Thinking – How should we frame this problem?
    • The best frame for the problem either aligns with the Goal or requires you to redefine your Goal in a better way.
  • How is Success [in the problem-solving initiative] Defined and/or Measured?
  • Which Stakeholders are influencing any potential solution to this Problem?
  • Scope & Boundaries of the Problem (i.e. what must the solution address and what can it ignore).
  • Implementation Fuel AND Friction (i.e. what FUEL can help get the solution accepted and implemented and what FRICTION-inducing barriers must be removed).
  • Problem Definition: The Problem is….
    • Note: Completing the sections above should enable you to state the Problem formally and parsimoniously here.

Although the British Design Council’s Double Diamond design process continues through a divergent-convergent exploration of the Solution Space, this Problem Statement Template ends at the Problem Definition. Why? The absence of a conclusion is similar to most Harvard Business School (HBS) Case Studies. Why do most Case Studies tell a story without a conclusion? This approach enables Learners to step into the role of the case protagonist (a.k.a. YOU) and think about 1) how they (i.e the Learners) view the problem, and 2) what options they (i.e the Learners) would consider for solving the problem.

By ending your presentation with a Problem Definition, you and the audience have arrived at a great moment to begin the Q&A. As you reach the end of the allotted time for Q&A, if you and your colleagues have already solved the Problem that you presented, then you can ask the audience “Do you want to know what happened next?” (i.e. “How the Problem Was Solved”). Usually, the answer is an enthusiastic “YES!” However, if you and your colleagues have not already solved the problem, then you can thank the audience for their excellent suggestions relating to how you might solve the problem.

How to Get Involved

If you are interested in Guest-Speaking, please contact Prof. Sean HACKETT via the contact page or via