How to Handle Competitive Event Feedback Like a Pro

Jan 4, 2022

Feedback is a key element of developing as an emerging leader and entrepreneur. Use these tips to turn feedback from districts into future competitive event success as you pursue DECA Glass!

Receiving feedback is a way of gathering input that can be positive (such as a compliment), negative (such as constructive criticism) or neutral (such as a general observation).

Why Feedback Matters

Being open to receiving feedback will have many benefits in DECA and beyond.

  • Clarity - Feedback helps us define what a "good performance" is and what it is not.
  • Motivation - Feedback can serve as a motivator to help you improve.
  • Awareness - Feedback may provide you with new insight from unique perspectives you may not have considered.
  • Learning -  Feedback is a way to continually learn and develop your skills.

Yes, receiving feedback can be uncomfortable and often emotional, but practice makes perfect. The more you're able to seek out and receive meaningful feedback, the faster you'll be able to improve.

Four Steps to Receiving Feedback

There are four key things you need to do to maximize the usefulness of feedback:

  1. Gather information.
  2. Seek to understand.
  3. Make a decision.
  4. Take action and evaluate.

Step 1: Gather Information

While you would probably love to ask the judge, "How did I do?!" as soon as your presentation time ends, judges are typically instructed to not provide any verbal feedback. Luckily, you can still gather information in many different ways. Even during the presentation, you may be able to pick up on subtle verbal and nonverbal cues.

  • Disengaged Judges - You can often spot a disengaged judge if they constantly yawn, stare off blankly, slouch or lean away from you, cross their arms, have a confused look, check their watch/phone frequently, repeatedly click their pen, or robotically repeat the same phrase over and over. These cues mean it's time to change up your presentation style.
  • Engaged Judges - An engaged judge tends to maintain eye contact, smile, nod when you make key points, sit upright or lean toward you, or slightly tilt their head to one side. These cues mean you're on the right track!

After many competitions, you'll also have a chance to review written information (scores and rankings, Written Entry Evaluation Forms, Presentation Evaluation Forms and comments from your judge). You’ll probably immediately focus on your overall score; however, hopefully, your judge also provided you with useful and well-thought-out feedback to help you understand your ranking and provide ideas for how to improve in the future.

Step 2: Seek to Understand

When reviewing your scores or written feedback, don't get mad and don't take it personally. I know it’s easier said than done, but remember the feedback is designed to help you improve. It’s about your work — not you. So keep a positive outlook and an open mind.

If you are provided with your scoresheet, take time to break down all of the different elements on which you were evaluated. If you have written notes, read each point carefully.

It can be helpful to understand that people have natural tendencies for how they prefer to give (and receive feedback). Most fall somewhere between two extremes:

  • Direct Feedback - Focused on providing a direct message that gets right to the point. This type of feedback tends to be efficient, but blunt with no sugar coating. It sounds something like: "The presentation was rough; very disjointed."
  • Supportive Feedback - Focused more on the tone of the message. Often, constructive criticism is coupled with a compliment or two to make it easier to accept. This may sound like: "The overall presentation contained great content but seemed disjointed in parts. Continue to work on better transitions and you'll do great in the future!"

Blunt feedback doesn't mean your judge was harsh or unfair. All feedback about your performance is just part of the learning process. Be thankful that the feedback reveals potential blind spots that could prevent you from reaching your full potential.

Step 3: Make a Decision

With an understanding of the feedback, where do you go from here?

The Feedback Staircase explains five steps or emotions that we all naturally feel when receiving feedback The goal is to identify where you currently are and to move further up the staircase.

  1. Deny the feedback: "No I didn't... I don't know what you're talking about."
  2. Defend yourself and your acts: "No, that’s not how it was. It went more like…"
  3. Explain why you did something. "I see what you mean, but I did that because…"
  4. Understand the feedback: "I see what you are talking about..."
  5. Change or Remain: "Got it! This is what I'm going to do about it..."

When you reach the final Change/Remain step, you have a choice — to act or not. Let's consider when you may choose to "remain" or not act.

  • Not all feedback will be equally useful. For example, if you receive a comment like "I didn't like the use of red in the written entry, I prefer blue," you may disagree and choose not to make a change. (Your next judge may love blue!) However, something like "You talked too fast and I couldn't understand everything," is helpful and something you can work to improve.
  • Just because a judge gives you feedback, doesn't mean its 100% correct. Just like all humans, they will interpret your written entry or presentation based upon their education, career focus and life experiences. For example, an older judge with a finance background may not necessarily understand your recommendation to use TikTok (but it is your job to help them understand). Regardless, their intent is always to help you grow!

Remember, only you have the right and the ability to decide what to do with the feedback you have received. It is up to you to check it out with others, seek out examples and then decide if the feedback is worth it and actionable.

An easy way to put feedback into action is to use the Start, Stop, Continue Method by completing the following phrases:

  • CHANGE: Something I would like to START doing is...
  • CHANGE: Something I would like to STOP doing is...
  • REMAIN: Something I would like to CONTINUE doing is...

Step 4: Take Action & Evaluate

Now, it's finally time to put the feedback to use. When preparing for your next competition, refer back to your notes and make a checklist of everything you hope to accomplish. Then, make it happen!

Receiving feedback isn't just a one-time thing; it's a constant cycle. After the competition, use the same process to gather new feedback. Ask yourself if your adjustments worked, and what new changes you're going to make next. The more you receive feedback, the better you will be able to detect patterns and trends as your progress toward your goals.

Opportunities to receive feedback should be celebrated and welcomed—they help you improve and grow. While it may seem nerve-wracking, remember that feedback is a gift that will aid in your professional and personal development.

Bonus Tips for More Feedback

Depending upon the conference, there's a chance that you may not receive any written feedback from your judge. Knowing only your ranking may leave many unanswered questions about how you can improve, but don't worry! There are still many ways to get feedback that will help you excel in the future.

  • Practice self-reflection. While you may be blind to certain parts of your performance, you should still reflect on your experience to identify areas for improvement and make note of where you were strongest. Often, we're our own toughest critics! Consider not only the content of your pitch, but your overall delivery, ability to handle questions, visuals, professionalism and connection to performance indicators.
  • Talk it out with your advisor. While you won't be able to exactly recreate the role-play, try recapping your scenario and solution for your advisor (including your visuals). Be honest and don't embellish or exaggerate. They can provide an outside perspective to help you spot any obvious missteps.
  • Get more opinions. For written events, ask as many people as possible to review your paper. This could include your parents, advisor, English teacher, members of the community, local business professionals and more. For events with a prepared presentation, gain more practice by presenting to a business class, chamber of commerce or other community business organization, or even your school board. Of course, be sure to ask everyone for lots of feedback!
  • Host a mock competition. If you haven't had the opportunity to participate in a mock role-play, host one for your chapter! Invite local business professionals to serve as the judges as your members practice a few different role-play scenarios. Then, take time between each round for the judges to share their feedback when you have a chance to ask questions.
  • Pay attention to feedback from other sources. Helpful feedback won't just come from within DECA. If you hear the same feedback from teachers or coaches in other classes and activities, pay attention, track it along with your other feedback and you may spot a trend!


No items found.

Discussion Questions

  • 1
    What are the key points of this feedback?
  • 2
    What elements attracted positive feedback?
  • 3
    What elements attracted negative feedback?
  • 4
    How can I use this feedback to be successful in future competitions?

Classroom Connection

Career CLuster:

Instructional Area(s):

Performance Indicators:

Explain the use of feedback for personal growth
Solicit feedback
Explain communication techniques that support and encourage a speaker
Demonstrate active listening skills
Ask relevant questions
Interpret others' nonverbal cues
Foster open, honest communication