7 Tips for Preparing the Dreaded Live Video MBA Essay

MBA Video Essays

Live video essays seem to be the next big thing. They started off a few years ago as optional for some applications, but as of last year Kellogg, Yale, Rotman, BU, Fisher, Sauder, and others all have video essays. In most cases, applicants have ONE minute to address a surprise question (they DO give you a whole 20 seconds to think first!) pulled from a pool.

Basically you’ll have three chances to create your video answer, so don’t sweat! We mean literally.

You might be telling yourself, “Well, since I don’t know what the question will be anyhow, there’s no use in preparing,” but that actually couldn’t be father from the truth. You’ve got to get comfortable with being in front of the camera. So here are FIVE tips to help you get ready:

1) Practice Practice, Practice: Like anything else, the more you practice, the better you will become. It’s just like swinging a bat or kicking a ball. Like the GMAT, the TOEFL, or any other test, crushing this video essay means preparing for it, and the first step is recognizing of the types of questions that are asked. Go through the questions from previous years, and prepare one-minute answers to them. Sure, you will get a different question, but the practice will be invaluable. Ideally you will not only practice the questions with a timer, but record yourself, watch it, show to others, analyze it, and make corrections. Get comfortable with the type of questions that have been asked and your ability to craftily articulate an answer on the spot.

2) Keep your goals in mind: Let’s not forget that no matter what the question is, this is still a business school essay, and business school revolves around one main thing – you getting better management roles in the business world. That doesn’t mean you should answer any question asked by blurting out what your goals are, but it does mean that you should always keep them in mind no matter what question you’re asked and incorporate them or speak to them whenever possible. That’s the point of the entire application, and that always remains the same whether you’re writing a response or recording yourself speaking.

3) Watch the Time: Probably the biggest challenge the first time you will approach this live video essay will be getting out a logical answer within 60 seconds. It’s not easy, but practicing with a timer will help you get there. One nice method to help with BOTH the timing and the structure is to break up the answer into parts. Regarding timing, it’s much easier to stretch out a single 20-second idea into 60 seconds than to try take a 3-minute story and squish it down.

4) Watch the lighting, background and overall look: Schools might tell you that production doesn’t matter, but come on. Of course it does. As anyone who’s been involved with a semi-professional shoot knows, when it comes to making a video, it’s the little things that can make the biggest impact on quality. Lighting can do wonders for a video image… It can change a tired face into a fresh one, remove wrinkles, soften features, evoke feelings like strength, honesty, intelligence, etc. Now, you don’t necessarily have to get a pro to set up your lighting (although honestly, you could), but you should at least be aware of the impact it can have on your video and test various scenarios. Try out a few different lamps and light sources to see which help you look your best.Let’s not forget about the background either. What you’re shooting in front of is just as important as the lighting. You don’t want to be lit in yellow light against a paisley background, 1) because… well, paisley, 2) because your face will disappear and fade into the background. Worse yet, don’t be the person who delivers an AMAZING 1-minute answer to a question… in front of a One Direction poster. Simple, solid color backgrounds (like walls or curtains) are best. The main idea is to look professional and avoid anything that might distract the admissions committee.

5) Dress professionally: What does this mean? When in doubt, steer toward the side of formality and go with business attire. Suit up.

Suit up

6) Test the equipment: The worst thing that can happen is that you realize your camera isn’t working or your mic isn’t picking up sound when you’re sitting down for the main event. So friends, test your equipment thoroughly. Twice at least. Once to check the initial setup, and once right before proceeding with the interview. This is obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people go into freak-out mode because something goes wrong and then have to write the admissions committee an apologetic email when all three of their essay attempts fail for technical reasons.

7) Keep eye contact with the CAMERA: Yeah… this is one of the hardest things to get used to and subsequently, a very good thing to keep in mind while you’re practicing. Most people will get stuck looking at their own image on the screen while they’re recording. Eye contact works. In real life and in the virtual world. So focus on the tiny dot that is the camera.


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