I have the privilege of teaching a management class at the high school level. We work with Coca-Cola reps and put together a project where the students have to manage teams of four or five students to complete a presentation. Every semester the students work hard at looking into authentic ways to help Coca-Cola improve their sales and distribution methods. There are many failures as students learn business. One failure was huge…
This story begins with a management class in the Spring semester. The class was mostly seniors. The class was given their objectives and I worked with each team to facilitate learning. I usually am very hands off with this project. It is sort of trial by fire. The students have around a week to research, make decisions and present their ideas and concepts to Coca-Cola representatives. It is set up to teach students many ways to manage a team, present, and network with professionals in the field. All the students seemed to be working all week when presentation day came. I never know exactly who Coca-Cola will send for the presentations. It can be anywhere from sales managers to area Chief Marketing Officers. This particular day, the regional director showed up. She worked with a large staff of people overseeing a large percentage of the Chicago market. The class trickled in as the bell rang.
One particular group was light on people. Two members who I noticed weren’t really engaged in work that week rushed up to me in panic. “Mr. H! David is not here and he has our presentation! What do we do!?” They both looked like they were going to have a heart attack. I calmly told them to recreate the presentation as best they could and I would let them go last. They scurried away to their computer.
I kept an eye on them as the other groups went. They were frantically typing. Then the time came for their presentation. We loaded it on the overhead projector and they began. Their slides were plain and filled with a few words. They looked like they were going to throw up during the whole presentation. I looked at the Coca-Cola director and she was rolling her eyes. This was big. These students were living a nightmare right in front of our eyes. As they rattled off some sides and stuttered their way through the presentation, the rest of the class looked on in shock. The presentation finally finished and they asked the director if she had any questions. She said no and looked unamused.
As the class was leaving, the two students who went last came up to me and told me they felt like they had just been punched in the gut. I asked them what they learned from this experience. They listed a bunch of things from being prepared to making sure there was a back up plan to share the presentation to being more engaged in their work all week. They asked me if I was mad at them. My answer surprised them.
I told them the only way I would be mad at them is if they didn’t care about the presentation at all. They did. To the point of almost fainting! I also let them know that they would never forget this moment. Ever. This was a major learning moment in their lives. They failed in front of a Coca-Cola director for the Chicagoland market, learned a lot, and survived to tell about it. As they left, they still looked beat up pretty bad. The next month of class, I noticed the two working harder on their projects and engaging more with their peers. This definitely was a lesson they would never forget!