I am so impressed, and yet also vaguely disappointed.  Impressed at these highschool students who are so very Impressive in this competition (which I’ll explain in a moment) – impressive in the work they had to put into this, impressive in their presentation skills, and people skills, impressive in their focus and in their ability to come up with so many ideas with such limited information and such a limited amount of time.  And vaguely disappointed in past-me, that girl who was in high school and participated in math contests (ya, I was that nerd), and was average on the swim team, and worked on the newspaper (seriously, I was that nerd… every school has one), and got good grades, and who would not have been able to do anything like what these kids did, even with training.  Why didn’t past-me do things like this?!

DECA, for those of you who don’t recognise the name, is a business and entrepreneurship competition for high school students.  They compete in a wide variety of categories, in a wide variety of topics, doing both written and presented work.  One of the competitions is a presentation of an idea for increasing brand recognition or sales – these students research companies, talk with people who work there, create surveys, and work on their proposal all year, generally as soon as the previous year’s competition is finished – they come up with a business plan for their idea and basically pitch the idea, cost estimates and all, and showing how this idea will improve brand recognition or raise sales, or a combination thereof. 

The competition I was judging on Monday was a role-play.  The students picked their category (ie, travel and tourism, quick-serve, restaurant management, accounting, etc), and were given a case 10 minutes before they had to pitch their idea to me – an idea they had to come up with in a 10 minute period, and then had 10 minutes to pitch to me.  They had to explain to me where the costs and benefits to ‘my’ company would be, what types of advertising would be most effective, what the target demographic would be, how to solve problems with a currently implemented business plan.  They also had to ensure that they included some key terms in their presentation, and that they adequately covered all the points they were given for the case.  It was intense!  I think, to come up with the same ideas as they did, I’d have had to spend a few hours pondering the topic, and doing some online research about business in general.  I learned things from some of the presentations that I hadn’t even been aware were lacking from my base of knowledge.

This judging I did was for Provincials – over 5000 students from high schools from around Ontario, competing for a limited number of positions on the team that would go to compete in the United States at the Internationals competition.  I can only imagine just the kind of quality performances the judges at that competition must witness, if a lot of what I was seeing wasn’t ‘up to par’ for going on to Internationals.

I am definitely not a great presenter – or even a minorly talented one.  I’ve progressed from the high school version of myself who needed a podium or podium-like object in front of me in order to rest my cue-cards on it, because my hands were shaking so hard that I couldn’t read anything off them.  I still feel that band of terror compressing my chest, but, by my last year in university, no longer stuttered and stammered breathlessly while staring with determined focus at the corner of the room with the fewest people I knew in it (sorry to those very discomfited people!  I really wasn’t plotting your doom, just seeing visions of my own.).  I’ve even been told that I interview very well, and project confidence (who’d-a-thunk it?) when speaking.

However, having spent an entire day watching these presentations, I have a few comments about presenting, or being interviewed.  First and foremost… breathe.  BREATHE.  Slowly, and not loudly, but do it, because paranoia about whether the presenter is going to collapse keeps the judge on the edge of her seat for the wrong reasons.  Another thing I noticed is that there’s good eye-contact, and BAD eye contact.  And I know this is something I had issues with during my presentations, so I do know it’s hard to do well.  Don’t open your eyes extra wide and stare deep into the judges’ (or interviewers’) eyes as though trying to communicate telepathically or set them on fire.  It’s creepy, and the interviewer (especially if there is only one) feels as though they are required to return the eye-contact the entire time you’re doing this, hoping that enough eye-contact will give them warning as to whether your plan is to set them on fire or chat mind-to-mind. 

Congrats in general to all the competitors I encountered in Provincials, and to those I didn’t.  Extra CONGRATS to the people going on to Internationals – Go for the Gold… or whatever the top prizes are at Internationals!  Both high school-me and I will be cheering you on.

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