Exercise 1: Group Excercises

For the first exercise of the day, candidates are brought together in a group of three to six to comprise an Embassy task force charged with allocating resources to competing projects in their host country. Each candidate receives a package of common background materials as well as a five-page candidate specific project to read and absorb (30 minutes). At the end of that time, each candidate will present his or her project to the group. Candidates may take notes at any time.

Common Materials

• General instructions
• Memorandum from a senior US Embassy official in one of various mythical countries appointing the candidate to a task force to consider proposals for use of scarce resources
• Country Background Notes
• The U.S. Country Plan and Objectives
• Lists of key U.S. Embassy and host government officials
• A map of the country
• Project Specific Information
• Five pages describing the candidate’s individual project

The Presentation Phase

When the 30-minute preparation time is over, four assessors join the group and take seats in the corners of the room. At this point in the assessment, the assessors know nothing about the candidates. The assessors do not participate; they only observe the group exercise. Candidates are briefed on the ground rules and are invited to begin their individual project presentations in any order they choose; however, they are cautioned that projects are not to be compared or evaluated in the presentation phase. Each candidate has six minutes to present his or her project to the others, covering all relevant facets of the project, including both negative and positive points, U.S. interests, and required resources. Time may be left at the end of the presentation for questions from other candidates.

The Discussion Phase

After the last presentation has been made, the lead examiner informs the group that it is now entering the discussion phase of the exercise, the stage in which the candidates must reach a consensus on project selection and allocation of their limited resources.

In this phase, candidates discuss and debate the merits and/or drawbacks of the various projects in order to make recommendations to the Ambassador. Toward that end, the group negotiates and debates pros and cons with the goal of reaching, within the time allotted (20-25 minutes – depending on group size), a consensus on which projects should be supported and at what level.

The group exercise measures the following 13Ds: Oral Communication, Objectivity and Integrity, Ability to Work with Others, Information Integration and Analysis, Planning, Judgment, Initiative, Leadership and Composure. Strong candidates are those who keep in mind the objective of the exercise: to help the Ambassador decide how best to allocate limited U.S. Government resources among a number of worthy projects. They have the ability to integrate information not just about their own projects but also about projects presented by their colleagues. They may suggest original ideas and solutions. A good leader can draw out others and help move the group to consensus.

Active participation is essential to successful performance. Examiners cannot judge qualities they cannot see. Even if a candidate presents a clear project, lack of involvement in the discussion phase can make the difference when the scores are determined.

Sample Project

A candidate might be expected to describe the following information, based on four or five background documents, in the presentation phase:
Gargon University in the country of Erewhon requests Embassy help in purchasing equipment to complete the university’s new sports facility.

Benefits of the project: The University would purchase U.S. equipment, aiding U.S. business interests and providing good public relations for the U.S.; the Chairman of the Board of the University would be rewarded for being the instrumental force in Erewhon’s opposition to a hostile neighboring country’s efforts to host the Summer Olympics; Gargon Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, now sadly under-equipped, would be able to use the pool and gymnasium.

Benefits to the U.S.: A grant would promote U.S. export trade and support U.S. business interests in Erewhon; it would enhance public and official perceptions of the United States.

Negative aspects: Gargon is a private university and there is some question whether U.S. Government funds should be used to support it; this grant would not improve economic conditions or raise living standards of the majority of people; Gargon is the home district of chief opposition leader Reubello—a grant might displease the Prime Minister.

Project costs: The Embassy’s total cost is $75,000. The host government would contribute $10,000. Total cost: $85,000.

What is the Group Exercise?

The group exercise is a measure of the following 13Ds: Oral Communication, Objectivity & Integrity, Information Integration and Analysis, Planning, Judgment, Initiative, Leadership, and Composure.

The idea is that you are put in a working embassy team with the assignment of allocating limited funds across several worthwhile projects.

You are assigned a project to review and then when the allotted time is up you are given a six minutes to present the project, its negatives & positives, US interests, and required resources. Leftover time can be used to field questions. It’s imperative that you fit all that into six minutes.

Next you are given 20-25 minutes to discuss all the projects as a group and to come to a conclusion on how to allocate the funding.

Analysis of Exercise by Dimensions

Oral Communication

  • Speak clearly, persuasively, and concisely about your project.
  • Make eye contact and tailor your presentation to your audience.
  • Be respectful and engaged in the conversation.
  • Ask meaningful and pertinent questions about other projects.
  • Don’t read a speech. Instead, outline your plan of attack and present it.

Information Integration and Analysis

  • Bring together all the pieces of information presented to paint a full picture of your project to the group.
  • Integrate pieces of information from other projects and the country’s background information into your discussion.
  • Justify your decisions by demonstrating the logic behind them.

Planning & Organizing

  • Organize yourself and your presentation.
  • Consider starting your presentation by saying the order in which you’ll present it.

Judgment

  • Decide which projects are most worthy of funding.
  • Know when it’s time to give up your project.

** Initiative & Leadership

  • Take charge of the process once it becomes open discussion.
  • Organize note taking and the structure of the conversation.
  • Involve participants who are not involving themselves.
  • Ensure that a decision is reached before time runs out.

** Ability to Work With Others

  • Don’t pick fights or excessively criticize others.
  • Certainly avoid personal attacks.
  • Go out of the way to avoid competition and to create a congenial atmosphere.
  • Use names and show that you’re interested in the work of others.

Composure

  • Avoid argument.
  • Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer to a question.
  • Don’t freak out.

** Objectivity & Integrity

  • Present the good and the bad of your project.
  • Give each project a chance
  • Relate everything back to what you’ve been told about the priorities in your fictitious country.

Strategies

Preparation Phase

  • On the prep phase, I usually take ONE sheet of paper and divide it into four equal quadrants. Then I label them quickly w/ a plus (+), a minus (-), obj, and $. Then I fill in the pages as i read the last few pages of the notebook they give you.
  • Be sure to glance through all the material before you’re done preparing.
  • Organize your presentation; do not just “wing it” (Structure might be background, overview of project, pros, cons, possible objections, closing with a final appeal).
  • Do not sugar coat your project: present all sides, positive and negative. Remember that the goal of the exercise is to allocate resources in the best way…not to get resources for your project.
  • Be sure not to integrate information not found in your binder into your presentation. You’re working with a fictitious country.

Presentation Phase

  • If you don’t say it, BEX can’t evaluate you on it.
  • Project your voice with confidence…this is your time to shine.
  • Make eye contact with you group whenever possible.
  • Present your project in an organized manner.
  • Stay calm!
  • Speak clearly, precisely and persuasively about your project.
  • Manage your time. You don’t want to run out of time during your presentation!

Discussion Phase

  • Take charge of the process. Grab the memo when the examiner drops it on the table.
  • Offer to go first and suggest the order of the remaining presentations. Again, show initiative. Keep the group focused on the task at hand.
  • Make sure everyone is participating!
  • Make sure a decision is reached.
  • Speak clearly, precisely, and persuasively.
  • Evaluate the various projects and pick the best.
  • When you pick a project, articulate why you chose the project(s) you chose.
  • Always consider U.S. interests in the project recommendation and state that in your justification.
  • Give all projects a chance.
  • Do not get flustered; stay calm; do not argue.
  • Be a team player; do not fight against the group excessively.
  • If you need to give up on your project during the group exercise, say aloud that you would be happy to remove your project from the discussion for x,y, and z reasons.

Practice Tips

  • If you’re not used to public speaking, get a bit of practice giving presentations and/or speeches. Consider joining Toastmasters or reading Dale Carnegie’s book. The Exceptional Presenter is also a good book to read for presenting advice.
  • Work on improving your ability to read and summarize quickly.
  • Complete the attached Group Exercise with a practice group.
  • Consider videotaping yourself making a small presentation. This will enable you to see the areas where improvement is needed.
  • Count how many times you say “Ah” and “Um” when practicing. Then work on eliminating these from your speaking; it’s distracting.
  • Make a mock presentation and have someone count the number of times you use your notes. Decrease this amount in the next presentation.

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