The Ultimate Written Event Guide

November 1, 2018

Before serving as the 2018-2019 High School Division President, he was an international finalist, earning second place in the International Business Plan at ICDC in Anaheim. Andrew Weatherman took home DECA glass and now he’s taking the time to share his insider secrets with you.

Stage 1: Finding The Right Event

Let’s start 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!

Think a written event is for you? Great! Before you dive in and begin planning your paper, you 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 is the most overlooked but vital part of the competition process. DECA breaks the written events into four categories: Business and Operations Research Events, Project Management Events, Entrepreneurship Events, and Integrated Marketing Campaign Events. Want to check out all DECA’s competitive event options? Take a look at the complete list in the DECA Guide. In this article, I’ll summarize each written event and add a little commentary. For more details, head to www.deca.org/compete.

Business and Operations Research Events 

Events in this category have a maximum page limit of 20 pages and allow for a single competitor, a partnership, or a team of three. There are five events that fall under the Business Operations Research umbrella: Business Services, Buying and Merchandising, Finance Operations, Hospitality and Tourism Operations, and Sports and Entertainment Operations. Business Operations Research 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. Business Operations Research events are a great way to connect with local business and understand how they work! If you like business research and strategy, Business Operations Research is a great fit for you!

Project Management Events

In my home association of North Carolina, Project Management 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 Project Management events. Like BOR events, Project Management events have a maximum page limit of 20 pages and allow for a single competitor, a partnership, or a team of three chapter representatives. There are six events that fall under the Project Management umbrella: Business Solutions Project, Career Development Project, Community Awareness Project, Community Giving Project, Financial Literacy Project and Sales Project. Project Management 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 Project Management 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 project management 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 Business Operations Research and Chapter Team events, however, the events that fall under the Entrepreneurship umbrella have different rules from one another. The Innovation Plan is the shortest written event available, clocking in at a maximum page limit of five. The Start-up Business Plan is an intermediary, having a maximum page limit of eleven. While the Franchise Business Plan, Independent Business Plan, Business Growth Plan, and International Business Plan have a maximum page limit of 10. 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 Campaign Events

This is a new event this year! The Integrated Marketing Campaign Events provide an opportunity for the participants to demonstrate promotional knowledge and skills needed by marketing personnel. There are three different events within IMC. Event includes a campaign that is related to any sports and entertainment event and/or company event. Product includes a campaign that is related to any hard/soft line retail products including e-commerce. Service includes a campaign that is related to any service or intangible product.  These events have a maximum page limit of ten pages and allow for a single competitor, a partnership, or a team of three. If tests aren’t your thing, I recommend staying away from these events. The test will factor into your overall score, and a low test score could spell doom for your Glass hopes. If you are a strong test taker who wants to compete in written events but still wants a taste of series events (and has an interest in the marketing field), definitely check these events out!

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 Management.

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 ten-page event, and I thought that limit was too restrictive, so I had to go for a twenty-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 2: 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. 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 3: Planning and Research

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 short. 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’m not a big planner. 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. 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. 

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 supremely important. I still have a folder on my computer full of PDFs from research for my IBP, 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 (or your team) find a quiet “paper place,” somewhere you go 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 4: The Paper

After weeks (read: 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) draft; it won’t be great. As a serious competitor, you need to channel your inner critic; try to read your paper through the lens of that advisor 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. 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. 

How Important Is My Paper?

Depending on your event, your presentation and paper score may vary. The paper in a 20 pager will count for 60% of your score, making the paper that much more important. Below is a chart that breaks it all down. Credit to Annie Hulse of Oakton DECA (VA).

Executive Summary (ES)

This is the most important part of your paper! Judges won’t always 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. 

When writing the summary, which should be done after everything else is complete, imagine that your ES is the only thing your judge will read (because it could be), and you need to sell them on your idea with that ES alone.

Let The Score Sheet Be The Blueprint

You may have been told that a certain section isn’t important. You might think, “Oh, by rearranging these sections, I’ll certainly stand out!” That’s a common thought, but also an erroneous one. 

You should be in a committed relationship with the guidelines of your event. Read them before writing, then again while writing. Read them between drafts and before bedtime. Know the guidelines better than the people who wrote them. This is a competition, and the guidelines were provided for a reason. Judges are sticklers for judging a paper off the guidelines. A vital thing to do at this moment would be to print out the guidelines of every event that you are considering. In your paper (and presentation) include the exact vocabulary from the rubric and guidelines in your writing.

Content or Appearance

An age-old debate between researchers 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. Elaborate on the vital portions, but don’t slack on the visuals. Include meaningful, colorful graphs to break up large chunks of text. When appropriate, substitute text for bullet points or flow charts. Once you decide on a logo and font, maintain a consistent color scheme and font usage. Make sure, though, that you don’t add visuals just to add them. They should add substance to your paper. A respectable content-to-visual ratio for every page is roughly 75:25.

Penalty Points

Penalty points can literally ruin everything. In my state, if you get more than 10 penalty points on your paper, you can kiss the top 10 goodbye. Triple-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 guidelines (see, I told you guidelines were important). Penalty points are awarded for careless errors, and they’re very easy to avoid if you pay close attention. 

Stage 5: The Presentation

No matter how good your final paper is, the presentation will be the single factor that differentiates you/your team from the competition. Most associations require that papers be submitted a few weeks prior to the state conference. If this is the case, focus 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. 

Script or No Script?

When it comes to presentations, there is the inevitable question of whether to script it out 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, meaning you would be comfortable belting out your script in the most stressful situations. 

Visuals

Make your presentation aesthetically pleasing! A nice tool to use to create materials (if you aren’t fluent in Photoshop) 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 in your total time, so practice setting up and taking down before showtime. 

While visuals can certainly help your overall presentation, they should be appropriate and engaging. When presenting, you should interact with your visuals in a way that makes sense. If you are using technology, don’t count on WiFi or outlets. When I presented, I used a traditional PPT and 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. Think of the exterior things that could go wrong on the day of your presentation. Prepare back-ups or alternatives so that there are no disasters that could derails all of the work you’ve put into your final project.

Judge’s Questions

You have 15 minutes to give your pitch. However, you shouldn’t use the whole time presenting. After your pitch, the judge(s) will likely have some questions. 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. 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 have always wondered if that was the difference between first and second. Learn from my mistakes – leave the time. 

Don’t be nervous when answering questions. You are the authority on the subject. No one should know your problem, market and solution better than you. One way I prepared for questions was by pitching to others and fielding questions from them. There will likely be parts of your presentation that make perfect sense to you but confuse someone else. 

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. Most importantly, have a respectful tone when answering. I know, you probably feel like you covered that section that the judge is confused about very well, but a rude or impatient tone will not support your cause. 

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