The University of Chigaco is now requiring applicants for its MBA programme to produce a PowerPoint presentation of a maximum of 4 pages with complete creative freedom. Any subject, any style, what you want. More details here in a post on Manhattan Review.
First of all, a very good initiative I think.
  • 4 blank pages of PowerPoint leave a lot more room for creative self-expression than the classic short essay
  • Visual communication skills are very important to become a succesful executive, there is not better way to test them than to ask for a real-life example
Now, how would I address this challenge (having completed a regular MBA application more than a decade ago...)?
First, let's think about the constraints, and what it means for the sort of presentation you need to design:
4 pages maximum, it has to be short and to the point
The presentation will be printed and included in your file. This is a huge constraint.
  • No video
  • No animation (this a bad idea anyway)
  • The color printer could be poor: avoid textured background (a bad idea anyway), avoid dark backgrounds (what if the black toner runs out), use pin sharp images, use contrasting colors
  • Printed documents can carry more detail than projected slides (if they are printed out in full page), so you can insert more dense text on one of the slides if you want to
  • You are not in the room. The slide needs to stand on its own
You can supply a Word document with explanations. Here is the big way out, but I would actually not use it. The text with details can be in your regular application.
People encourage you to be creative. No worries here whether the presentation approach might be too funky or unusual for the Board room, or that serious conference. You can go all the way.
The good advice that is out there on professional presentation design also apply for this presentation. Browse sites like this one, stock up on a few good books, etc. No bullet points, no cheesy graphics (clip art, cheesy pictures). No business buzzwords
Luckily there will never be a standard template for presentations like this. I can help you with brainstorming some ideas that you could try using my experience of having gone through an MBA programme (INSEAD) and my tme at McKinsey & Company, where my non-client work involved scanning CVs and interviewing of MBA candidates for consulting positions.
  • A slide on something that really makes people remember you. People see thousands of CVs. Think of an exciting slide, maybe a very special and large picture of yourself, maybe one sentence in font 10 if you are bold, anything that creates the memory of "oh, you mean the guy on the foldable bike in front of the Mount Everest"?
  • A slide with the career facts that can become the slide that is open on the table constantly when people are discussing you. An attractive way to present your CV alongside some timeline (here is mine). The fact that slides are printed helps, you can add more detail, but watch out to replicate your CV itself which people have already in your application form.
The other 2 slides should be highly creative and give the pitch about yourself. The degrees of freedom are without boundaries. Pick the aspect of yourself you want to come out and find the best and most original way to do it.
  • "Travel pictures" from all the international locations you worked in
  • A picture of the team that you led and was totally inspired by you
  • An actual screenshot of the (maybe boring) Board presentation that showed the 75% increase in revenues you delivered
  • A scan of a thank-you letter you received
  • The 15 page Gantt chart of the project you managed shrunk to one A4
  • Etc.
Good luck!

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