The Ultimate DECA Written Event Guide

Recently, I was asked by a few DECA members for written event competition tips. After scouring DECA Direct for advice, I realized that there is no leading document full of tips, so I decided to author my own. This guide will outline the process and framework I used last year en route to DECA Glass. If you have any more questions regarding written events that this guide doesn’t answer, feel free to DM me at @DECA_Andrew. I’m always here to help!

I will periodically edit and add sections to this guide.


Meet Me

Hi there! Before we get started, I think you should know a little bit about me. My name is Andrew Weatherman. When I wrote this article, I was serving as the State President of North Carolina DECA. Now, I will be serving as the 2018–2019 DECA Inc. Executive President. In 2017, I competed in the International Business Plan event and placed second at ICDC. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram — @DECA_Andrew.

You can learn a little more about my story here.


Important Updates for the 2018–2019 Year

For the 2018–2019 year, DECA updated the general written event guidelines, and with those updates, some important changes will be implemented this year! Information regarding the phasing out of the Marketing Representative Events and the implementation of the Integrated Marketing Campaign events will be discussed in the Stage 0 section of the guide.

Written Event Length:

The double-spacing requirement for “major content” was deleted. And as a result, the written event page lengths were adjusted.

  • Current 30-page projects changed to a maximum of 20 pages.
  • Current 5- and 11-page projects changed to a maximum of 10 pages.

All written events must be printed single-sided.

Presentation Visuals:

  • Only visuals that are able to be hand-carried into the presentation will be allowed! This means no wheeled carts or other items that assist in carrying your visuals will be allowed. If you can’t hand-carry a visual, don’t bring it!
  • Additionally, no “alternate power sources,” such as small generators, will be allowed.

March 31st Edit: Top Tips for ICDC

First of all, if you’re reading this in preparation for Atlanta, then congratulations on reaching ICDC! Qualifying for ICDC is no easy task, so you should be proud of your accomplishment. If you’re serious about competing in Atlanta, then go ahead and read these tips (and the guide, if you haven’t!). As ICDC nears, I have received a few questions about presentations and how to make your paper stand out. Here are a collection of my top tips for ICDC!

As always, if you have any questions, you can reach me by DM on Twitter @DECA_Andrew. I’m on Spring Break this week (ends 4/9), so I may be able to review any papers or presentations, if you want.

Like the rest of this guide, feel free to take my advice as just that — advice. I don’t know your project; I don’t know your presentation strengths; I don’t know what works for you and/or your group. I’m just a dude behind a computer. You do you, but these are my suggestions.

If It Ain’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

If you didn’t know, you can make edits to your CDC paper before you submit your ICDC paper. (You bring your paper to ICDC and submit it at conference.) However, this does not give you the green light to haphazardly edit your paper. If you received a perfect score on your Executive Summary section, and you believe the score was not by fluke, then why edit your paper?! (This may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who do this.) Though, if you received a poor score on the Financials section, then I’d definitely recommend editing. Also, I recommend giving your paper a read through and fixing any grammatical errors that hinder comprehension and flow and double-checking penalty points.

In short, if you received a good (read: perfect or near-perfect score) mark on a section, then don’t edit it before ICDC! If you make too many changes to an essay, then the paper reads inauthentic and losses its power; likewise, the quality of an excessively edited DECA paper holds an inverse relationship with the number of frivolous edits.

What’s Your Ideal Presentation Method?

A quick stroll through the holding rooms at ICDC will reveal troves of high-tech, colorful presentation boards. (Like, seriously, there should be a who’s-board-can-include-the-most-iPads competition.) To some, this may seem intimidating. Personally, I was rocking a PowerPoint and a clicker, so I was scared out of my mind that these elaborate light-up boards were going to embarrass me. (In Nashville, one guy used a rolling clothes hanger and a life-size roll of toilet paper in [read: as] his presentation.) But, they didn’t — quite the opposite, really — and here’s why:

If you’re working with one of these boards, then great! You have the perfect opportunity to impress your judge with a solid pitch and great aesthetics — making you difficult to forget. If you’re like me, though, and rolling with a simple, non-animated PowerPoint, then get ready to give the best pitch of your life.

Side note: A hybrid of the two methods I will discuss exists and is likely what many will use. Instead of thinking of this as an explanation of the extremes, consider this with the mindset of outlining how to achieve perfection in your mix.

Generally, a fancy board will take away from your speaking. If you aren’t the best public speaker but a great designer, then go for an extravagant board! Likely, your judge won’t be able to take their eyes off it. That said, though, you must make your board effective. You have a solar panel built into your trifold board? Cool. I don’t care. You have a tricycle mounted on a board (true story)? Awesome. I don’t care. Get the jist? A fancy presentation board is a great way to get the attention of your judge and for them to remember you. But, don’t go overboard: a profilgate board is the death of a great project. Further, a high-tech presentation board does not — and will not — compensate for a weak pitch. That said, if you’re going with a presentation board, follow these tips to make it effective:

  • Don’t gorge your board with information, but don’t starve it, either. Instead, put information that is vital: company name; mission statement; brief summary of the problems your company/project is addressing and how they will be solved, the revenue model, UVP, and competitive advantage. Beyond that, limit extra information to unique, just-plain-cool facts.
  • Use colors that match your company logo
  • Okay…videos. So some competitors like to play videos during their pitch. If you feel like a video would be effective — NOT a time-filler — then, by all means, go for it. But, if you haven’t competed at ICDC before, then you need to know this: the rooms are sorta loud. Although I was separated from competitors by imposing blue curtains, I could still hear the pitches next to me; that said, your judge may not be able to fully hear the audio from your video.

Generally, a plain presentation (a PPT, pretty much) will not blow your judge’s socks off; that’s a given. How do you impress them, then? Give a great pitch. If you fancy yourself a strong public speaker, then definitely consider going this route. An intricate presentation board pulls attention away from your pitch. Better yet, if you can include an opening that calls on pathos, then this is definitely the best way to go. Though, it does not come without its pitfalls, too. Namely, this method will not leave your judge with the “wow” factor (besides your verbal pitch) that many competitors who go the latter route will have. Further, this method places sole dependence on a great verbal pitch. If you fault at this, then your project is likely toast.

What presentation method is best for you?

If you:

  • Question your speaking prowess or doubt your ability to perform a flawless pitch under pressure
  • Consider yourself an artsy person
  • Feel anxious when you don’t have a “handicap” to lean on and direct to when speaking

Then go with a expertly designed presentation board. Although the judge may lose focus on you, your effective board will provide them with all of the information they need to supplement their “selective hearing” while impressing them with your design skills. Options range from a trifold to a life-size toilet paper roll on a rolling clothes rack. The choices are limitless.

If you:

  • Are proud of your amazing speaking skills
  • Aren’t the artistic type (or you are, but you’re a better speaker)
  • Don’t get too nervous under pressure and desire for all the attention (and eyes) to be on you

Then go for a traditional PowerPoint presentation. Although this option may bore some, you are confident that your speaking skills will leave a lasting impression in the judge’s mind about your impeccable project.

(Wow. That sounded more like a BuzzFeed quiz…)

Bring Your I.D.

Okay, so 2017 was the first year I competed with a written event at ICDC, and NO ONE told me you had to bring your I.D. when you went to turn in your paper. (S/O to Dylan Heneghan for running to the hotel to get it for me.) So, just a heads up, you must bring photo identification with you when you go to submit your paper at ICDC, or you have to go back to your hotel, grab your I.D., and wait in the super long line — again.

So, How Do I Reach Finals?

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t really sure how competition at ICDC works. At North Carolina’s — and many associations’ — CDC, we don’t have preliminary rounds. At ICDC, however, these rounds exist, and there are two stages separating you from that coveted DECA Glass.

The first stage is the preliminary round. During this round, you will compete against 19 projects (give or take, depending on your event). To advance out of the preliminary round and be recognized as an international finalist (a blue ribbon medal), you must be one of the top two scoring projects from your group. In each event, there are around 160 competitors; again, depending on your event, 16–20 projects will advance to the finals round. International finalists will be announced during the achievement awards session (which is the morning of Grand Awards).

If you are a voting delegate and reach the finals round, then your competition time may coincide with the Business and Elections session, so make sure you have someone on call that can fill in for you and vote (or however your association handles that). Also, it is possible that your competition time will be very, very close to the conclusion of the achievement awards session. If your event is one of the final events to be announced, then I recommend skipping the photo-op and running to check your competition time: photos can wait; you don’t want to miss your presentation time, and you may want to run through your pitch one final time.

In the finals round, every project presents to the same judge. That said, it is even more imperative that you give a killer presentation. Out of the 16 or 20 projects in the finals round, only ten will be named Overall Finalist (a large red, white, and blue ribbon medal with an advisor pin), and called on stage. Out of those ten, three will be awarded DECA Glass.

Confidence

In everything, confidence is key, and this is especially true at ICDC. If you go into your pitch thinking you have the worst project ever, then, likely, you’re not going to do so hot. Contrary, though, you astronomically raise your chances of getting Glass by, simply, believing. (This is 100% supported by thorough scientific research — without a doubt.) Jokes aside, however, judges can sense if you’re apprehensive. While it’s okay to be nervous (it proves you actually care), try your best not to a) show it and b) let it get to you. Before you step into the blue curtain, take a few breaths, relax, and believe. You’ll do great.

Competition. Isn’t. Everything.

This is, without a doubt, my most important tip.

I said this in my Presidential farewell; I said this at chapter meetings; I say this when pitching DECA.

DECA IS NOT SOLELY COMPETITION.

DECA IS NOT SOLELY COMPETITION.

DECA IS NOT SOLELY COMPETITION.

That said, enjoy your time at ICDC: meet new friends, explore exciting cities, make a memory that will last a lifetime! Don’t sit in your hotel room religiously rehearsing your script. Take advantage of the DECA-exclusive events that occur at ICDC. This conference brings over 19,000 people from all fifty states and multiple countries to one city. You. Will. Not. Get. This. Opportunity. Again. I guarantee that if you walk around the Georgia Convention Center for fifteen minutes and try to meet new people, you will walk away exposed to unprecedented amounts of varying culture and personalities.

Be Happy

No matter the results in Atlanta, you made it, and that’s no easy task. Congratulations, and I wish you all the best!


Stage 0: Finding The Right Event

Let’s start out by addressing the elephant in the room: written events aren’t for everyone. They’re a super fun and different way to compete, but they sure aren’t suited for the average member. Written events are a process, and they require months of preparation, all-nighters, and a lot — a lot — of research. If you love solving a challenging problem on your feet, then I’d advise staying away from written events (go for role plays!). However, if you like having a prepared plan and the opportunity to rehearse, go ahead and try a written event!

Awesome, so now you’ve (more-or-less) decided on whether or not to compete in a written event. Before we begin planning out our paper, we must decide which event to compete in! The great thing is that DECA’s Competitive Event series offers a plethora of exciting events to chose from. Unfortunately, you can only pick one. In my opinion, choosing the right event to compete in is the most overlooked but vital part of the competition process. DECA breaks the written events into four categories: Business and Operations Research Events, Chapter Team Events, Entrepreneurship Events, and Integrated Marketing Campaign Events. Below I will summarize the DECA competition poster attached and provide slight commentary on each category. To learn more about a specific event, go to DECA’s competition section of their website, and the link for the guidelines of every event will be attached when the event is first mentioned.

The complete list of written events offered by DECA. Source: 2018–2019 DECA Competition Poster.

Business and Operations Research Events (BOR)

Events in this category have a maximum page limit of thirty pages and allow for a single competitor, a partnership, or a team of three. There are five events that fall under the BOR umbrella: Business Services, Buying and Merchandising, Finance Operations, Hospitality and Tourism Operations, and Sports and Entertainment Operations. BOR events provide you the opportunity to conduct research with a local business/organization and present your findings to a judge at competition. These events follow a topic that changes from year-to-year. The 2019 topic for every BOR event is as follows: The 2019 topic for each career category is the development of a cause marketing campaign. Participants will collaborate with a local business or organization to analyze current customer perceptions of the company or organization’s corporate social responsibility. Participants will then present a strategic plan to create a cause marketing campaign that aligns to the company or organization’s core values. BOR events are a great way to connect with local business and understand how they work! If you like business research and strategy, BOR is a great fit for you!

Chapter Team Events

In my home association of North Carolina, Chapter Team events are the Holy Grail; if you want to prove that you are the best competing chapter, a great way to do that is to tackle the Chapter Team events. Like BOR events, Chapter Team events have a maximum page limit of thirty pages and allow for a single competitor, a partnership, or a team of three chapter representatives. There are six events that fall under the Chapter Team umbrella: Community Service Project, Creative Marketing Project, Entrepreneurship Promotion Project, Financial Literacy Project, Learn and Earn Project, and Public Relations Project. Chapter Team events provide the amazing opportunity to engage chapter members in school-wide/community-wide activities that cover the specific event. Many chapters already put on amazing school/community activities, and the Chapter Team events allow you to showcase your chapter’s awesome outreach/impact! I always recommend chapters of any size to pick an event and go for it! If your chapter is up to the challenge, you can do all six events! If you like event planning and management and want to have a tangible impact on your school or community, try a chapter event!

Entrepreneurship Events

My favorite written event category, entrepreneurship events give you the opportunity to “explore entrepreneurial concepts from idea generation, business planning, to growing an existing business.” Unlike BOR and Chapter Team events, however, the events that fall under the Entrepreneurship umbrella have different rules from one another. The Innovation Plan and Start-up Business Plan have a page limit of ten. While the Franchise Business Plan, Independent Business Plan, Business Growth Plan, and International Business Plan have a maximum page limit of twenty. Unlike all other written events, though, the Business Growth Plan has strict rules on who can compete; since this event involves crafting a detailed growth plan and strategy for a business owned by a DECA member, all competitors must be “documented owners/operators of the business — a parents’ business does not qualify.” All events, though, allow for a single competitor, a partnership, or a team of three. Having a budding affinity for the world of entrepreneurship, I instantly gravitated towards these events. My sophomore year I competed in Start-Up Business Plan, and my junior year I competed in International Business Plan. If you have any interest in entrepreneurship, I highly recommend looking into these events!

Integrated Marketing Campaigns

The Integrated Marketing Campaigns will replace the Marketing Representative Events, effective during the 2018–2019 DECA year. As these events are new, not many tips exist for them. Per DECA’s website, these events “provide opportunities for members to develop an integrated marketing campaign of no more than 45 days in length for a real event, product or service and present the campaign in a role-play situation.” Much like the events they are replacing, IMCs are a hybrid between traditional written events and series events: while you still present a paper to a judge, you/your team must also take a career cluster exam (marketing cluster). If you are competing with multiple people on a team, you take the test individually, and your score is averaged. There are three events under the IMC umbrella, and all three allow for a single competitor, a partnership, or a team of three.

Since these events are new to everyone, I will list out the the umbrella of IMC in more detail:

  • Integrated Marketing Campaign — Event: A campaign that is related to any sports and entertainment event and/or company event. A few examples of appropriate choices include concerts, festivals, fairs, tournaments, pet adoption day, charity events, etc. Guidelines for IMC-E.
  • Integrated Marketing Campaign — Product: A campaign that is related to any hard/soft line retail products including e-commerce. A few examples of appropriate choices include apparel and accessories, retail products, etc. Guidelines for IMC-P.
  • Integrated Marketing Campaign — Service: A campaign that is related to any service or intangible product. A few examples of appropriate choices include pet services, golf lessons, health care services, salons, restaurants, amusement parks, etc. Guidelines for IMC-S.

Marketing Representative Events

As of the 2018–2019 DECA year, these events are no longer offered and were replaced by the Integrated Marketing Campaign series. The events that were under this umbrella and phased out include the Advertising Campaign, Fashion Merchandising Promotional Plan, and Sports and Entertainment Promotional Plan.

So Which Is Right For Me?

Now that you have familiarized yourself with the numerous written events offered, you are probably overloaded with potential options and don’t know which to pick. Surprisingly, this is a great problem to have! Unfortunately, there is no binary solution. No formula, advice, etc. can make that decision for you. Go with your gut; ask teachers and fellow members, but the end decision is yours, so own it.

“Choose something you are passionate about. The less passionate you are about your topic, the less productive you will be.”— Ben Smith; Wisconsin DECA VP of Event Managment.

When I decided to compete in a written event my junior year, it was a no-brainer: I love presenting and researching, so of course, I had to go the written route! The tough decision, though, was what event to pick. I knew I had to go for an entrepreneurship event so that automatically narrowed the field. The previous year, I competed in an eleven-page event, and I thought that limit was too restrictive, so I had to go for a thirty-pager. Honestly, the decision was only between two events — Independent or International. Like I said, I love researching, and I really wanted to squeeze the most out of this event as I could. That said, I chose the International Business Plan because it gave me the opportunity to research the culture and business/entrepreneurship environment of another country.


Stage 1: The Core

Now that you have a better understanding of what written event you’d like to compete in, we can move onto the skeleton of your event: the core member(s). This is the stage that you DO NOT WANT TO SKIP. You can slack on any other stage and produce a winning project, but if you chose to slack on this stage, then you can kiss your Glass hopes bye.

Team or No Team — That is The Question.

Every DECA written event allows you to compete solo, as a partnership, or as a group of three. Like every project or idea, the team is the backbone and will make or break everything. Choosing your team, or not choosing one, is the single most important decision you will make during your project. Your partner/group members, though, must be from your home chapter.

Flying Solo — Pros and Cons

If you are the type of person who wants absolute control over every aspect of your project, this is the route you need to take. Personally, I chose to fly solo. If you lack innate self-initiative and are a weak presenter, I urge you to not even consider this option. Flying solo feels great — you never have to deal with conflicting schedules, you can work on your own time, and you make every decision. But, that also opens you up to some pretty (potentially) devastating negatives. When it comes to presenting, you have the full load of work; you can’t rely on someone else to cover certain parts. When it comes time to make a decision, you have full say, so if you don’t consult outside help, you’re getting a very biased view. You have no one to hold you responsible to any deadline, and if you start to lose interest, you will have to find a way to reel yourself back in.

Teaming— Pros and Cons

If you have a strong core of one or two chapter members that possess wildly different (applicable) skill sets and mesh well, forming a team with those members is a great way to go. From the paper standpoint, the team route (when executed well) decreases the workload and dependence of all members. From a presenting standpoint, each member can cover certain parts of the pitch, which should allow for better (and impressive) flow and transition (plus you can wear matching outfits, and that’s pretty cool). However, this route also opens itself up to (potentially) devastating negatives: team communication has to be at maximum level during the project (I recommend Slack if you have a team of three); arguments can break out over trite team decisions; stupid high school drama could wreck your team. If done well, teaming can be a perfect option, but any slip up during the project could spell doom to all of your hard work. Tred with caution.

I recommend setting aside a few weeks at the start of school to survey new DECA members and observe returners (summer changes some people). If you take this step early, there is absolutely no reason to rush to rash and impulsive decisions. If you decide to form a partnership or team, take a week to just talk — doesn’t have to be about DECA. No matter the skillset or promises offered by anyone, you must mesh well with your team (this isn’t necessarily a start-up; no need to be a Steve Jobs). Also, a word of wisdom: I’ve gotten burned by (looking back) ludicrous promises by teammates. Don’t be blinded by outlandish promises; they are almost always too good to be true.


Stage 2: Planning and Research

Lemme be 100: if you don’t know how to plan well and conduct sound research, you better start learning. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, think you are too good or too smart for planning and research. If you have that mindset, stop reading right now. Even though I have harped on the importance of research and planning, I have purposely left this stage relatively empty. I hate when people tell me how to conduct research or how to plan, as I have my own weird methods, so I don’t want to waste your time telling you how to do your thing. Find the methods that work best for you/your team.

Planning

I’ll be honest — I’m the most unorganized person you’ll ever meet. I never plan for anything. That said, I still had a rough sketch and timetable for my event. It wasn’t much, and it doesn’t have to be much. A simple print-out of the event guidelines, a few dates/ranges scribbled here and there, and that was it. I’m a driven guy, so I could count on that drive and desire to win to push me. If you need a little more planning (this works well with teams, but can also work well for a single person), try Trello — a free online to-do board where you can collaborate with others, assign tasks, set due dates, and add notes (see below). I’m not a big fan of agendas, but many groups find it very helpful to set a meeting agenda whenever they are going to be working on the project.

A sample Trello board. Credit: Trello.com

Research

For a Glass-worthy paper, you will spend twice the amount of time researching than you will actually writing the paper. That said, researching is uberly important. For example, for my IBP event, I have a folder on my computer full of PDFs from research, paper revisions, audio from meetings and calls, charts and graphs, etc. I even found an amazing e-book with a few chapters especially pertinent to my paper, emailed the publishing company, and received a hard copy (free of charge) in the mail a couple of weeks later. When I conducted research, I always brought a notepad with me, so I could jot down any tidbits, figures, etc. that could’ve brought potential benefit to my paper. I get easily distracted, so to combat this during my paper time, I went to my local library to do all of my work. I think this helped a ton when it came to getting stuff done in an efficient manner, and I would recommend you/your team to find a quiet “paper place,” somewhere you all meet when it’s time to finally get down to business.

“Thoroughly document your [research] while it’s going on. You won’t remember everything you did when trying to write about it.” — Lena Kellogg; LV DECA President

Stage 3: The Paper

Ah, after weeks/months of planning and researching, it’s finally time to start seriously drafting your paper. A word of advice: don’t get too attached to your first, or second, or third (you get the idea) draft; it will suck. I know an advisor, we’ll call them X, who has a particularly harsh way of letting you know that your paper is complete garbage: X will call up each team, one-by-one, and ask to see the draft. X will start making small changes, and if they believe that they have made too many adjustments, they will simply CNTRL+A and DELETE your work. Tough love. But, that’s so crucial in the drafting stage — of anything, DECA paper or college essay. As a serious competitor, you need to channel your inner X; try to read your paper through the lens of X and make changes just as a harsh third-party would. That’s how winners work.

A quick pro tip, no matter if you’re working alone or as a group, enlist the help of your advisors, friends, trusted family, and outside sources to give you feedback on your paper. For example, I enlisted the help of several business professionals and an advisor that wasn’t even mine. However, make sure to explain to them that they need to be 100% honest in their critical feedback. People you know will often give you sugar-coated advice, and this will do more harm to your project than good.

“Make sure that you have someone other than yourself go over [your paper] and make sure it meets the guidelines in every way it needs to.” — Brian Josephson; Oregon DECA President

How Important Is My Paper?

This is an awesome question. After all, your paper isn’t the only thing that is scored. Depending on your event, your presentation can count for as much as 50% of the overall score, meaning your paper also counts for 50%. However, the paper in a thirty-pager will count for 60% of your score, making the paper that much more important. Attached is a chart presented at a 2016 Power Trip workshop by Ms. Annie Hulse from Oakton DECA, so all credit goes to her.

Even with the recent changes to the written event guidelines, the graphic below still stands (just ignore the page length headers)!

Credit to Ms. Annie Hulse of Oakton DECA (VA)

Executive Summary (ES)

This is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR PAPER! Many judges won’t have time to read your entire paper, so they will read your summary in-depth and skim the rest. Therefore, it is paramount to have a killer ES. I can’t stress this enough. Start with a bang, sell the problem and solution (but hit hard on the problem), and focus on what makes you stand out (UVP). When writing the summary, which should be the last thing you write, imagine that your ES is the only thing your judge will read (which it could be), and you need to sell him on your idea with that ES.

“Your ES is the most important feature of any written [event] that you compete with.” — Secundino Garcia (Cooper); Michigan DECA Member

Let The Score Sheet Be The Blueprint

I don’t care if you’ve written hundreds of business plans in your life. I don’t care if you’ve taken Entrepreneurship XXX and know the components of a solid business plan by heart. Do not think that just because you were told that a certain section isn’t important that you don’t need to include it in your paper. Oh, by rearranging these sections, I’ll certainly stand out! That’s a common thought, but erroneous in every way. Marry the guidelines of your event! Know them better than the writers. This is a competition, and the guidelines were provided for a reason. Judges are sticklers for judging a paper off the guidelines. A super awesome thing to do at this moment would be to print out the guidelines of every event that you are considering (see below for where to access the guidelines). They are that important. In your paper (and presentation, but we’ll get to that) be certain to include the exact vocabulary from the rubric and guidelines in your writing.

Where to find the guidelines for every event on the DECA competitive events page

Content or Appearance

An age-old debate between research hounds and perfectionists: should my paper be content heavy or aesthetically pleasing? Personally, I have seen more success from a hybrid. Include the most important details, and be thorough on those details, for every section and elaborate on the vital portions (consult the rubric for point values to determine these), but don’t slack on the visuals — make your paper pretty! No judge will read — or even skim — a paper that is 95% black-and-white text. Include meaningful, colorful graphs to ease the reading. If you can, substitute text for bullet points or flow charts. Once you decide on a logo and font, maintain a consistent color scheme and font usage. For example, I included my company’s logo as the center header on every page, and the footer with the required page number was in the color scheme of my company. Make sure, though, that you aren’t adding visuals just to add them. They have to add substance to your paper. A respectable content-to-visual ratio for every page (that isn’t financials) is 75:25.

“Use charts and graphs in your paper (especially in the ES). It’ll make [your paper] easier to read for the judge.” — Allie Barry; Missouri DECA President

Penalty Points

Penalty points will literally ruin everything. In my state, if you get more than ten penalty points on your paper, you probably aren’t medaling (top ten). Please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE quadruple-check your paper for penalty points before you submit it, and enlist the help of a few classmates. Some common mistakes that lead to penalty points are as follows: exceeding the number of pages, leaving out a section, not having all pages numbered, not using current, up-to-date guidelines (see, I told you guidelines were important). Penalty points are awarded for “stupid mistakes,” and they’re very easy to avoid, if you pay close attention (see below where to access penalty points).

Where to find the penalty point document

Stage 4: The Presentation

Ah, my favorite part of DECA competition: presenting. No matter how good your final paper is, the presentation will be the single factor that differentiates you/your team from the competition, so spend ample time on it. As with many associations, your paper is (probably) due a few weeks before your state conference. If this is the case, work like heck on your paper until the due date — don’t even think about your presentation. Once you’ve turned in the paper, turn your full attention to the presentation. However, for ICDC, your paper isn’t due until you actually get to the conference, so you could theoretically make changes to your paper while in a hotel room, but I’d advise against that.

Script or No Script?

A big question with presentations is always should I script it or not? Honestly, this is a personal decision. It is often said, though, that if you are going to memorize your presentation all the way through, you need to have it down to the “Happy Birthday” level, where you are comfortable belting out your script in the most stressful situations. At the ICDC level, don’t bring notecards to a pitch; this will show that you take the pitch seriously. If you are going to fall at around the 2 level on the flowchart below, at least memorize the general structure. Personally, I scripted a dramatic, effective introduction and closing (and tried, futilely, to script the rest).

Exactness of Planning flowchart. Source: waitbutwhy.com

Visuals

Make your presentation aesthetically pleasing! Create engaging and visually appealing materials. Like your paper, make sure to incorporate the same color scheme and font use through your visuals. A nice tool to use to create materials (if you aren’t fluent in Affinity Designer, Photoshop, or AI) is Canva. At competition, you’ll find that PowerPoints are the outliers. A lot of competitors opt to go the trifold, or more obscure, path. However, the time you take to set up and take down your materials counts against you, so practice setting up and taking down before showtime. While different visuals definitely can help, make sure that they are appropriate and engaging. When presenting, be sure to interact with your visuals. If you are using technology, don’t count on WiFi or outlets! A lot of convention centers’ WiFi is sketchy, and your presentation booth will rarely have outlets; charge everything the night before! When I presented, I used a traditional PPT and a clicker (if you’re going to use a slide deck, make sure to have a clicker). I also made business cards with my name and company logo, and I handed the judge a card before I wrapped up. Nice touches like this definitely leave an impression on your judge! If you are going to provide handouts, which could allow the judge to more easily follow your pitch, make sure to print and bring backups. It’s far better to be proactive than reactive! To hear more tips from an ICDC judge, click this link.

2018–2019 Update: DECA updated the general written event guidelines, and with that update, new rules regarding presentation visuals were implemented. Only visuals that are able to be hand-carried into the presentation will be allowed! This means no wheeled carts or other items that assist in carrying your visuals will be allowed. If you can’t hand-carry a visual, don’t bring it! Additionally, no “alternate power source,” such as a small generator, will be allowed.

An example of a presentation board at 2016 ICDC.

Judge’s Questions

You have fifteen minutes to give your pitch. However, you should not take up that whole time presenting. After your pitch, the judge(s) will have a few questions they will want to ask you. These questions are not meant to trick you. The judge will usually ask for clarification on parts that you glossed over or will ask in-depth questions on a certain topic, and while you’re not obligated to leave time for questions, it’s always recommended. I ran tight on time during my final IBP pitch at ICDC, and I honestly think that was the deciding factor between first and second — oh well.

I didn’t leave time for questions during my finals pitch at ICDC. I think this is the reason I placed second and not first.

Don’t be nervous when answering questions! You are the authority on the subject. No one should know your problem area, market, and solution better than you. A way I prepared for questions was to practice pitching to friends and family and field questions from them. Often times, a part of your presentation/paper may make perfect sense to you but is confusing in the eyes of an audience member. When answering questions, give a concise but full answer: don’t spend too much time on any one question, but make sure to completely answer the judge’s question. If you aren’t completely sure of the answer, just say something in the ball park, but sound confident; the judge will believe you! And please, have a respectful tone when answering. I know, you probably covered that section that he is so confused about very well, but don’t have a rude tone while answering. It’ll show.

Team Presentations

If you are teaming up for a project, there are some specific presentation tips that I’d like to give.

  • Consider matching outfits
  • If you’re not talking, act as the ideal audience member. Don’t stare off into space. Be engaged.
  • Practice fluent transitions and handoffs of parts
  • Divide speaking and answering time evenly

Handshaking

Please, give your judge a handshake before and after the presentation. That’s the polite thing to do in every situation — in DECA and out. A simple handshake will go miles. A couple years ago, I developed a killer handshake technique that uses a DECA acronym:

  • D — Direct. Go straight in for the handshake; meet their hand directly.
  • E — Engaging. Introduce yourself and your position during the shake.
  • C — Concise. A maximum of three pumps. Keep it short, dude. No one wants to shake your hand for ten hours.
  • A — Affectionate. Smile when you’re shaking their hand! At least act like you want to be there.

Stage 5: Game Day

It’s finally here! After months of hard work and preparation, it’s finally time! I have only two tips for this stage:

Give It Your All and Have Fun!

Seriously! You have nothing to lose. Go out there and crush it! You’ll do great!! And…RELAX! It’s okay to be nervous; you should be (after all, you spent months on this paper), but don’t present nervously. Take a few deep breaths before your section is called to present.

Eye on the Prize!

Throughout it all, don’t lose track of your end goal: DECA Glass. Glass is super hard to win, and you have to earn it. No matter if you win or not, be proud of yourself! Many members don’t dare compete in a written event.

The best moment of my DECA competition career: 2nd Place IBP at 2017 ICDC. Credit: @tiffyleigh19