Series Event Tips Straight From A #DECAGlass Winner and 3X ICDC Finalist!
Hello, I’m Andrew Weatherman, the current DECA, Inc. Executive President. I’m always striving to equip members with the knowledge they need to succeed in DECA. In 2017, I wrote a written event guide after placing 2nd at ICDC. And although I have twice won 1st at North Carolina’s state conference in MCS, I don’t have ICDC experience in series events. So, I interviewed 3X ICDC finalist, 2017 DECA Glass winner, former Wyoming DECA State President, and current Yale sophomore, Ryley Constable. Our talk ranged from pre-ICDC to competition tips while at conference to how to prepare for next year. What follows is an edited (for clarity’s sake) transcript of our conversation.
Andrew: “Hey, I’m Andrew Weatherman. With me today, I have a 3-time ICDC finalist and Glass winner, Ryley Constable.”
Ryley: “Hey, everyone. My name is Ryley Constable. You might know me as the 2016–2017 Wyoming DECA State President. I’ve also been a chapter president. I competed at internationals three times. I made finals and top 10 all three times, which culminated in winning third place in Sports and Entertainment series in 2017. Since then, I’ve kind of laid low from DECA, but I’m back to help out my main man Andrew and all of his lovely future DECA constituents with regards to making competition great again.”
A: “Awesome — thank you. Ryley, you are obviously a very accomplished competitor, and I’m sure all of the advice you have will be very much appreciated by all the members in Orlando as they fight for that coveted #DECAGlass. So, I’ve broken up this interview into three main sections: before ICDC, at ICDC, and after ICDC/next year.
So, we’ll start and jump right into before ICDC. So, what do those first-time competitors need to know before they get to Orlando?”
R: “For your first time at ICDC, I think the most important thing to remember is that your performance is not always indicative of your own skill. It’s important to remember that there are 200 people there in your area, and they all had to go through similar trials and tribulations to get there. So, if you do really well, I think it speaks very well on perhaps your luck and your ability to set yourself apart from a field of incredibly qualified people. But also, if you don’t necessarily make finals or get a medal or Glass, it’s not to say that you’re necessarily a bad competitor or you don’t know what you’re talking about. It just shows how competitive the field is, especially in the past five years — where we’ve seen test scores shoot up and role play scores shoot to mid-80s to high-90s in finals. It’s a testament to how great DECA is at educating the next field of leaders — more than it is about your own individual performance. That’s not to say that you can’t set yourself apart and really bring home some Glass. I think if you do the right things, making finals is definitely in the cards, making top 10 is also in the cards, and getting top three requires a bit of luck. But, that’s sort of the fun to competition, right?”
A: “Awesome. Thanks! What’s the biggest mistake that competitors make when they’re at ICDC?”
R: “Okay. So the biggest mistake I would say that the average first-time competitor — or even veteran competitor — makes is trying to focus too much on gimmicks. The judges at ICDC typically are very no-nonsene. They will listen to your plan — they don’t want something boring — but if your entire idea is centered around a gimmick, they will not be amused with it. In fact, they are going to take you less seriously as a result. So, I’d say the best thing to learn is how to engage with a serious idea in a way that’s creative but doesn’t venture in to being shamwow-esque — something that everyone laughs at.”
A: “Yeah, definitely. Really well said. What’s the most overlooked aspect of competing?”
R: “I would say the most overlooked aspect of competing is preparation. The average state winner has around the same level of competence, but there is a two-month span between state and ICDC that really separates the Glass winners from the finalists and, even, the ones with an award of excellence. That difference is knowing that there are a certain amount of scenarios that they will give you within a certain area and knowing how to handle each one. This isn’t to say you develop a cookie-cutter plan for every stage of competition because this is where DECA tries to get the people who over-prepare.
There are certain variables in each scenario that need to be accounted for; plans that need to be adjusted accordingly. For example, one marketing research case may require multiple sources of information gathering, whereas one may require pulling data from very obscure places. If you’re doing a promotional case and you don’t draw a promotional mix, you probably won’t get a medal or make finals based on that case. If you’re doing a marketing research case and don’t talk about ways to incentivize, then your judge is probably going to wonder how you’re going to get any data. Judges have very real-world experiences with the struggles that plans face.
The most overlooked aspect of competing is having some sort of real-world grounding for your case problems. It’s kind of soon for this year, but for the next coming year, especially if you want to become a multiple-time finalist or glass winner, the best thing you can do is find a real-world, for lack of a better term, mentor. They can give you this perspective on everything that a high school student would forget about but an industry professional, which your judge would be, would know to account for and that’s something that will really impress your judges.”
A: “Awesome. So, now we’re going to start transitioning to when the competitor is at ICDC. Ryley, I know you are a fantastic test taker. You have gotten fantastic scores while at ICDC. What does that Glass hopeful need to know before they walk into the testing room?”
R: “Well, I hate to turn it back into a preparation spiel, but the best thing you can do is know the composition of your test. This varies from area-to-area, but last time I checked marketing the build was roughly 20% marketing research, 20% promotion, 15% selling, 10% economics, and the rest was a hodgepodge from the other competency groups in the marketing cluster. One of the best things you can do is knowing roughly the composition of each test.
With regards to once you’re there, I encourage you to be very active with your test taking. For example, if you looked at my test after completion — where my average was greater than an 88%; when I got a testing medal, it was a 94% — it was very deliberate. Be very active with your test. If you know a question for sure, put a big circle around the answer. When you know a choice is incorrect, draw a big X through it. When you’re unsure, put a big circle around it, so you know to check for it again.
And make use of the whole 90 minutes — I can’t stress that enough. They give you the time for a reason. Over time, questions that seemed really tough will slowly start to make sense to you. Answers that seemed totally spurious suddenly appear more clear. The 90 minutes is meant for you to be absolutely sure of your answers. If you’re not using every last second of that, then you’re wasting time that is going to a Glass winner.”
A: “One thing I think a lot of people struggle with in role plays — even at the state level, let alone the ICDC level — is how to effectively take notes during that precious 10-minute window for individual events. Do you have any tips for that?”
R: “Yeah. This was a big thing that Campbell County DECA — the former chapter that I was a part — really tried to hammer at with our students, especially if they are doing a team event. Once you can do a team case in ten minutes, you’ve got it in thirty. The biggest thing in that scenario [prep time] is preparation. If you have time, do like two to three cases a week. If you want to take it more seriously, shoot for one a day. Just get used to working in that ten-minute timeframe is the best preparation you can get. However, if you don’t have the luxury of having a ton of practice cases or you don’t have a ton of time remaining until ICDC, the best advice I have for the window is in the time it takes to think of your ideas, draw out your visuals. Write out your five competencies — or, if you’re in a team case, your seven. From there, if it’s a promotional case, draw a promotional mix. If it’s a marketing case, draw a marketing mix. If it’s a marketing research plan, write out the steps for it. In the meantime, think of exactly what details you want to put into your presentation that make it pop. I would say use three minutes to draw out your visuals and use the remaining seven to write notes.
The main thing that a lot of competitors don’t do is come up with a good introduction. A good introduction isn’t one that’s super wild and entertaining; it’s one that gives your judge — who’s an industry professional — a little taste of exactly what you’re going to tell them about. For example, if you’re in a marketing research case, and the main issue is where you will get data, then cite specifically where you will get that data from in the introduction. Really give them a morsel of your competence and your ability to think creatively in that first few sentences. As someone who’s judged since graduated, judged for his teammates, and spoken to judges across the nation, the worst thing you can do is have a first few sentences that don’t pop. If not, the judges won’t take you seriously for the rest of the case. First impressions are huge keys for doing well in these cases.”
A: “Awesome — well said. So, everyone that goes to ICDC is a superb competitor. We know that; they are here for a reason. How can people set themselves apart and give themselves the best chance for Glass or a medal?”
R: “Preparation is definitely a large key. Preparation with a variety of different cases and knowing how to solve them and how to manage the different variables that pop up. You can only really get that by practicing. Aside from that, the best thing you can do — which ties back to one of my earlier answers — is have some sort of real-world grounding that’s going to speak to your judge. These people (judges) have large real-world sensitivity. They like creativity, but they are also very wary of too much of it. To speak to those traits in your judge, it’s kind of like creating a UVP that’s appropriate to your target market: you want to make your case very professional and grounded in real-world wisdom. This will speak more to your judge than a creative case would because that definitely caters to more of the 18-, 19-, 20-year-old judges. If I was your judge, then knock me out with your creativity. If it’s anyone older, then stick with the wisdom.”
A: “How did it feel to win Glass, and what was the first thought that went through your mind?”
R: “So, I had a two-year span of getting seventh. My sophomore year, I was like, ‘I got first,’ but then I didn’t get first, so whoever won must’ve whipped my ass. My junior year, I walked into my finals case thinking, ‘Okay, I blew it. I didn’t prepare for it the way I traditionally had,’ which definitely showed when I presented to my judge. ‘But, if I make top ten, I’ll consider this a win,’ and I got seventh again. I remember sitting in the events center in Anaheim thinking, ‘Good Lord, just don’t give me seventh place. Give me eighth or first, but just do not give me seventh again. The last thing that I want to do is stay the same.’ When I got called up for top ten, I wanted to find out now if I placed top three because I didn’t feel like waiting another four weeks for the full standings to come out. I was just standing there talking to one of the sophomores who got top ten that I met in finals. I was super proud of him for making top ten as a sophomore. We bumped knuckles, and then they got right to calling names. ‘In third place, from Wyoming…Ryley Constable!’ I was so excited I couldn’t even think. I remember hoisting that trophy above my head until they told me to get off. It was the proudest I’d been in a while. It felt like a good way to go out.”
After ICDC/Next Year
A: “I remember the picture of you smiling with your trophy on stage in Anaheim [picture is used at the beginning of this transcript]. So, let’s go ahead and transition to the after-ICDC/next year section. Unfortunately, not everyone that goes to ICDC can win Glass or a medal. Do you have any motivation or tips for them to get back into the swing and be eager for next year?”
R: “I can’t remember if this quote is from the Wu-Tang Clan or Winston Churchill but it’s that success is not final and failure is not fatal; what matters is the courage to continue. I would say that if you don’t win — whether not winning means getting second or last in your heat — it’s important to remember that, unless you’re a senior, this isn’t your last ICDC. I think you should look back at failure as a way to feel you for the future. I remember my sophomore year we made finals because we had a really good team dynamic; I did Sports and Entertainment Team Decision Making. We worked really well together, and I was with a really good senior. I feel like our energy really radiated with judges a lot. In junior year, I didn’t practice as much as I normally did because I was resting on my prior experience and knowledge.
Getting seventh again really disappointed me a lot. So, I think getting seventh that year was the best thing that could have happened to me, better than getting first, on the basis that every time I looked at a DECA case or exam, I said, ‘Okay. The last thing I want to do is stay complacent and get seventh again.’ Getting seventh three times in a row is a little too much of a fluke. You either want to progress or regress. Maybe I’m being a bit irrational in that example.
But, the biggest takeaway from this is to use your competitive event transcripts, rather your association buys them for you or you have to buy them yourself. They’re really revealing in regards to what you need to improve on. The judge’s score is converted to a percentile, comparing how you did relative to everyone in your heat and your event. From there, it tells you whether or not you met the competency marks, and how you did relative to your peers. Then, they contextualize your exam, telling you exactly how well you did on your exam with regards to every competency area. This is great for identifying your weak points and judging your own abilities. That was the big thing for me: I was very overconfident, and I think everyone is at some point. I fooled myself into thinking I was a lot better at a lot more aspects of competition than I really was. Getting my test transcript back when I was a sophomore opened my eyes to areas I needed improve on.
At ICDC you either get a lesson or Glass, and in some cases, it’s better to get the former.”
Andrew’s Note: If you are interested in a competitive event transcript, DECA is giving every competitor from Atlanta their transcript for free! Follow this link, and login with your membership ID and password (obtained from your advisor). Then, head to the transcript tab to download your free transcript!
A: “Picking an event is key. If you pick the wrong event, you’re not going to do well. How should members pick their event? Is it better to do a larger event or a smaller one at your state level — given that all events at ICDC have the same numbers.”
R: “Right, I would say the best advice I can give in picking your event is choosing a balance between what’s interesting to you and what the industry professionals in your area are known for and what your teacher can instruct you well on. For example, I had the benefit of having a marketing teacher who’s had 45+ students win first place and another 100-something win Glass in her 35 years as a DECA advisor. She had a superb background in marketing and hospitality. Before she began teaching, she ran a restaurant for years that was regularly voted as the best in Wyoming. The Sports and Entertainment event has a strong intersection with hospitality.
The worst thing you can do is put yourself in an area where your teacher isn’t equipped to help you with it. For example, my teacher has a good background in finance, but she isn’t good at teaching it. I had a couple of classmates every year who wanted to go down the finance path. But, they weren’t really in a position where they could succeed at it internationally. They key is finding out what your teachers and local professionals can offer you in terms of education. The people who run the sporting events in my hometown were very accessible for advice, which gave me a competitive advantage. Like I said earlier, my cases became grounded in a certain traditional wisdom that transcends any marketing textbook you can pick up. Pick to your strengths. It’s kind of like the theory of competitive advantage.
With regards to the size of the event, I think that if your goal is to be competitive internationally, you should not think in terms of how well you’ll do at states. If you’re not competitive at your state level, why do you think you’d be competitive internationally? The worst thing you could do is pick an easy cop to ICDC and then try to cram years worth of material into two months. There are students all across the world — specifically, Ontario — that have been going to a specialized high school, have two-plus years of experience in the event before they get to ICDC, and you really just can’t make that up in a couple of months. So, I think at the beginning of the year, you need to make a year-long plan of what area you are going to pick based on the strengths of your teacher and the people in your area — in addition to your interests. I’m not saying you should pick finance if your teacher is good at it but you absolutely hate it. But, you should find something that both your teacher is good at and you like.”
A: “You know, DECA has a ton of resources. What resources did you use when you won top ten three times at ICDC? Do you have any advice on picking resources?”
R: “DECA offers a book with the exam from ICDC that past year and the three-to-four cases from states. The best thing you can do is buy as many books in your area as possible and see where you can hunt down the older cases from the previous years. I bought all of the books, ran through those cases, and bought books for cases similar to SEM. For example, you have pathways within each cluster, and SEM is in the marketing management pathway. So, I got all of the old marketing management cases, for all of the old heads out here. I picked up as many cases in automotive marketing as it’s, too, in the marketing management pathway. Even though the specifics may be different, the overarching themes are the same.
The biggest thing you can do is practice as many cases as you can and absolutely perfect them. Present them to the toughest grader on your team and your toughest advisor until they have zero inhibitions towards giving you a 100 on that case.
My advisor has been teaching this for thirty-five years, so she knew exactly what presentation to look for. If you don’t know what to look for, look for a case that has a lot of details. The last thing you want to give is a bunch of plague platitudes of what we should do instead of a distinct plan. Second, have a plan that utilizes those details. Say exactly what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, and how you’re going to do it. From there, have something creative but not gimmicky. Something that will catch attention but show your wisdom and experience in the area.”
A: “Definitely. Do you have any additional advice or tips to share?”
R: “I can’t reiterate the importance enough of not deriving your value as a competitor from how well you do at ICDC. I had a lot of friends of mine who were knocking at the door of getting finals or Glass but never quite got there, and they started to worry that they weren’t good at DECA. I think just making it to ICDC is a huge testament to your ability as a competitor. I’m not telling you to be complacent with being average, but I do think, though, that just making it to ICDC requires a certain amount of applause for your abilities as a competitor. If you don’t win, it’s not necessarily because you were bad, you may just have had a tough heat. For example, if you get into a heat with two Ontario kids, it’s going to be a bit of an uphill battle. I was lucky to have only one Ontario kid in my heat all three years. A lot of this is luck related. Judges, even though you may be grounded in good wisdom, may find your creative aspect a little less appealing than the creative aspect of the guy that went right after you. Or, you might get put into a heat with a bunch of tough kids, or the exam may include the three or four things you didn’t study. At ICDC, three or four points is the difference between making finals and getting an award of excellence.”
A: “Ryley, thank you so much for joining me tonight. I’m sure your advice will help members get #ReadyForIt, and I can’t wait to see all of you lift Glass in April! Again, Ryley, thank you so much for joining me on the call, and best of luck on your finals!”
R: “Thank you very much, Andrew, and take care!